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A Short Test of Vision

Last time I said I would share some of the experiences of my recent travels. It seems only right to start with vision; right because, well, that’s where all good personal technology initiatives should start…but rarely do. No matter how often you run workshops for educational leaders emphasizing the importance of developing a well articulated shared vision, the importance too often escapes too many.

As you are no doubt aware, as part of AALF’s long-term objective of providing support for schools, states and countries undertaking 1 to 1 initiatives, we developed what has become known as the 21Steps for 21st Century Learning workshop, originally in partnership with the Ministry of Education in Queensland, Australia. Nearly 10 years later, I’m pleased to say that not only have we run these two day workshops for school and policy leaders who represent more than 7,500 schools across 25 countries, but we are now combining that with Master training to extend our reach even further.

By June we will have trained a further 20+ trainers, who we expect will in turn train many more in their respective countries. This has been a most significant achievement for the Foundation, as we seek to share expertise and best practice to preparatory initiatives around the world, and give their young people the best possible opportunities for their futures. At another time, I will share some stories from the wide range of cultures, and contexts in which we have run those workshops.

But to get back to my comments about vision. To emphasize the importance of a clear, shared vision, we always include an activity in the 21 Steps workshops which asks them to choose one of the following statements best represents the vision they have for their school/state/province/District/country’s 1 to 1 initiative.

So here is the quiz. From the recent workshops we have run, which statement do you think was selected by the most educational leaders in Mexico, and which one by educational leaders in the US?

1. We are going to address inequity in our education system and ensure every child has access to personal technology. The Digital Divide.

2. We want a school system that lays down a foundation for future economic growth.
3. We want to provide our students with unprecedented opportunities for 21st Century Learning.

4. We want to unlock the possibility of personalized learning for all our young people.

5. We think it’s time to extend the place of learning beyond school walls to better embrace informal learning opportunities.

6. Research now shows 1 to 1 improves academic outcomes, and consequently we want that for all of our students.

7. Providing 1 to 1 access to personal portable computers will extend and improve our assessment alternatives.
8. 1 to 1 will allow us to replace physical textbooks and provide expanded resources for our students.

9. Providing students with their own personal portable computer, gives our students the ‘learning medium of their time’.

10. By implementing 1 to 1 we will expand pedagogical opportunities for our students and in turn allow us to have higher expectations.

11. 1to1 will allow students to be better informed and make better decisions about what they do and learn in the classroom, becoming true self-directed learners.

I really like the exercise, as it always tells me something about the people and their countries’ priorities. Obviously there are some statements that would appear to be popular, no. 3, 21st Century Learning for example, and also obviously some overlap.

But the choice for Mexico was no.11....for very interesting reasons. The current Mexican government is very committed to improving their education system, and to do that they are looking to initiate a 1 to 1 program that will potentially reach more than 11 million students. They have had the foresight to start in the elementary grades, at Grade 5 level, and their academic and technology leadership is committed to overcoming what to many would appear to be very challenging circumstances. One of those is teacher quality, particularly in remote areas, where the level of teacher preparation can be extremely limited. Accordingly there are boldly exploring the ways in which a child with their own personal, portable, fully-functional computer might be able to compliment and extend their teacher’s expertise if it allows them to be better informed and make better decisions about their learning. Ambitious, but I think something to be applauded for its intent, and potential impact.

On the other hand...and yes, you know where this is going...some recent workshops across the States would suggest that one of the main levers for 1 to 1 in the US is no.7..to drive online assessment. A sad reality, associated with the obsession with common core. When we developed the list and included that vision statement, our optimistic view was that people might see 1 to 1 offering more creative formative assessment options…but unfortunately online testing is currently winning out in the States.

If this is of course simply a means to an end, and ultimately it does enable millions of American students to get access to a laptop when they otherwise would not have, then maybe there will be a hidden benefit...but...as I said at the outset, it just depends on how whether the assessment vision continues to dominate, or a more enlightened perspective evolves.

As I said, the vision exercise tells us a lot about intent and commitment, so we would really value hearing from you as an AALF member, as to the vision statement that drives your initiative within your school, District, region or State. I’m really interested in your thoughts.
April 15th, 2014 @ 12:52PM