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6/23/2016

Beyond the Blend - The Age of Customization

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

It seems like no one really orders just coffee anymore. I was in a coffee shop recently, and the person in front of me ordered one of the most complicated drinks I've ever heard. It was something like this: iced-half-caff-ristretto-venti-four-pump-sugar-free-cinnamon-dolce-soy-skinny-latte. What does how we order our coffee have to do with how we should be treating education? A lot, actually!I was thinking how simple my coffee order was — a coffee with extra cream and Splenda — but then I realized, I also have a choice. I have the choice to make it simple, and I have the choice to customize it, if I want. Even with my simple order, I also had the choice of three different kinds of roasts and three different sizes of coffee.

We can have almost anything in our lives customized. Amazon suggests products for you; Netflix suggests entertainment for you; apps exist for your phone that allow you to customize what kinds of food, travel and even dating you would like to do. There are even apps to personalize your apps experience.

I think this begs the questions: If we have the ability to customize and personalize such trivial things as ring tones, should we not look at a bigger opportunity to use these tools to customize something as important as education?

Why should we shift to using digital experiences and tools to transform learning?

We are living in the information age and using digital technology anytime and anywhere to access information. Students in the 21st century need to be as engaged in their learning as they are engaged in their lives by using the technologies and tools of the digital age. It is not about the hardware though, it is about the headware. (Google Ian Jukes for more information. By the way, “Google,” as a verb, was added to the definitive record of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, in 2006!)

Being about the headware means it is not the devices or the apps. It is the thinking…it is the learning of what to do with the information that is now available 24/7. Jamie Casap, senior education evangelist at Google encourages this line of thinking for preparing students for new technologies that will be used in their future careers, “Instead of asking what students want to be when they grow up, Casap asks, ‘What problem do you want to solve?’”

Customizing learning for students is not a new concept; great teachers have always done it. The transformative piece is that by using digital tools for some parts of instruction, we now have the ability to customize for all students, giving them all educational opportunities that meet their needs as learners, as well as allowing them choices in the process. Who wouldn’t want that?

Next up in my blog series: What is personalized learning and just how do we customize education for students? One way is to adopt a blended learning approach to instruction, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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8/4/2017

A Year on Pause: A Very Personal Perspective on Personalized Learning

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

HAPPY-NEW-YEAR-8.jpgHello, everyone! You last heard from me more than a year ago, as I was in a car accident last summer. It was of the lucky-to-be-alive magnitude kind of car accident, and I am so grateful to be back at work now. This year on pause gave me time for some deep reflection during my recovery process.

In particular, I was struck by the parallels between personalized learning and my recovery. At the hospital, the trauma team used a set of protocols for unconscious victims to establish and triage my injuries. Based on this thorough assessment, the team determined I had broken both legs, among other damages. The assessment was extensive, and the trauma surgeons began treating the breaks immediately, using typical treatments for typical fractures. My right leg, however, was not a standard break, so alternative methods were used for my situation. If the team had done what it usually does for a fracture, I would not be walking today.

Lying in bed healing for two months and then recovering for another eight, I had a lot of time to think. The idea of my personalized treatment had me thinking about personalized learning and what it really means. I could overlay my situation to exactly how personalized learning can help students succeed. Some students respond to the typical and usual methods of instruction and succeed. Some students do not and need other strategies to achieve success. Most students have areas of strength and areas of challenge in learning. For example, standard teaching methods may work with them in social studies but not in science. I think too many times we look for a single-point solution in education…one tool or resource that will work for everyone…and that just is not the case.

Digital tools can assist, but they are not the only solution. Multiple solutions can be used to support multiple needs. In addition, a small set of tools can be applied differently to personalize learning for students. Perhaps you utilize online resources; do all students use them the same way? If you think of your resources as currencies, how will you spend them? This could include time and space—something as simple as a different room arrangement or a different structure for in-class time can help personalize learning for students. What are resources you have that can be used differently? How can standard assessment protocols be used to personalize a learning plan?

I did not recover alone. I had a team of support, from the initial trauma team to the physical therapy team, as well as an alternative therapies team. They were so willing to look for solutions for me to walk again; they never gave up looking for solutions, even ones they had not tried in the past. In education, we have many kinds of teams. How do we best utilize our support systems to personalize learning for all? What are the first steps that you can take to help personalize learning for students?

With the start of a new school year, we have the opportunity for a new beginning, new thinking and new planning. NONE of us can predict the future—but with the right tools and planning, we can be ready when it comes. HAPPY NEW YEAR—make it awesome!

Next up in the series…using a framework with a team approach to personalize learning.

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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11/21/2017

Personalized Learning… A Framework for a Team Approach

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

472072431-1.jpgWhile thinking about celebrating Thanksgiving, it occurred to me that turkey day is a total team sport, filled with pre-game planning in all areas. Besides all the obvious metaphors of cooking and football, I also thought about the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Specifically, I thought about the teamwork it takes to manage the hallmark of the parade...the balloons!

Those balloons are managed by teams of handlers, with the average balloon requiring 90 people and a pilot who walks backward the whole way. There also is a balloon captain who signals to the handlers when they need to change hand positions on the ropes. It is a totally coordinated effort for these balloons to fly straight and not escape into the crowd...or other hazards. Planning and training go on all year — no one just shows up and grabs a rope!

How does this metaphor relate to personalized learning? In my last blog, A Year on Pause, I shared my reflections on personalized learning with regard to my recovery from a serious auto accident. One of my major takeaways from my year was how amazing and essential the team approach was to my progress. If the team approach works so well, why don’t we use it more often in education?

To systematically transform schools into true personalized learning environments, a vision and a plan that includes all areas to support education would be a good place to start. One resource to help districts is the Future Ready Framework. Using the Future Ready Framework for visioning and planning is a great way to look at all the different elements that support education in your district. Ohio is supporting this free resource for districts looking for a way to plan and implement personalized learning. This national initiative was designed to have state support and, most importantly, local impact.

When high-quality teaching is infused with the dynamic use of technology, personalized student learning becomes possible. The Future Ready Framework is a road map that districts can use to successfully implement personalized, digital learning. The framework assists districts in planning how to prepare students for success in college, careers and citizenship. Following this road map requires systemic changes. With personalized student learning at its core, the framework helps districts align each of the seven key categories, called Gears, to ensure a successful conversion to digital learning.

Future-Ready-Gear.pngThe seven Gears are:

  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment;
  • Use of Space and Time;
  • Robust Infrastructure;
  • Data and Privacy;
  • Community Partnerships;
  • Personalized Professional Learning; and
  • Budget and Resources.

The outside ring of the framework emphasizes the need for collaborative leadership. It also displays a continuous cycle of district visioning, planning, implementation and assessment. Once a district is prepared in each gear, district leaders can be confident they are ready for a highly successful implementation phase that leads to innovation empowered by digital learning. 

Using this resource starts with a district leadership team doing an assessment to find out where the district stands in each gear. After this initial district assessment, leaders can determine the district’s digital readiness in each gear. Then, they can dive deeper into a gear they may want to develop. Ohio will be kicking off its official training for using the framework at the annual Ohio Educational Technology Conference. There will be sessions for district leaders, individual programs and specific school personnel roles. In addition to the district framework, there are frameworks based on roles to help support the work, including frameworks for district leaders, principals, technology leaders, coaches and librarians. You can find more information here.

If you are ready to use this framework or would like more information, you can start on the Department’s Future Ready site.

In future blogs, I will discuss the individual gears and programs. If you already are using this resource for planning, let me know. I will share your achievements to help other Ohio districts build their success. Use #FutureReadyOH to stay up to date with the Future Ready work around Ohio.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving — no matter how you choose to personalize and celebrate it. Since all my family cannot be together on the official day, we have created our own unique celebration the weekend before in a feast we call Molto Grazie. It does take serious planning and a team effort, but it is always worth it.

Stephanie Donofe Meeks is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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1/24/2018

Better Here Machine: Seeing Future Ready Through Different Lenses

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

GettyImages-168267485-1.jpgAny “This Is Us” fans out there? In a recent episode of the television drama series, Randall, one of the siblings, was talking about getting his first pair of glasses as a child. He shared his experience with the “better here machine.” Have you ever had a vision screening? They put a device over your head so that it aligns with your eyes to find the proper lens strength to help you see more clearly. As each new lens is tried, you're supposed to look through and decide if you see better with the current lens or former lens. The technician or doctor will ask, “Here or better here?” as he or she switches quickly between lens strengths (which can be sort of amusing when they do it fast).

The character Randall used the “better here machine” as a way to explain his perspective looking back on his childhood with his siblings. I thought that was a powerful metaphor for the way we bring our own unique perspectives to a common experience, including education. In a personalized learning environment, all staff and students have different perspectives. The key to successful transformation to personalized learning is aligning various perspectives and taking advantage of the best aspects of each unique lens.

In my last blog, I talked about using a team approach and the Future Ready Framework to help districts prepare for creating true personalized learning environments for students. An essential component to becoming Future Ready is making a systemic digital learning plan before purchasing the next round of technology. This process includes creating a leadership team and using the district self-assessment tool to determine how prepared the district is to support digital learning environments. Districts get feedback that shows both areas of readiness and areas for growth. Looking at the alignment of all the elements for success can assure districts that their planning will be effective.

If a district uses the Future Ready Framework to help make strategic decisions regarding moving to environments that support personalized learning, the next step is implementation. Future Ready encourages specific roles, such as librarians and instructional coaches, to view the framework, strategies and connections through their specific lenses. Once a district team uses the districtwide lens to look at, reflect and assess its readiness in each element critical to success, the individuals on the team can see the specific ways they can implement the plan via their own unique lenses based on their roles in the district.

Each role’s customized framework helps implement personalized learning for the district based on the specific ways their work will support each gear. Let’s look at two role-specific examples through the lenses of principals and technology leaders that define the ways they can support personalized learning environments for students:

Future Ready Principals believe in:FR-Principal.png

  • Modeling the type of professional learning by empowering staff to lead, learn, fail, and repeat.
  • Making anytime, anywhere learning a reality.
  • Developing a plan to ensure ubiquitous connectivity in and out of school.
  • Advocating for the use of multiple strategies to meet the needs of diverse learners.
  • Working to build partnerships to communicate and agree upon a shared vision for student learning in their community.

Future Ready Technology Leaders believe in:FR-Tech-Leader-1.png

  • Making anytime, anywhere, anyhow learning a reality.
  • Supporting an open, flexible, robust digital learning environment.
  • Insuring data safety and privacy while promoting best practices in digital citizenship.
  • Planning for future innovation and technology that supports learning.
  • Creating a transparent environment that communicates to all stakeholders.

To see more information about the leadership roles within Future Ready, click here. As you can see, each role plays a unique part in helping the district as a whole move forward with transformation. By using the framework as its own “better here machine,” a district can create a clear vision and path forward by looking through the lens of the powerful gears and the educator-specific roles. For more information or questions regarding this framework, please contact Stephanie Meeks or follow #FutureReadyOH on Twitter. Future Ready also will be the topic of six sessions at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference Feb. 13-15.

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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5/25/2018

Alexa, How Do We Personalize Learning and Prepare Students for Jobs of the Future?

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

GettyImages-873289740-1.jpgWho remembers the original Star Trek television series from the 1960s, set in the 23rd century, when Scotty would talk to the computer? We all thought that was a long way off, but a few days ago I dashed out my front door and yelled, “Alexa, turn off the dining room lights!” Granted, Alexa is not setting a vector for warp speed travel, but that's still my voice activating a cyber response to a physical object. I can ask Alexa to order something from Amazon, tell me the weather in Myrtle Beach or to settle a debate with my husband about a Civil War fact. (He was right.)

Using an interface like Alexa is part of the cyber connection to our physical world often referred to as the Internet of Things. The concept is not new; however, it is now embedded in our everyday life rather than being a nebulous concept from Star Trek. If we think about it in terms of the Industrial Revolution, we are in the fourth iteration of the Industrial Revolution. This is where the cyber and the physical are more connected and work together.

We talk about preparing kids for an unknown future but isn't that what we've always done in schools? The difference is we now have a greater understanding about the future of jobs and growth industries. How do we get students ready, no matter what the future brings?

One way is to establish personalized learning environments and maximize learning for all students. It's not a defined, exact science so much as it is a collection of elements that define the learning environment. It is a child-centered approach using technology as an accelerator for learning. In schools doing this, you will see the following priorities and related actions displayed in this infographic:

5-25-18-Meels.png
Click to enlarge and see other slides from the presentation that contains this infographic.


The Alliance for Excellent Education developed the Future Ready Framework for Personalized Learning. The Framework provides districts with a free resource to plan and support personalized learning environments. Going through the district assessment process allows for rich conversations about all the areas needed to personalize learning for students, not just about what device a district will purchase. If we believe that personalized learning can truly maximize learning for each child, our next step should be making this a reality. For more information, you can start here.

Let me leave you with this: If students can find answers by just asking Alexa, then how do we change the questions we want students to answer? Do we teach them what to think or how to think? Watch this video for more on the difference between knowledge and thinking. 

For tips on using Alexa in the classroom, click here!

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM