In order to realign systems of education toward student-centered learning, a new generation of tools is needed to pave the way, accelerate progress and ensure that all students leave school ready for college and career. Toward this end, multiple partners coordinated by the Highlander Institute, are assessing needs, designing approaches, and piloting integrated learning systems — groups of coordinated education technology tools that support the four tenets of student-centered learning.
This 18-month project began in January 2017. The Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute is conducting an ongoing documentation of the work. We invite you to follow the project as it unfolds through regular blog posts, podcasts, and webinars that will be collected here.
The implementation of student-centered learning involves complex, data-intensive tasks like differentiating instruction for every student, ensuring that each student is mastering competencies at their own pace, and facilitating students’ progress through a range of pathways. In order to ensure that every student benefits from student-centered learning, it must be implemented at scale across education systems – meaning implementation must not require heroic levels of effort from the educators charged with employing it. The right set of tools can therefore be a driver of equity, solving basic problems so that educators can focus on ensuring that all students leave school ready for college and career.
Unfortunately, it is all too common for education technology tools to fail to live up to this promise. Issues with both the way these tools are created and selected for use often result in districts and schools that employ a mismatched set of tools, used unevenly across the system, that is not always clearly connected to a vision for instruction and learning.
By leveraging partners across the state of Rhode Island, national best practices, and innovative edtech companies, Highlander Institute seeks to establish a series of model Rhode Islan school pilots aligned to the tenets of student-centered learning. These pilots will seek to assemble integrated technology systems — suites of technology tools, vetted for their alignment with a student-centered vision and organized to work seamlessly with each other to meet the needs of educators, students, and families. This effort, known as “FUSE Architect” will accelerate the implementation of student-centered learning across Rhode Island by establishing credible and accessible proof points of student-centered learning, designing and piloting integrated learning systems that support implementation, and refining a process of technology integration that others might replicate.
In the first phase of the project, Highlander Institute sought to identify districts and schools across the state of Rhode Island to partner in the work.
Selection criteria included:
- Commitment to and momentum toward student-centered learning
- Concentrations of underserved students
- Capacity for participating in the work ahead
Ultimately, 7 schools across 6 districts were selected to participate, which represent the range of schools and districts across the state. Large comprehensive high schools and charter schools are in the mix, as are schools with low and high concentrations of students of color and poverty.
These districts and schools each made commitments to the project, identifying teams of teachers and administrators and carving out time for them to participate fully in the design and pilot phases to come.
In the second phase of the work, districts and schools designed their visions for student-centered learning and assessed the range of education technology tools currently in use.
The design process, supported by IDEO, a global design company, encouraged participants to consider what experiences students should have in a student-centered environment, and supported them to design the learning environment to produce those experiences. Adults and students both participated in design exercises, which helped generate a shared vision for student-centered learning.
With that vision in mind, participants conducted a technology self-assessment with the support of EdSurge, an online information resource for stakeholders in education technology. This process sought to determine the tools that are currently available, how tools are being used, and how successfully current tools are supporting personalized instruction and learning environments. The final step in the process involved deciding which tools are missing or in need of replacement, and then seeking out particular tools to pilot in the next phase of the project.
During this phase, partner teachers begin to operationalize their design plans and pilot their education technology tools with support from the Highlander Institute, education technology vendors, and other technical assistance providers.
Over the course of a school year, school design teams, pilot teachers, technical assistance providers and the Institute team will explore, observe, quantify, document and iterate on the transformation in student and teacher experience resulting from implementation. During this process, project stakeholders will meet periodically to review progress, debrief challenges, discuss assumptions, and develop capacity while being held accountable to their initial vision and design plans.
By the end of the pilot phase, each team will have attempted to assemble a functional, integrated stack of education technology tools — and will have a deep understanding of how well those tools support their vision for student-centered learning, what additional steps are needed to develop needed functionality, and how best to employ those tools to ensure that all students benefit.
While the previously described phases progress, Highlander will pursue a related strand of work that is already underway through a previous Highlander-led project and two state-level initiatives currently in progress at the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). The integrated learning systems being developed through this project will need high-quality education resources. Rather than leaving it up to individual schools and teachers to create or locate online education content, Highlander will convene a working group of educators to consider ways to build a system that will enable state-wide sharing of open education resources (OER) that are freely available for anyone to use and repurpose.
Rhode Island has been working for the past six months to migrate all of its current OER artifacts from the state’s Instructional Support System to additional platforms that can be leveraged by more educators across the state. In addition to supporting the state in sharing what it currently has, the working group will also seek to develop additional high quality, culturally relevant OER materials during the 18 months of this grant.
By the end of the project period, they will have defined an OER standard for Rhode Island and developed a working prototype loaded with content.