Tag Archives: mobile devices

What does digital literacy look like?


The conversation with The Vancouver Sun reporter went something like this: How does your district definite digital literacy? Few people seemed to have a clear definition of what it means.  No one seems to be nailing it down. Most districts are merely teaching students how to use software and hardware. I hear that perhaps Surrey is doing something different. Can you tell me how it looks in Surrey?

The reporter’s reference was the Canadian MediaSmarts website where you can find a definition of media literacy and a useful chart. There are a multitude of definitions and terms used to try and describe the notion of media or digital literacy. You can find a good article about it here.

What anchors our work on digital literacy?
We have talked about the skills required to be twenty-first century readers and writers, using the definition from the National Council of English Teachers (2008).  See here.  This gives us a frame that clearly places learning at the centre. We want teachers to think about the use of technology in this context.

How has it changed the learning?

Our focus is to find ways to ensure our use of technology transforms learning for students.  We want students engaging in learning activities that are fundamentally different from what they were able to do before the introduction of technology. Here a Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillcrest Elementary describes what it looks like in her classroom:

Digital literacy in my classroom is not about an event; rather it is an integrated component of the planning and delivery of the curriculum. Digital literacy is embedded into the learning for all my students.

This past year when we were designing a unit for science the grade 6/7 teachers wanted to ensure students used critical thinking skills, creativity, and that they had choice in their learning. To do this it was decided to have each student create a website for other students to use from around the world. Doing so incorporated many of the skills that we know are essential for success in the 21st century. Critical thinking was used in researching and synthesizing information, as well as determining credible resources. Creativity was important in how the websites were designed, laid out, navigated. Media literacy was developed so students could incorporate different forms of media into their websites from images, to links, to videos. Collaboration was essential for success. Students valued each other’s opinions, accepting feedback on content and design, and utilized those students who became the ‘experts’ in the technology field pushing each other’s learning every step of the way. Finally, motivation and self-regulation were needed to ensure that each student was able to complete a website that they were proud to share with the global community. Students would spend many hours outside of the given time to ensure their websites were well thought-out, informative and creative.

Digital literacy was, and is, embedded into the learning of the class; it was not a separate subject. For our students to be ready for the future…the skills needed for students to be successful must be an integral part of their day-to-day learning.

Anne-Marie Middleton

 There are teachers in Surrey, and all over the world, that are using technology to change the way we teach and how students learn.  As we seek to understand, define, and teach digital literacy, we all become learners—teachers and students—navigating this new digital highway together.

Thanks to Anne-Marie Middleton (@AnneMidd) for sharing a window into her classroom. Hillcrest is one of the Innovative Learning Designs schools (Phase 1) in the Surrey School District (#SD 36). She works collaboratively with Ryan Hong (@RyanJHong), another great teacher at Hillcrest.


The Year of Wonder: Riding the Wave of Learning

My staff describe it as a “year of wonder.” Sometimes we call it a tsunami and just want to ride the wave without crashing. Other times we refer to it as a fire beginning to flame across the district. We consider it as seeding pockets of innovation we want to take root and spread organically as connected and rooted networks. We liken it to Leadbeater’s “radical social movement.” The Global Educational Leaders program, refers to this as a strategy of diffusion. These are all metaphors to help us understand our work. Supporting teachers in their own learning is central for me. When teachers are passionately engaged in their learning (and when I am passionately engaged in my learning), it spills over to the students. It transforms us all. So just what were the pieces in this “year of wonder?”

 Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 1)
A year ago we announced the 18 schools that were awarded grants as part of the Innovative Learning Designs schools (ILD), Phase 1. I started my blog for this purpose. These grants provided a set of iPads (this was our first push to go mobile and begin to encourage BYOD) along with open wireless (this was start of getting our Board to fund Open Wireless across the district) for each school. The grant, however, was focused on learning and not hardware or wireless. I write about it here.

The Engaging the Digital Learner Series
We realized that as educators we needed to find a way to engage our learners. We designed a series open to both Administrators and Teachers entitled Engaging the Digital Learner. We managed to have four evening sessions in the midst of job action that were truly amazing. We had Chris Kennedy, David Warlick, David Vandergugten and Joe Morelock keynote this series. You can read about it here.  Again, the series exceeded our expectations and we had fabulous feedback. Teachers were hungry for this kind of inspiration and information. We kept the groups at the same tables throughout the series in the hopes that some key contacts would be made and that it might spawn other organic connections across the district. And, it did.

The Digital Discovery Series
This series ran parallel to the one above. We provided iPads to all administrators. The Superintendent and Deputy were key in making that happen. Part of the decision to do this was because some administrators were not interested in or providing much leadership in the area of digital integration in the schools. We needed to find a way to capture their interest and educate them to become technology leaders. We also wanted them to use it to encourage their own professional learning It led to the launch of our three-part dinner Digital Discovery Series (George Couros spoke at one, Alec Couros spoke at the other and Bryan Hughes did the first one as a bootcamp). Details are here. Our district hadn’t done anything like this in a long time and the administrators were very appreciative. We had tons of excellent feedback on this initiative.

Cadres of Digital Champions
We created Cadres of Digital Champions (a team of three educators at every school). We provided iPads to every Teacher-Librarian and Technology Contact at every school so they could join forces with Administrators in providing some interest in digital literacy.  We were, however, limited by job action in how this manifested itself. We also left it up to the schools and these teams to determine how, and if, they chose to work together. It was about creating the opportunity should others choose to step into it. Find out about it here.

Core Digital Coaches
From the above group, we asked for volunteers that wanted to become a core team of Digital Coaches to provide support to their larger group. Remember, we are a very large school district. There are 124 schools in our district so that meant we had 124 Technology Contacts, close to 100 potential Teacher Librarians and over 225 Administrators.  When we requested volunteers we were overwhelmed with interest. We picked sixty people (20 admin, 20 T-Ls, 20 Tech Contacts, 20 Administrators) to be our core team of Digital Coaches. They are supposed to support and help mentor the others. In return, we provided them with advance training and opportunities to be involved in other initiatives. We also see them as our way of keeping our ears open to the needs of the field, consulting them for key advice along the way.

“Movers & Shakers” 
We are starting a “movers & shakers” group. We planned this last spring but couldn’t activate it during job action. These are the teachers providing leadership in the area of technology across our district that are not necessarily involved in any projects. Digital Coaches and Cadre members are intentionally excluded from this group. We looked for teachers that were providing school and/or district leadership in the area of digital integration. We wanted teachers that were making active use of social media to spread ideas about best practice. Our purpose is to recognize, acknowledge and provide them support. We also want them, in return, to continue to provide leadership and mentor others. This is a mixed group of forty teachers. Our first initiative is to bring them together for a session with George Couros.

Teacher Librarians Navigating the Digital Space:
We are encouraging our T-Ls to become Digital Impressarios. We are also now receiving applications from at least 12 librarians who want to move further along the spectrum into becoming a Learning Commons.  Many of them are already doing this. We are just finding a way to provide them with additional support. The interested T-L’s have submitted applications and will be announced mid-June. Next year they will meet together and explore what it means to be a learning commons in our context. They will define this work together. Lisa Domeier (@librarymall) and Sarah Guilmant-Smith, have been the key Teacher-Librarian Helping Teachers behind this work.

Out of Their Heads:
We have two Fine Arts schools in our district that our now jointly collaborating on a project. You can read more about the project and its anchoring philosophies at their website. Amy Newman (@amnewish), District Helping Teacher, was instrumental in its development.

Making Thinking Visible:
We have 9 teachers (across schools) that are part of an innovative, one-to-one project called Making Thinking Visible. This is a different project in that the teachers were hand-picked for being excellent teachers but most of them were not necessarily engaged in the digital space (except for one of them—Karen Lirenman). We want to see what happens when outstanding teachers begin to add technology to their practice….There is no website for that project. It is still in its infancy.  We refer to it as a “field study.” Christy Northway, District Principal (Literacy and Early Learning) is working with these teams.

Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 2):
We just announced another 40 elementary schools as part of ILD, Phase 2. We are scaling up our very first initiative. We refined our application process to make sure we were more explicit about our district’s guiding framework (collaborative inquiry, assessment, differentiated instruction). We also anchored it in twenty-first century literacy and kept it school–based and teacher driven. The applications submitted were amazing. You can read about it here.

E-text Project:
We also wanted to dip our toe into the digital realm and make some shifts from print to digital resources. While we are not necessarily fans of e-texts (they are still in their infancy), we felt we might leverage this to shift practice. JB Mahli (@JB_mahli), Social Studies Helping Teacher, initiated this project. We have a video about it embedded in the blog post.

We have also promoted the use of twitter as a way of furthering conversations about best practice. This is the purpose of the #sd36learn hashtag. You can read about my own personal journey with twitter here. The post was just published in the BCPVPA provincial journal that goes out to all BC administrators in our province.

There are many, many other creative projects that come out of the Education Services department that are also innovative: The Numeracy Project, the Early Numeracy Project, the Secondary Focus project, etc. For this post, I have just described the key ones that have a digital component.

How have others viewed these initiatives? Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), IML Helping Teacher, described this past year this way, “While an incredible challenge with being a bargaining year and essentially work to rule most of the year, we also moved this district further forward in inquiry, innovation and collaboration than I have seen in the past 8 years doing this position.”

Amy Newman, Research & Asssessment Helping Teacher, describes her own journey, “on a personal note, involvement in some of the technology innovations has moved me from an interested bystander to an active engaged and eager participant- hooked on twitter, excited to be blogging and working with teachers on these blogs, as well as sharing all kinds of learning with teachers at all levels. I actively seek out and curate new ideas apps and strategies related to learning through technology and it has transformed my thinking, my learning and shifted my mindset.”

And as Kevin reflects, “the pace of inquiry, innovation, and collaboration was like a river rushing through a canyon. I am hoping that we can either find a back eddy to rest or that we reach the delta. This has been an energizing year, but I don’t think the pace is sustainable.” We are seeking ways as District staff to support this work in a way that continues to build capacity at the school level. If we have met our diffusion strategy successfully, we will soon be able to step back and let the work that launched itself go viral of its own accord.


Thank you to George Couros (@gcouros) for prompting this post. He requested a summary of what we were doing in our district. After he read it, he asked that it be made public for others to access.

Thanks to the whole team of amazing Helping Teachers who have created and supported this new work.

Thanks to the IMS Department (and @dj_turner) for allowing us to ride this tsunami.

And some stats compliments of their department: Surrey School District has 124 schools, 4,000+ teachers, 70,000 students, 8,000 laptops(mac/pc), 11,000 desktops(mac/pc), almost 4,500 iPads, 60 IT professionals, 25+ Helping Teachers,  and daily priceless moments…

To Gel or Not to Gel

Some days I just want a really good gel pen and a brand, spanking-new journal notebook. Those are the days when I am tired of hearing about, talking about, and learning about technology. It can all be a bit overwhelming. I think some of the people that tweet and blog have some genetic predisposition to using technology. I do not. I have to work at it. And, for me, it is frustrating. It seems that things never actually behave the way I want them to. I will give you an example. I wanted to create the background to my Twitter profile. I read about it in a book. I tried to follow the directions and three hours later (on a Saturday mind you) I gave up. I paid $4.99 on my Mastercard to get it to behave. I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to do it myself.

Okay, another story. So I decided it would be a good thing to follow some of the people in my district who were blogging. As a Director of Instruction, with technology in my portfolio, that seems important for me to do. And frankly, some of these people are posting great material (see Peter Johnston). Unfortunately, what happens is I often miss their new posts. In order to get these posts, I need to subscribe to their blog (if they have included that feature). I was finding it cumbersome to subscribe to blogs as it clutters up my mailbox, which is already protesting over too many emails (and, frankly, I like a clean email inbox, too). So I decided to learn about Google Reader. I put all the blog URLs into Google Reader so I could then create an RSS feed to my Flipboard on my ipad (I may not even be using those terms right in that last sentence!). Now, I love my Flipboard. It helps me manage the flow of information. And, at a quick glance, it allows me to get all the information I need, whether it is catching up on twitter or following blogs.

Of course, this is not the end of the story. I wanted to create a summary paper of all the recent posts that educational leaders in Surrey schools were creating. I felt it would encourage others and they might realize their colleagues are also posting good information. I have seen others do this through paper.li or summify.  This seemed like a reasonable goal. I googled the directions, watched a video, read some FAQ—all of which I found very time-consuming. In the end, I created a paper for the #sd36learn hashtag. That was not my goal but it gave me a chance to practice. I still haven’t created the summary paper of Surrey blogs but I am waiting to see if summify will fit the bill. Actually, I tried summify but it isn’t working as I hoped. The gracious people behind it responded to my tweet for help and gave me additional instructions. Unfortunately, it isn’t generating what I had envisioned.  I will have to find some other tool (another day, when I am not feeling so overwhelmed).

Which all brings me to a point. (You were beginning to wonder, I bet.) I am not the only one that finds it laborious to use technology. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is the most rewarding part of my job.  However, some of us are just challenged. Yes, technically challenged. And I guess that is why it is important for us to pay attention to the learning needs, styles and interests of our colleagues. It works best for me when someone actually shows me what to do (just in time, when I want and need to learn). Then I need them to watch me try to do it myself. I describe this as hand-over-hand (and, please, do not do it for me because if your hands are on the device, I am not learning). Then, they need to release me to do it on my own.  That works best for me.  And, personally, l would like them to check back with me later because my brain feels overstuffed and in between I actually sometimes forget how to do things.

We need to keep this in mind as we provide support to educators. They need to do it themselves, we need to provide the right tool for the their purpose, they need just-in-time training and we need to continue the gradual release of responsibility (with plenty of patience). Remember, those of you reading this post probably have a natural attraction towards technology. We need you to help those of us that don’t. And, finally, please be patient with our learning or we might just throw in the towel and return to our gel pens.

Creating Fire

Tonight we launched our Digital Discovery Series.  This is a three-part series that focuses on helping leaders understand their role in moving student learning forward in a digital age. Our three key themes are Using Mobile Devices, 21st Century Learning and Social Media. We had 220 educators in the room.

What did the evening look like? Our Superintendent Mike McKay gave an opening address and then Bryan Hughes, a Teacher-Librarian and Apple Distinguished Educator kicked off the series. He focused on showing us what you could do with an iPad.  For my part, the messaging included this quote from Gord Holden. It’s a long quote but it resonated for me.

 Technology IS just a tool, like a stick. Many new technological developments made sticks more effective as a weapon (barbs, bows, attachments, etc, but as long as the stick was still being used to harm other people, I would argue that there was nothing truly transformational about the technology. But when sticks became a way to create fire, THAT was innovative and progressive. I would argue the same could be said of modern technology. Replacing the product of the printing press with an ebook is arguably more effective, but not transformational. I fear that a LOT of effort and satisfaction is being gained by taking words, reformatting them into a digital space, and thinking the job has been done. Please, at best one is taking a club and making it into a mace. There is nothing transformational about this, so please stop using this word until it is applicable. The use of words is of course valuable as a means of transmitting knowledge that cannot be gained otherwise. Methodology-wise, it is the poor cousin though to what might otherwise be learned through experiencing. Granted, there are numerous situations where this might be the only reasonable avenue, but folks, with today’s technology, much of what we want students to learn can be experienced by them virtually. To turn away from this, to dismiss it, to let one’s fear of this become a paralysis that prevents pursuing the possibilities is to abrogate our responsibility to exploit the best possible means of supporting student learning. Behind this door are miracles waiting to happen, open the doors of education while the students are still willing to knock on it. Until you do, technology will remain a tool, but not a progressive or transformational one.

During dinner the table groups focused on discussing the two questions: What does technology look like in your school? How might you use technology as a lever to transform instruction and impact student learning? If you want to see how the evening went, you can refer to our district’s twitter hashtag #sd36learn. A table of secondary school principals tweeted this: @sheilamoris: Table 4 says best workshop in 10 years! Digital discovery series #sd36learn

Sharon Cohen, our Deputy Superintendent, brought the evening to a thoughtful close. She challenged us to think about what one thing, with one colleague, we might be able to do within one week, to stretch our digital learning. Many people at the tables made a commitment to do that. We look forward to the learning that will take place before our next session. And as people walked out the door, we handed them a QR code and instructions for what to do with it. You can find it here: http://transformingstudentlearning.wikispaces.com/

Have fun!

Learning Leads Technology: Chief Apple Educator Speaks

Last week, I was fortunate to be invited to lunch with Stephanie Hamilton, one of Apple’s chief educators, based in Cupertino, California. What I found most profound was that her message echoed much of what we are trying to do in this project with our pilot schools. What was her key point? “We must lead with the learning and not with the technology.” She had a number of other pivotal messages but I want to reflect on the points that resonated for me.

     “Mobile devices,” she stressed, “are intended to personalize learning.” We have the opportunity to support students, whatever their struggle, whatever their interests, in more personalized ways. Whatever their issue, there is likely an app or an application that can help them. Schools cannot provide a one size fits all approach. She touched on differentiated instruction and the need to move towards deep engagement for our students. Our district has the same focus for this project. She challenged us with important questions: How does technology change the nature of the task? How can we give students more control of their learning?

     The use of technology is no longer about digital integration but about transforming the learning task. She used the work of Ruben Puentedura, a researcher from Maine, and his technology implementation continuum as a point of reference. The best part, however, was when she walked us through explicit examples of student tasks, describing how they looked for each of his four stages, from enhancement to transformation. I found that part the most valuable because that is what teachers need to see. We need real life examples of the transformative use of technology. These provide us with models to help chart our way.

     “Teachers need to move from being master teachers to master learners,” she emphasized. I really liked her description of the future of schools.  She described schools historically as factory models of learning with teachers as content experts and then contrasted that with schools in the knowledge economy where teachers are the providers of context and students have the opportunity to be “free agent learners.” Her quote from Seymour Papert seemed quite apropos, “ The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”

     Finally, she made some pointed observations about our failure as educators to take advantage of the promise that technology offers. Some of the issues about technology and its integration were the same issues twenty, even thirty, years ago. She referenced the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath: “For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.” Fullan talks about this notion, too, “Research on attitudinal change has long found that most of us change our behaviors somewhat before we get insights into new beliefs. The implication for approaching new change is clear.” I realize that it isn’t about changing people’s beliefs, it isn’t about providing people with a list of reasons for why technology may help us, it really is about putting my own toe in the water. I have come kicking and screaming into the digital world because it became part of my portfolio. I knew I had a responsibility to model the way. I may not have wanted to learn about it but now it is become one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It has impacted my professional learning in a way I couldn’t have imagined. It had to start with me. I had to learn first. I am changing my behavior (trying out technology) and then letting the beliefs follow. We need to provide teachers with the support to do the same. It is about our behavior, our experimentation, and putting our toe in the water. What do you need to do? How can you support those that are willing to take the first step? It is when we learn ourselves, that we can transform the learning of our students.