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What Are High School Students Learning? Where and How Are They Learning It?

  • In what ways might information and communications technology (ICT) help to redefine the outcomes, structures, and environments of high schools?

  • What factors influence how high school students come to know and use ICT?

  • What might be the social dimensions of ICT fluency?

This session explored specific strategies and programs for cultivating ICT fluency among high school students. Speakers detailed many of the essential elements of success for gaining access to ICT and using it creatively and effectively in learning. They suggested how to build schools of the future from scratch and how to transform today’s schools into schools of the future. And they stressed that while none of this could be done without technology, more important was strong school leadership and teamwork, teacher and student participation in planning, teacher and student collaboration, and school environments that are supportive both of independent and interdependent learning.

Throughout the session, several issues were stressed: the need to embed ICT across the high school curriculum (rather than its being an isolated subject); why some schools make progress in adopting ICT and using it wisely while others do not; how teachers and administrators could learn from successful noneducational organizations; the value of informal and



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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary 5 What Are High School Students Learning? Where and How Are They Learning It? In what ways might information and communications technology (ICT) help to redefine the outcomes, structures, and environments of high schools? What factors influence how high school students come to know and use ICT? What might be the social dimensions of ICT fluency? This session explored specific strategies and programs for cultivating ICT fluency among high school students. Speakers detailed many of the essential elements of success for gaining access to ICT and using it creatively and effectively in learning. They suggested how to build schools of the future from scratch and how to transform today’s schools into schools of the future. And they stressed that while none of this could be done without technology, more important was strong school leadership and teamwork, teacher and student participation in planning, teacher and student collaboration, and school environments that are supportive both of independent and interdependent learning. Throughout the session, several issues were stressed: the need to embed ICT across the high school curriculum (rather than its being an isolated subject); why some schools make progress in adopting ICT and using it wisely while others do not; how teachers and administrators could learn from successful noneducational organizations; the value of informal and

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary project-based learning; and dealing with external impediments while fostering approaches within the schools that are as productive as possible. Presenters were Mary Cullinane, academic program manager at Microsoft’s School of the Future Program; Betty Manchester, director of special projects at the Maine Department of Education; and Vera Michalchik, a research social scientist at SRI’s Center for Technology Learning. Respondents were Joyce Malyn-Smith, director of strategic initiatives at the Education Development Center and Philip Sumida, a physics instructor at the Maine Township High School West (Des Plaines, Illinois) and a former member of the National Research Council’s Teacher Advisory Council. ANSWERING THE CRITICAL QUESTIONS Mary Cullinane described a “school of the future” project in which Microsoft is a lead collaborator for the School District of Philadelphia. Scheduled to open in September 2006, this school will be a neighborhood high school for 750 local students. “It’s not focused on math and science, and it’s not focused on the arts,” she said. “We are trying to demonstrate the norm in urban education, not the extraordinary.” Cullinane recounted the “critical questions” that she and her fellow team members asked themselves during their planning for the school, and she suggested that these questions are pertinent as well to cultivating ICT fluency among students at any high school. What are we trying to create? The high school of the future, Cullinane said, should have a learning environment that is continuous (“not dependent on time and place”); relevant (“in its materials, curriculum, and outputs”); and adaptive (“allowing us to address the individual student”). Who are we creating it for? A school ultimately serves students’ future workplaces. It should graduate young people well prepared for success, both in building their own careers and in advancing their organizations’ values—and value to society. But for a school to realize such objectives, she said, it must first and foremost know its students. How will you organize your work? “Key areas of development that we are working on in the school of the future,” said Cullinane, include “innovation in the areas of building design, IT (information tech-

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary nology) architecture, community engagement, and instruction.” These areas will be directly linked to learning outcomes, articulated by the schools’ educators that comprise the basic elements for cultivating student skills. What is going to guide your journey? Cullinane cited the need for a framework and a well-defined process for building a school, but she urged selectivity. “You need to balance,” she said. “There is a lot of process out in the world, not a lot of doing. And we need to make sure we don’t get too process heavy.” What will allow you to be successful? Borrowing the term “critical success factor” from the working world, Cullinane asked: “Can you identify your critical success factors when you talk about the types of students you want to see graduated? What are the things that you absolutely have to have in order for you to yield the outcome you want?” Here, too, she urged selectivity: “In education, everything seems to be critical,” she said. But given the limits on time and resources, “everything can’t be critical.” What assets do you need to build in order to get where you want to go? Those assets, Cullinane said, should align with your critical success factors. In that regard, educators might well borrow again from industry. She offered as example Microsoft’s “competency wheel”—a Web-based tool, referencing the organization’s approximately 30 core competencies, that is designed to assist employees’ professional growth. “As soon as I saw that tool,” she said. “I thought ‘That’s what we should have had in education.’ So now I’m building a school-of-the-future competency wheel.” Cullinane said that the project team is now working with educators from around the world to help them identify what those competencies should be for high school students and the resources and tools that need to be in place to support the competencies’ development. CHANGING THE ENVIRONMENT Bette Manchester described a project, now in its sixth year, “about putting tools in the hands of teachers and students throughout Maine with the vision of economic and workforce development.” As a result, all middle school students and teachers now have laptops, software, e-mail, and other resources for collaboration, she reported, and the project has moved into one-third of the state’s high schools.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary “But it isn’t enough just to put technology into the schools,” Manchester said. “It really is about changing the ‘workplace’ there and changing the schools—although giving people technology does help to begin altering what happens in classrooms.” In the past, teachers shared a computer lab and had to schedule time to use it. But “if there was a fire drill or the Internet service went down,” she said, “you could wait another month or two before the students had that opportunity again.” Now, with the agenda pushed into the regular classroom, kids no longer need to go elsewhere and work in isolation. Integral to changing the schools’ environments, and a large part of the project, has been ongoing professional development aided by leadership teams composed of teachers, administrators, and librarians, said Manchester. Their specific goals have been “equity of resources for students and teachers; increasing student and teacher learning; increasing student and teacher collaboration; and increasing project-based and applied learning opportunities in the schools.” To reach these goals, she said, it is important not only for teachers but also for students to have a voice in the management of change. Thus, the project has established student “tech teams” in every school to help ensure students’ ability to contribute. Regarding students’ all-important ability to learn, “assessment has been a huge piece for us in how we have them use these tools and show evidence of their learning,” Manchester said. “Assessment informs teachers and students about the next learning that needs to be taking place in the classroom.” Moreover, the project intends that the intellectual capabilities comprising ICT fluency be taught in all classes, not just the high-level ones, “so that all students are actually getting high-level content, rigorous context, and integration of fluency skills.” The project intends that much of this work be based on student projects, some of which occur outside the schools and are therefore informal. According to Manchester, the schools are deeply involved in, and students participate in, a variety of initiatives with colleges, research centers, museums, and community agencies, among others. She cited some of the state project’s challenges that remain: continued funding so that the effort may move forward; flattening the information network in order to provide resources directly to principals, teachers, and students; and local control (as opposed to a state-mandated program). “Maine is a local-control state,” said Manchester, “so it is critical that we

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary develop policies and practices that really are much more systemic if we ever are going to get these skills into the schools.” CULTIVATING LIFELONG INTERDEPENDENT LEARNING Vera Michalchik indicated that while survey organizations have long reported that young people are getting more access to ICT and spending more time with it, we also know that some of them have very limited experience: 15 percent of them do not have access to the Internet at all, she said. In other words, their ICT experience varies greatly. She went on to say that the question of what youth are doing with ICT depends on who the kids are: it is a function of their gender, disposition, education, and economic situation. In other words, technology is not something that is adopted in any universal sort of way. Its presence and use are reflective of particular social contexts as well as constructed by those social contexts. When you talk about social context, Michalchik continued, you are talking about relationships. ICT fluency is really a mediated process, a process of learning from others and adapting accordingly. People draw on the competencies of those around them—in community technology centers, in after-school settings, and in informal conversations with friends. In that sense, the emphasis in Being Fluent on independent learning might well be adjusted, she suggested, to capture the social dimensions of ICT. Although the report does discuss collaboration, it talks largely about working with other people, not learning from other people. “Kids who are sophisticated users become that way in large part by cultivating and adapting their personal relationships,” said Michalchik. And they rely not only on “knowledge brokers”—well-informed people, often contemporaries, who they can draw from—but also on “process brokers,” such as teachers, who can help them manage the relationships and other resources they need. As an example, Michalchik referred to Phillip Bell’s paper for the workshop. It included an example of coders who, as they go through their programming exercises, have established norms within their group that require them to share insights—typically, by blogging on a regular basis—about the code that they are writing. Therefore, instead of talking about producing lifelong independent learners, she suggested, we should emphasize becoming lifelong interdependent learners—often, in informal environments. This would help people

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary escape the “epistemological rut we’ve been in for over 100 years” that posits legitimate learning as occurring when people are isolated from each other. Michalchik connected learning through relationships to a particular aspect of assessment. “For many years I have observed that people in social and cultural interaction are constantly assessing what others know because they need to draw on one another’s competencies.” This is especially what kids do, she said. “They pay attention to what other people know how to do, which is how they learn from the time they are infants. They orient themselves to what other people’s capabilities and knowledge are, and they do this seamlessly.” Such “embedded interactional assessment,” she added, “doesn’t just help learning. It also helps people organize their goals as they get together; and it helps them regulate participation in activities, based on who knows how to do what.” Ultimately, Michalchik concluded, “it’s about teaching as well, because good teachers are always paying attention, in very subtle interactional ways, to what their students know and know how to do.” MAJOR THEMES Joyce Malyn-Smith enumerated three of the workshop contributors’ major points so far, made both through oral presentations and papers: (1) the need to build foundations for workers of the future; (2) the importance of informal learning as a complement to learning in the schools; and (3) the kinds of things that must be put in a framework: self-direction, interpersonal skills, accountability, adaptability, and social responsibility. Students need to know how to make sense of information—to extract useful information and identify disinformation, Malyn-Smith observed. They should be sensitive to context, rigor, and relevance. They should develop ICT fluency through blended learning environments: face to face and on line, authentic contexts, apprenticeships, internships, and service learning. As guidance to teachers in helping students become fluent, she offered an analogy: “When Phil Esposito was asked why he was such a successful hockey player, he said ‘It’s because I don’t skate to where the puck is. I skate to where it’s going to go.’” Similarly, Malyn-Smith suggested, “as we think about fluency, we need to consider where it’s going to be in a few years and structure what we can do to get us there.” Highlighting another important suggestion, she noted that implementation of ICT fluency—unlike the original report’s vision of a unique course designed and offered in the

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary school—should be embedded throughout the curriculum. “The end goal of being fluent,” she said, “is not just to use the tools but to use them to help you learn English or help you learn science.” Philip Sumida observed that embeddedness cuts both ways. Citing another workshop participant, he said that “the question becomes how we identify the characteristics in institutions that will make them change their focus from ‘I’m teaching Chaucer’ to ‘I’m teaching ambiguity and change.’” He also emphasized that with respect to teaching skills such as networking, teachers are not the critical link. “Students are learning networking themselves. They will go and find each other, whether it’s on their mobile phones, instant messaging, or whatever it is. And they are very good at this. But while they don’t need us to teach them how to network, they do need us to teach them how to use these networks successfully to accomplish the sorts of goals of their workplaces.” Regarding how to change institutions in order to achieve such outcomes, Sumida acknowledged that “there is no one right way.” Nevertheless, he added, “we can identify the characteristics of those institutions that make them more likely to have students who meet fluency goals.” WHAT SCHOOLS SHOULD LOOK LIKE In response to several questions from the audience about elements of the Maine project’s success, as well as any notable difficulties, Manchester first credited individuals outside the K–12 teaching arena. “It actually took the vision of a governor who put his whole career on the line,” she said, “and we spent a fair amount of time with Seymour Papert [an eminent computer scientist and educator], so we got the vision right.” But ultimately, she said, the project succeeded by “taking best-practice people and putting them in the driver’s seat.” Content area by content area, she said, the project employs a “distinguished educator line” to secure the most qualified individuals to guide their colleagues. For example, “in the area of science I pulled a science teacher who ran our base college academies for math and science, and he is working with the science teachers to embed resources and tools into their work.” The project did the same for literacy teachers and for arts. “These people are working with teachers around the state,” she said. Success in any given school, however, depends in large part on the quality of its leadership team, Manchester said. And remarkably, she has observed a strong inverse correlation between such leadership quality, or

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary the relative lack of it, and a pedestrian but easy-to-document measure—the school’s record of equipment breakage. Such data are of course anecdotal, she acknowledged, but “schools that have less damage are usually doing really interesting and exciting things. You walk into the school, and you feel it. You spend time with the teachers and the leadership team, and you see a real problem-solving organization, where people are taking risks, analyzing what they are doing, then going back again and trying something different. And that is directly related to the kinds of interesting and exciting things going on for kids in the classroom.” By contrast, she noted, “when I go to a school that has high breakage, it takes me five minutes to see that there is no leadership team. There is no purpose of the work. There is no vision for the work. And the tech coordinator and principal are often at odds, with the tech coordinator actually in charge of the building when it comes to IT.” This observation highlights a continuing problem in the project, Manchester said. “We still have way too many administrators abdicating their role as educational leader to the tech people, who decide, for example, whether a school will have e-mail.” Compounding the problem is that information from national programs tends to get sent to the tech people, not to school principals. State by state, she observed, we need to turn such situations around. Cullinane was asked a comparable question regarding Microsoft’s School of the Future Project: In being “continuous, relevant, and adaptive,” what will such schools look like? By definition, continuous implies independence of time and place, she responded. “So our strategies clearly involve a wireless infrastructure, on-line resources, all materials being digital, and students having one-to-one access.” There should also be a continuum in access, with school and home having similar access to online environments. Broadband access at school, for instance, should mean broadband access at home—admittedly a challenge in West Philadelphia. Relevant, she continued, refers to instruction, which means that teachers and students have access to up-to-date materials and up-to-date tools. And adaptive “means an environment in which students have the ability to drive their own learning—that is, to use self-directed learning models where individuals can, based on where they are, go the way they need to go—as opposed to ‘Do I have to go the way the student next to me needs to go?’” Meanwhile, delivery of individualized assessments, in real time to a student’s desktop, will be technologically enabled by “virtual teaching assistants,” Cullinane said. “Students will then be pointed in a specific direc-

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary tion. If they need remediation on the topic, they will be directed to digital materials that support the remediation. If they can go further, they will be pointed toward resources that serve that purpose.” Asked about useful analogs for helping educators effect the kind of broad organizational changes that such innovations imply, Cullinane referred to a seemingly universal characteristic of successful organizations. “At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that they consist of people who, without question, have the attitude of ‘I want to be better.’ If you look at companies that are successful, if you look at teams that are successful, their people are passionate about the idea of ‘I’m going to own that, I’m going to be responsible for it.’ That’s the environment we are trying to create in this [School of the Future], and if we can do it there we hope to have a model that can be replicated worldwide.” Malyn-Smith pointed out that an essential aspect of such environments is a culture that encourages creative thinking and risk taking, neither of which is typical of education systems. Similarly, although it is essential to give teachers the tools that everyone else has in the workplace, resources are so limited that they often compromise the goal of ICT fluency. “It is unacceptable,” she said, “for a science teacher to stand up and say ‘I don’t have Internet access, and I have one computer in my classroom.’ How do you expect them to turn things around?” “We are a long way from some of the things that we have been talking about today,” Cullinane acknowledged. “But we have two choices. We can conclude that the issue is so huge that it’s simply overwhelming. Or we can bite off a small piece of the issue, try to address that, and hope that what we learn from it can be modeled and scaled nationwide. At Microsoft we are taking the latter of those two approaches.” PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT Session chair Herb Lin, of the National Academies’ Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, noted that “one of the things I’ve seen in trying to promote educational change at the precollege level is the resistance of parents to things that are different.” So given what Cullinane and Manchester “are trying to do in a new, adaptive, dynamic, student-centered, inquiry-oriented, educational environment, which is very different from the ones that most parents had when they were students,” Lin asked, had the speakers encountered any parental resistance? Cullinane said that she and her colleagues had not experienced such

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary resistance, and she attributed its absence to the disadvantaged nature of the neighborhood, West Philadelphia, which she equated to East Harlem. “These parents are so hopeful for this opportunity for their students,” Cullinane said, “that they couldn’t jump on board faster.” In fact, she reported, parents have often helped to restore the School of the Future team’s occasionally sagging morale. Just by calling a community meeting, “the folks can come and build us all back up,” she said. “It’s a shot of inspiration.” Cullinane speculated, on whether resistance is a function of parents’ level of education and degree of financial success. That might be the basis of a good study, she suggested. Manchester said that her experience supports this hypothesis. “We haven’t seen any resistance from parents who’ve lost their jobs in the manufacturing world and really want to see their kids learn and have a different life,” she said. By contrast, resistance to doing our kind of large-scale project has come from among “the best-educated we have in Maine”— people who have been some of the most vocal as well. For example, she noted that with the Laptop Project, parents were initially quite concerned about giving an expensive tool to children that they wouldn’t take care of, though it turned out that they did. Cullinane said that educators’ emphasis on technology per se, especially in their interactions with parents, ought to stop. “If we can talk about the environment that needs to be created so that we can improve student achievement, as well as student preparation for what will lie beyond, we don’t even have to mention the word ‘technology.’ But if we keep going back to hardware or machines or software or typing skills in our conversation with parents, we are going to get bogged down in the weeds.” Of course, she acknowledged, we cannot get where we want to go without technology. “But if we talk about an involved and interconnected learning community, we don’t have to argue the value of technology because the end goal is understood.” Manchester agreed that while dropping reference to technology is desirable in theory, it is not always possible in practice, especially when state legislators and local boards must make decisions about funding new technology for the schools or staying with textbooks—that is, whether to move ahead or risk falling behind. “For us right now,” she said, “we are still at the level of needing the support to survive in the kind of environment we have created for schools.”