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Student empowerment — from vision to practice

By Sarah Stoeckl
March 23, 2017
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ISTE along with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) agree that today’s students need learning that goes beyond the traditional subjects and modes of learning. In 2016, ISTE released updated standards for students that envision a significant shift in learning and teaching amplified by meaningful use of technology in education. At the heart of the ISTE Standards for Students is the Empowered Learner, the first of the standards, which calls for student empowerment to undergird all of the standards.

But what does it really mean for a student to be empowered? And why does it matter?

One of the most crucial things we should be preparing today’s children for is change. Predicting the future accurately is difficult, if not impossible, but signs point to an ongoing disruption that will reward those who are nimble, self-motivated, adaptable and able to persevere. Building these abilities in students is at the heart of fostering student empowerment and foundational to the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students.

Furthermore, today’s teachers face an increasingly diverse group of students in terms of abilities, needs and supports. In order to meet the needs of all student learners, teachers can find useful pedagogical shifts built into the personalization and self-motivation at the heart of student empowerment.

Start with the empowered learner course to bring the ISTE Standards to life through online PD.

ISTE has identified five crucial areas that develop empowered learners, all of which are based in learning science research. Notably, few of these areas strictly require technology when working with students. They thus highlight the transformation of the ISTE Standards from “tech standards” to learning standards for a world increasingly infused with technology and the new opportunities and literacies that come with it. The five areas for increasing student empowerment are:
  1. Student motivation is crucial for students to feel empowered in their learning. Educators can increase student motivation through various strategies, including giving students meaningful voice and choice when setting learning goals and demonstrating competency. They can also scaffold students as they reflect on how learning and learning preferences apply to their own goals — either immediate learning goals or longer term ones. For example, a student may recognize how writing an essay aligns with her goal to improve her writing and research abilities for this school year. On the other hand, she may also align outlining her essay with computational thinking skills that segue with her plan to work in software development.
  2. Social-emotional engagement has become one of the big buzzwords in education. As it relates to student empowerment and the ISTE Standards for Students, social-emotional engagement provides students with invaluable skills for navigating complex interactions and rapidly evolving technologies. Teachers can build social-emotional engagement as a part of student empowerment by fostering a school or classroom culture of collaboration, where students work together in teams—both face-to-face and asynchronously using digital tools — and experiment with different modes of leadership. Students should also be given space to reflect on their innate tendencies and preferences when interacting with others, and to set goals for any changes or improvements they want to make.
  3. Self-direction will be increasingly important as people navigate changes in technology, work and society, and is an empowering attribute educators should actively develop in their students. One key aspect of self-direction lies in an individual’s belief that their intelligence or abilities are not fixed but, in fact, can be improved through persistence and hard work (e.g., “growth mindset”). Educators should also bring transparency to the process of being self-directed, empowering students to plan, manage, check their work for quality and accuracy, and reflect on learning and ways for improvement. Bringing meta-awareness to these steps and the student’s own processes give students a toolkit for directing their own learning and other endeavors.
  4. Constructive use of that feedback empowers students to drive their learning. Not only does technology give teachers new ways of responding to student work and gathering performance data, but embedded feedback in various tools gives students immediate insight into their work. This embedded feedback includes everything from colored underlines indicating misspellings in word processing software to self-scoring online quizzes or barriers and losses in games. Crucially, educators should bring students’ attention to these built-in feedback mechanisms and support them in reflecting on that feedback and planning for how they will use it.
  5. Digital fluency empowers students to thoughtfully, safely and effectively use the tools available. It includes being able to use a range of digital tools and then transfer that knowledge when exploring, using or troubleshooting new tools. It also includes savvy digital citizenship and self-awareness of how technology affects our lives in a range of ways — from ergonomics and addiction to digital footprints and tracking of individuals by tech companies and software, to sharing creative work and connecting with people around the world.

It’s a common misconception that tech will soon replace teachers. In contrast, ISTE believes strongly that the social complexity that comes with increasing technology and the opportunities to truly transform how we teach and learn make teachers and their work even more crucial in the digital age. Which is why we have recently partnered with Metiri Group to offer a self-paced, research-based online course on the Empowered Learner. This and other ISTE resources are available to support teachers in their vital role preparing students to thrive in an uncertain future.

Sarah Stoeckl is the senior manager of standards development at ISTE. Follow her on Twitter @sarah_stoeckl.

This post originally appeared on the Partnership for 21st Century Learning website on March 9, 2017.