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Learning Impact Blog

IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | June 2020

 

"A Change is Gonna Come" —Sam Cooke

 

Going into 2020—before the COVID-19 and the renewed urgent calls for equality in society—equity, agency, and mastery was IMS Global's new call to action and the theme of the May 2020 Learning Impact conference.

In last month's post, I reviewed some of the key takeaways from a series of interviews and panels I conducted for the Learning Impact 2020 on-demand series. I feel strongly that what we are learning from the pandemic pivot to remote education and the united response against inequity are reaffirmations that equity, agency, and mastery are what we want to stand for as leaders across the IMS community.

To me, one of the most used mantras for the last decade—student success—is a phrase that looks more at symptoms than root causes. It also sets the diploma/degree industrial model that seems to have taken us about as far as it can go after its 100+ year run as the primary goal. Personalized learning, another much-used phrase, while going beyond differentiated learning from the instructional perspective, has come to mean almost anything. In 2007, when IMS began the Learning Impact Awards program, we adopted what some called the "iron triangle" of access, affordability, and quality as the key criteria of impact. The goal with the triangle has been to improve all three simultaneously, an elusive goal that today still eludes us because little has changed in terms of the predominant educational delivery models that tend to trade off these parameters. 

Why are equity, agency, and mastery a compelling focus across K-12, HED, and corporate education as we move into the future? Well, we know we must get better at evolving our educational models toward the needs of society. Thus, we need to think more explicitly about the areas that we want to improve, hopefully, areas that are pillars that lead to educational system transformation. 

  • Equity of educational opportunity is not only a call to social justice, but it is key to enabling growth across underserved areas. Many believe that the pandemic will spur improved technical infrastructure to enable economic opportunity in underserved areas as the percentage of the population that works from home grows.  

  • Increasing student agency is a byproduct of more authentic and relevant educational experiences. Over and over, we have learned that educational experiences that connect to real-life challenges, questions, and interests of students open the possibility of student success and societal success.

  • Mastery stresses a better focus on what students have learned and what they can do. Current transcripts and approaches to assessment have created a self-reinforcing cycle that does not lead to better education. Instead, it is trying to drive forward while looking at the rear-view mirror.  

Most importantly, equity, agency, and mastery can work in concert, which is very different from the iron triangle's opposing forces. Equitable opportunities enable agency that, in turn, enables a focus on mastery, and better definitions of mastery enable equity. 

Next month, I will cover some of the interoperability areas that have accelerated as a result of COVID-19 and how they relate to equity, agency, and mastery. In the meantime, I am reminded of some words from my good friend and mentor Bernie Luskin, "If you want to change something, you actually need to change something." Sometimes extraordinary events remind us that we must do better. Noting that Sam Cooke wrote the song I am quoting in the title of this blog in 1964. We can and must do better—in society and education. 

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Inside the Digital Transformation - Part 2

This is part two in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic.

By Monica Watts and Dr. Tim Clark

 

Sketch: remove learning in K-12 (June 2020)

The Value of an Interoperable Learning Management System

Last week we explored how interoperability supports the transition to digital learning. In this week's post, we investigate the instructional value of a learning management system (LMS) specifically.  We recently caught up with four district leaders (virtually, of course) who are using an IMS-certified LMS to help facilitate their pivot to emergency, remote learning. These districts already implement processes to adopt digital tools and align them into interoperable ecosystems with an LMS being a key component. 

Learn what it means when your edtech products are IMS certified.

Think of the LMS as mission control where the teacher can communicate with students, provide assignments, and link to resources. As a home base for online learning, it supports and connects teachers, students, and parents as a “go-to” place to begin digital learning, whether in school or from home. Essentially, the LMS has the potential to be the digital equivalent of the face-to-face, physical classroom by seamlessly integrating and making available—with the help of IMS standards like OneRoster and LTI—all of the district's various digital tools and resources. 

When asked about how the open IMS standards have impacted their transition to remote distance learning, all responses confirmed a significant improvement to their working dynamic, especially with the use of an LMS. 

Gregory Odell, e-Learning Specialist at Hall County Board of Education in Georgia, notes that his district’s interoperable LMS, Canvas, allows teachers and students to continue school in a way that is “business as usual.” Fortunately, the district began integrating its interoperable edtech platforms before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, so its users had a bit of a head start in getting used to the technology. Michelle Eaton, Director of Virtual and Blended Learning of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, makes it clear that, although the district’s LMS, itslearning, benefits teachers, the current remote working conditions are still less-than-ideal. “I think there are some really great things going on,” Eaton explains, “but emergency and remote teaching are very different from online learning. Online learning is not something that you can just ramp up in 48 hours. For us, we have been committed to interoperability for some time...it certainly helps us as we move to remote teaching.”

Eaton’s words highlight an important point. While the interoperability of digital systems had value in pre-pandemic life, it is even more critical now. Without interoperability, teachers assume an increased tediousness in their workloads, as they must repeatedly enter login credentials, search for resources, and enter data (such as grades) in multiple platforms. This administrative burden severely impacts efficiency and profoundly affects both student and teacher productivity. Those who are new to an LMS are usually pleasantly surprised at its ease of use and variety of features. Educators who are used to having to manage multiple usernames and passwords for even the most basic of tasks involving edtech are relieved to find that the experience is much smoother. Interoperability streamlines these duties and gives teachers better control of their remote classrooms. A district is also better able to support teachers through the consistent use of the LMS from both technical, instructional, and professional learning perspectives, which helps to ensure greater instructional equity and access.

Steve Buettner, Director of Media and Technology for Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, notes that interoperability with his district’s LMS, Schoology, is helping teachers in a big way. They have much better control over course activities, monitoring student progress, and designing assessments. Also, it makes it much easier for students to access information without having to alternate between multiple systems. The simplification has improved access to grade reports and increased the ease with which actions can be determined based on based grade triggers.

Considerations When Introducing a Learning Management System

The district leaders have a few suggestions for transitioning to an interoperable LMS. Odell urges to avoid settling for what you have or cutting corners concerning the integration of the necessary technology. Instead, push the district vendors and other technology providers to ensure your students are receiving the best learning experience you can offer. Daryl Diamond of Broward County Public Schools in Florida, also utilizing Canvas LMS, suggests, “Districts need to procure a learning management system as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for teachers to house all of their curriculum with the capability to align to external tools.” Diamond recommends that an LMS should eliminate “the need for learners to log in separately on external systems.” She asserts that the districts’ responsibility is to correspond with stakeholders whose duty is “to ensure the interoperability of all digital hardware and software and address any issues that arise within the digital ecosystem. This interoperability is vital to teachers’ ability to effectively manage course progression and their students, especially concerning the use of essential data such as rosters and rich outcome analytics.”

Introducing the above technological advances during the pandemic compels a district to consider what schooling will look like in the future. “The work of teachers has been dramatically changed since their first use of the LMS,” according to Diamond, “as it eliminates many basic administrative duties. Teachers will continue acclimating to the new systems to fully experience the benefits of student engagement and enhanced instructional capabilities.” Eaton is not surprised at how thoroughly interoperable features are being integrated into the various LMS platforms throughout school districts in light of emergency remote learning during the pandemic. She is, however, quite excited about future applications of this dynamic technology. “We can build on this momentum since every teacher in our district now knows how to use a digital learning platform. The basic training is done. Now we can focus on what teaching and learning look like in the classroom."

As a result of the pandemic response, what we are hearing, and what district leaders are seeing, is that an interoperable digital learning ecosystem using an LMS is dramatically improving student and teacher experiences. Hopefully, this will continue long after the pandemic with even more widespread integration and interoperability of technology in K-12 education.

In the next post, we will explore the value of a student information system for pivoting to remote instruction.

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Inside the Digital Transformation - Part 1

This is part one in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic.

How Interoperability Supports Your Transition to Digital Learning

A quick glance at any recent edtech news shows that the unexpected pivot to digital learning is a challenge for most K-12 schools and districts. In fact, it has been such a challenge that Steve Buettner, Director of Media and Technology at Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, suggests that we shouldn’t call it “digital learning.” Rather, it should be called “remote or emergency learning” to distinguish these reactionary practices from true digital learning. Yet some districts like Edina are making the transition from face-to-face to remote digital learning more easily than others. One key to their successful pivot? The interoperability of their digital tools and resources. 

In a nutshell, interoperability is the driving force that allows you to improve opportunities that enhance teaching and learning with your digital ecosystem. Technically speaking, it’s the ability of your learning apps and tools to connect and exchange useful and meaningful data. But for teachers in K-12, interoperability can be a game-changer, dramatically reducing time on tasks and increasing student and class engagement and management. Interoperability provides students, parents, and administrators with a consistently positive experience using technology resources. 

The Design of a Digital Learning Ecosystem

Edina Public Schools is one of the many school districts strategically designing ecosystems of digital platforms, content, and tools to support effective classroom instruction and enable a variety of modern learning experiences and models such as virtual learning, blended learning, and distance learning. All of these instructional models usually involve digital learning. Although districts select different educational technology resources, a core feature of an effective digital learning ecosystem is that it’s interoperable. IMS open standards are the preferred way to achieve this interoperability.  We connected with several K-12 leaders engaged in the work of edtech interoperability to see how the changes from the emergency COVID-19 pandemic response are affecting their districts and revealing about the future of their digital ecosystems to better assist their teachers and students, parents and guardians.

Most of the digital ecosystems designed by these districts are comprised of some configuration of the following core platforms to assist teachers in facilitating digital learning: 

  • Single Sign-On (SSO) Platform or Portal
  • Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Student Assessment Tool or System
  • Student Information System (SIS)
  • Learning Object Repository (LOR) of Digital Resources
  • Productivity Suite(s) 

Modifiable IMS Ecosystem image

Typically, the various core systems above, as well as other applications, are often accessed via a portal or platform that supports single sign-on (SSO). The learning management system (LMS) is usually the core of a district’s digital ecosystem with integration points to their student information system (SIS), a learning object repository (LOR) of digital resources, and a student assessment system. Similarly, the data, content, and assessments pass back and forth seamlessly through integration with the LMS as the usual delivery system. Interoperability among all of the above systems eliminates the need for learners to log in separately on external systems to complete learning activities, engage with digital resources, and complete assignments and assessments. This seamless interoperability also keeps teachers from having to enter grades or other information into multiple platforms and provides greater insight into useful data regarding student performance.

To understand in greater detail how districts provide such interoperable teaching and learning experiences, we had in-depth conversations with Hall County Schools in Georgia, the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, and Broward County Schools in Florida. We asked them about specific components and implementation of their digital ecosystems. And we touched base with several other districts, to find out what they're doing at this time. Over the next few weeks, we will continue sharing their strategies, experiences, and future plans to inform and guide you in the design and implementation of ecosystems to effectively support digital learning. We hope you will find this information useful and actionable as you adapt your technology and instruction to today’s new normal!

In the next post, we will explore the value of a learning management system for pivoting to remote instruction.