What’s Your Digital Type?

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Make the Technology Standards for Educators work for you; from our Fall 2019 issue.

By Susan Brooks-Young

Terrence has come to teaching as a second career. He wants to give it his all, but he isn’t convinced that his young pupils really need access to instructional technology on any regular basis to be successful. He uses a smartphone personally but isn’t familiar with its advanced features. He takes attendance and posts grades online but would happily complete these tasks offline if that were an option. His students seldom use any digital learning materials at school.

Kaye, a fourth-grade teacher, fully supports use of instructional technology throughout the school day. Her students use their devices frequently, but almost always for skills practice or quick assessments like online quizzes. She’d like to offer more challenging learning experiences for her students, but she isn’t sure where to start.

Amaya is her school’s librarian and technology specialist. She wants to work with teachers to develop technology-supported activities for classes to complete while in the library, but administrative tasks and difficulty scheduling co-planning times get in the way. As a result, she and the teachers usually fall back on using the technology available in the library to make presentations to classes and allow students to conduct online research or write reports.

Jonah teaches seventh-grade math. He is quite technically literate and comfortable with designing learning activities that incorporate the use of various digital tools to gather, analyze, and report data. He wants to share his expertise with fellow teachers, but he doesn’t know how to go about doing that.

These profiles reflect typical challenges today’s teachers face when it comes to using classroom technology well. Education researchers Kenneth Graves and Alex Bowers have identified four distinctive types of technology users among teachers: evader, assessor, presenter, and dexterous.

In the examples above, Terrence is an evader, a teacher who prefers not to use technology at all. Kaye is an assessor, someone who primarily uses classroom technology to drill basic skills. Amaya represents the presenters, teachers who use technology to support direct instruction and also help students learn to use tools for writing and presentations. And Jonah is dexterous, comfortable with most or all types of technology and ready to learn more.

Students with teachers who are presenters or dexterous typically get to use digital learning tools in more creative ways, but teachers in all four categories have room to grow and enhance their professional practice. Based on the explanations provided here, which of the four categories describes your current use of technology in your classroom?

Each teacher mentioned above wants to help their students achieve success but is stymied by how to go about doing that. Just as we use content area standards to insure that students are meeting specified academic targets, teachers can improve their skills in designing and implementing technology-rich learning environments using professional standards created for that purpose.

Technology standards for educators

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a worldwide membership organization for technology-using educators. Since 1999, ISTE has championed the use of standards to provide students and educators the best possible digital age teaching and learning experiences.

Over time the focus of these standards has shifted from discrete skill sets, such as online research or word processing, to big-picture ideas that challenge teachers to rethink every facet of their approach to classroom instruction. ISTE Standards for Educators target teachers on all grade levels from Pre-K through 12 and across content areas, and ISTE Standards for Computer Science Educators are specifically for teachers who work in that discipline.

What do classroom teachers need to know about these standards? To apply the standards personally, it’s important to understand how they are structured. Let’s take a look at the Standards for Educators (you can approach the Standards for Computer Science Educators and the Computational Thinking Competencies in much the same way). These seven standard areas direct educators’ attention toward broad goals:

  • Learner. Effective teachers are lifelong learners working alone and with colleagues to examine accepted and potential ways technology use can enhance instruction.
  • Leader. All teachers help guide their school community toward strategies that empower students and improve teaching and learning.
  • Citizen. Teachers model and promote responsible, positive use of technology.
  • Collaborator. Teachers capitalize on the power of collaborative learning by working with and learning from colleagues and students.
  • Designer. Teachers use what we know about good instructional design to create technology-supported learning activities that allow for individualization and are based on authentic, deep learning experiences.
  • Facilitator. As facilitators, teachers strive to incorporate multiple opportunities for students to take responsibility for their own learning while using technology (as appropriate) in activities that encourage critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Analyst. Teachers explore alternative ways to assess student learning, both formative and summative. They also use the data collected to inform instruction moving forward.

These standards may seem lofty, but in reality they are aspirational — representing what we would hope to achieve as educators in a perfect world. In addition, there is no expectation that teachers will attempt to tackle all seven standards at once. That would be impossible. So how might a classroom teacher approach the standards?

Applying the standards

Within each of the seven standard areas, there are three to four performance indicators that further define each standard. These indicators identify the “what” — the different objectives educators might work to achieve — but still leave plenty of room for personalization of the how to go about it. A careful review of all the performance indicators offers a sense of the scope of each standard.

Think about the four types of technology-using teachers described above. Which category best matches your approach? Be honest with yourself. No matter where you are currently, you have room to grow and perfect your teaching skills. Knowing that you are an evader, assessor, presenter, or dexterous helps you develop your personal professional learning plan. Take another look at the standards, this time through the lens of what type best describes your use of instructional technology today.

Let’s use the four teacher profiles at the beginning of this article to see how this might work. Each educator has indicated an openness to learning how digital tools might be utilized to improve teaching and learning. However, these teachers are at very different places on a continuum of instructional technology use that ranges from nonuse to providing a rich digital learning environment for students. For this example, assume that all four are developing an individualized professional development plan for the school year.

Terrence (evader) freely admits he’s not convinced there’s value in technology-supported instruction. His initial objectives are to learn more about research on the efficacy of digital learning environments and effective entry-level instructional strategies. Performance indicators 1a (instructional strategies) and 1c (current research) are entry points for him.

Kaye (assessor) wants to learn how to design more intellectually challenging activities for her students. Performance indicator 1a (instructional strategies) would work for her, but so would performance indicators 5a (designing personalized learning activities) and 5b (designing authentic, deep learning activities).

Amaya (presenter) understands instructional design, but she needs to figure out a way to make collaborative planning with colleagues a nonnegotiable part of her day. Performance indicators 4a (dedicated collaborative planning time) and 5c (creating innovative digital learning environments) could help her meet her goals.

Finally, Jonah (dexterous) wants to share his expertise with colleagues. He is sensitive to the need to not come across to colleagues as a know-it-all and realizes that some help with leadership skills would be useful. Performance indicators 2a (engage with stakeholders to implement a shared vision) and 2c (model use of digital materials and tools that support teaching and learning) are appropriate objectives for him.

In these examples, the standards provide a framework the educators profiled here can use to identify objectives for professional growth. However, specific details for how to go about doing that are not provided. Decisions about the type and scope of activities that will help them meet the objectives they select are entirely up to the educators. This freedom to design the “how” of a personalized plan may be a bit daunting at first, but it allows educators to commit to activities that are realistic given their circumstances.

ISTE’s Standards for Educators sets a high bar, but don’t be discouraged. Looking to these standards and performance indicators for guidance can open your eyes to instructional possibilities that will benefit you professionally and help your students achieve success in ways you might not have imagined.

A former Catholic-school teacher, Susan Brooks-Young spent 23 years as a teacher and administrator. She now works as a professional consultant and author. She is co-author of Pathways to Well-Being: Helping Educators (and Others) Find Balance in a Connected World (ISTE, 2019).

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