Evaluations and Communication in Digital Education

Overview

The end of the school year often meets me with mixed emotions.  As hard as it to say goodbye to students, it is exciting to imagine what their futures will bring.  While I thirst for the summer off, I dread the lack of routine and separation from the school environment. Other educators may have differing end-of-year emotions, but one commonality is that, for all of us, it is a time for reflection, goal setting, and final evaluations.

In my first years of teaching, my reflections were varying forms of “do everything differently next year, get better”.  My goal was to get at least average scores in my evaluations to eliminate any proof of my shortcomings as an educator.  I do not say this to mean that I felt like a failure as a teacher, but rather that there was so much more I should, and could, be doing.  While these thoughts and feelings have not gone away–nor would I necessarily want them to–I no longer feel as if I am totally swimming in the deep end.  So, for the end of this year, and for my exploration for Module 3 of my Digital Ed. Leadership program, I decided to look a bit more deeply into the evaluation process and communication practices in my district.  My intention is to gain a better understanding for myself, so I can more effectively reflect and set growth goals, and to share what I have learned to gain input from others.

Evaluating a “Digitally Distinguished” Educator

On the ISTE site, contributor Helen Crompton offers an in-depth explanation into ISTE standard for teachers three, relating to modeling digital age work and learning.  She explains that, “Students need to learn how to effectively and appropriately use digital tools, and it is the teacher’s job to model what that looks like” (2014).  I understand that the increase in available digital tools and devices has happened so quickly, majorly redefining teaching, and I’m sure that it has been difficult to stay updated on the best practices for evaluating teachers. However, if indeed it is the “teacher’s job” to model responsible and appropriate use of technology, than surely this is an area they are being evaluated on.

My search to understand how teachers in my district are evaluated on technology use started with our evaluation rubric, based on the Danielson Framework.  After scouring the rubric for any keywords relating to “digital” or “technology” I found only a few vague statements.  The first mention, under the “designing coherent instruction” section, seems to tag technology on as an afterthought–it is not consistently mentioned throughout, but only mentioned, in parenthesis, in the “distinguished category”. The second two mentions, both under the “Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment” section, are more consistent with the expectations but both have basically the same verbiage regarding “effective technology use”. The first expectation seems to revolve around the actual use of technology–are teachers using the tools available to them? The second expectation seems to have more to do with how technology is used–are teachers using the tools wisely? The concern for me is that there are so many areas to assess within “effective technology use”, which are more clearly outlined in the ISTE student and teacher standards.  Is our evaluation rubric in need of an overhaul?  Or at least a supplement so it is reflective of current teacher expectations.

In looking for a more comprehensive teacher evaluation relating to technology, I came across this rubric, created by a media and technology coordinator from Minnesota, that uses the Danielson framework (maybe mixed with ISTE or other standards??) to create a more specific technology evaluation for classroom teachers. While this may not be a perfect fit for my district, it makes it clear that there are many more, specific areas, we should be evaluating teachers in regards to technology competency and use.

Communication Practices in a Digital World

My district has been a Google school for several years and, at this point, most teachers and administrators are effective users of Gmail, the Drive, and Google Calendar.  These tools offer effective ways to communicate, share documents and resources, and stay informed on important dates and scheduled meetings.  I am truly impressed with the competencies of my district as a whole in using these tools.  With that said, other Google tools, such as Google+ and Hangouts are used by very few, and I would like to see them utilized.  For example, Google+ communities could create great place for staff and students to share resources–right now one of the few communities, frequently used though, is made up of technology mentors.  I also think that Hangouts could be a great way to organize meetings between staff and with parents and students.

The middle, mid high, and high schools in my district also all maintain Twitter and Facebook pages, which is a great way to reach out to parents and students, and the community. A lot of cool information is shared on these sites too, including sports victories, academic successes, upcoming events, etc.  The setback to these sites is that many students are convinced that the schools are trying to “spy” on their social media, and therefore refuse to “friend” the sites.  Additionally, there has been some issue with parents and community members inappropriately vocalizing complaints through our social media platforms. While the sites are ultimately beneficial, making sure they are used effectively can be a challenging struggle.

It is easy to locate and dissect the shortcomings within any educational system when looking for them through the lens of a critic.  It is even easier to notice potential deficiencies when the focus is on educational technology, an area that is not only constantly changing, but rather doing backflips and cartwheels.  With that said, I maintain an appreciation for my district–while there are indeed areas in need of improvement, we definitely have a lot of forward momentum and dedicated educators willing to do what’s best for students and our community.

Further Questions

  1. It seems like the evaluation process has gotten a lot more time-consuming since we started using the Danielson framework for assessing teachers. How much more of a time commitment would be necessary to effectively assess teachers in this area?
  2. How can we keep the evaluation process simple, while still looking for specific areas of technology proficiency?
  3. We have studied the ISTE teacher standards–how are these actually applied to the classroom? Are they more of a suggestion for technology savvy teachers to consider, or do some districts use the standards to assess teachers?

References

Crompton, H. (2014, July 24). Know the ISTE Standards•T 3: Model digital age learning. Retrieved May 13, 2016, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=109

Johnson, D., & N. M. (n.d.). Rubric for Effective Teacher Technology Use. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el201303_johnson_rubric.pdf

Redefining the Writing Process through Digital Instruction, Collaborative Projects and Assessments

Reflection Overview

While last semester of SPU’s Digital Education Leadership master’s program focused on ISTE standards for students, this semester has examined ISTE standards for teachers.  So far, we have looked at standard one, to facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity, and standard two, to design and develop digital age learning and assessments.  Naturally, these two standards fit together as the first asks educators to consider the learning experience and the other focuses on the assessment process. This connection allowed me to fully rethink how I teach an area of instruction, from its inception to its conclusion.  Subsequently, I choose to focus on how to redefine the writing process using digital tools.  The questions that I chose to explore for each standard, listed below, gave me a starting point.  However, as you will read in the reflection, my research lead me to various conclusions.

Standard 1 Question: How can I revamp the standard essay writing process to foster creativity and utilize technology tools?

Standard 2 QuestionWhat digital tools or digital experiences are available that allow students to collaborate on the writing process, specifically those that can easily be monitored and assessed by the teacher?

Digital Tools to Redefine the Writing Process

My first considerations when looking for quality digital tools are to find those which are easy to use and are simple to implement immediately, with little set-up or training necessary.  I also tend to choose tools that are cloud-based so they can be used on any device, or those which are compatible with Chromebooks as I am at a Google-school.  With that said, the following tools meet these qualifications and address the two parts of the writing process that I personally don’t always teach effectively, brainstorming and publishing.

Brainstorming Tools

I recently asked students to create a timeline of pertinent events from their life as a way to brainstorm for a narrative essay. In the past, I had students create this timeline on paper but figured that there was likely a more engaging and valuable option for completing this task–I was right!  In looking for digital timeline tools, I found a lot of different options, but found that HSTRY and Read Write Think Timeline seemed the most appropriate for education.  Both allow students to incorporate media and offer various organizational ideas, totally revamping the traditional timeline.

Additionally, my master’s program has turned me on to mind-maps as a way to organize ideas.  We use Coggle to reflect on each module, which is great as it incorporates pictures, media, and is very visually appealing.  Below is the Coggle mind map I made based on ISTE standard one as an example.

I also recently equipped my Google Docs with the Mindmeister add on.  This is another great tool that allows students to create a mind map out of an outline.  What I like about this is that it would be a good way to teach the outlining process, which I know I sometimes overlook!  Below is a Google Doc displaying a sample, based on a few points we covered regarding ISTE standard 2.

 

Additionally, I explored tools for creating citations and bibliographies withing Google Documents.  The best tool I found was the Paperpile extension, which allows for users to easily embed both parenthetical citations and a works cited section.  I also tried out EasyBib, which was equally easy-to-use but was a bit more limited on what all it offered.

Reconsidering Assessments to Increase Educational Value & Relevance

Over the past few years, my district has begun assessing students through “performance tasks” in the core subjects such as math, science, history, English, and Health/PE.  These tasks require all students to take common assessments, typically involving a lot of writing, over the year. Teachers then gather data on these assessments to provide to the district.  The data is meant to inform instruction, identify areas of need, and hypothesize about how students may perform on state-mandated tests.  There are definitely benefits to these tasks, such as that they do provide valuable data on our students, compiled by our teachers rather than a hired scorer who-knows-where.  Creating these tasks also provides time for departments to align instruction and norm grading.  However, I believe there are a few ways that these tasks can be redesigned so they are more valuable instructional tools and more meaningful to students.
 
Our performance tasks are meant to be served “cold”, by which I mean that students do not get to prepare for them at all–besides general class instruction throughout the year–and they are not allowed to receive help from the teacher during the process.  These guidelines make sense, as they are similar to what is required for a state-mandated test.  The issue however is that, at least in English classes, these tasks have replaced various essays or big writing assignments we have done in the past, in which students received a lot more instruction.  I cannot see the value in taking out instruction to get a general idea of how a student MIGHT do on a state test.  It is also difficult to watch some students get hung up on a simple formality, which makes them unable to complete the task at all.  Additionally, since these tasks must be competed in class, it is very difficult to account for absent students.
Another area to reconsider is in what is how the writing process is taught through these performance tasks.  As an English teacher, I argue that the most important part of writing is the revising and publishing.  ANYTHING someone writes, from an email to a novel, should be read over, often several times, for accuracy.  Then, when the finished work is turned in, it should be published and received in a way that encourages others to read it, or for it to have some valuable purpose.  For these tasks, students jump right into writing the paper, very rarely read their work over, and then immediately forget about them when they are finished.  It is really hard to “sell” something when it’s hard to find much value in it myself.
 
A final potential issue with these performance tasks lies around the necessity to norm writing expectations beyond just their department. As it is, teachers only discuss how to score these performance tasks with their own subject-area departments.  This means that writing expectations may be inconsistent among each group.  Incidentally, this leads students to be confused when they are getting high scores for writing in math or science, and much lower scores in their English class.   

My Collaborative Project

The big project for my master’s program this semester is a global collaborative project.  These types of projects ask that educators “flatten their classroom walls” to collaborate with individuals outside of the classroom.  I have been exploring various global projects and have found some really awesome ideas out there, such as.  However, I have also learned that the last month of the school year is not the time to start this type of project as it requires a lot of planning!  In consideration of time restraints, I am trying out a mini-collaborative project this year, where I will have my ninth grade English class work through the writing process with a sixth grade language arts class within my district.   Specifically, these students will work together to edit each other’s papers and I will collaborate with the other teacher on strategies for teaching narrative writing.  While I’d love to try some “bigger” projects in the future, starting small is a good way to step into this cool idea to take make learning more relevant, valuable, and collaborative.

Digital Citizenships: Lessons and Reflection

The digital citizenship curriculum is not only extremely important, but also incredibly relevant to the learning environment.  It is important because, with the rapid increase of social media and digital tools, we are constantly “connected” both in the classroom and at home.  The digital world allows for deeper opportunities for learning, communicating, collaborating, and creating, but the stakes are high if used inappropriately. It is vital that we address respectful, responsible, and safe online behavior so that we can fully take advantage of the increase in available technology.  The digital citizenship curriculum is also very relevant because teaching students about empathy, respect, safety/protection,  ethics and morals are important lessons for any environment. Ultimately, teaching about digital citizenship strengthens our online world, but also greatly benefits our physical spaces.

This year I’ve had the opportunity to use curriculum from Common Sense Media to teach my ninth grade students about digital citizenship and to ultimately become a digitally certified instructor.  Using this curriculum, and their affiliated sites like Digital Bytes and Graphite, I taught a variety of lessons and worked with staff to implement this instruction into the school.

To start the year, my entire school dedicated a day to digital citizenship instruction, where we taught the Scope & Sequence lessons to all students.  These lessons covered a variety of topics (shown in the image below).  What I particularly appreciated was that each lesson offered modifications for teachers depending on technology availability and included lesson extensions or additional resources to make it easy to continue the learning.  The lessons are also “scripted” enough so anyone can use them, but they are also open enough to be easy to personalize.

Digital Citizenship Topics 

Common_Sense

To continue this instruction, I recently introduced students to Common Sense Media’s Digital Bytes site.  This is a self-guided site which allows students to interact with others on the various topics and to explore essential questions relating to digital citizenship.  As the questions were very relevant to students’ lives, they were very engaged with this site and it was not at all difficult to keep them on task!  Included below is an assignment I had students complete as they navigated Digital Bytes, so I could record the responses which they also posted to the site.

Digital Bytes Assignment – Sample of Student Work

After exploring Digital Bytes, students worked to create symbols that represent aspects of digital citizenship (Thanks Ann Hayes Bell for the idea!!). This lesson was great for my English classroom as it built off of our prior learning about symbolism in literature.  Our plan is to use the symbols to create a bulletin or poster to display across the school at the start of next year.

Digital Citizenship Symbols Assignment

Moving forward, I definitely plan on continuing to embed digital citizenship instruction into my classroom.  As stated previously, the discussion topics and issues are so relevant to students’ lives and can easily apply to the core subject curriculum.   I’m eager to see how students use their learning about digital citizenship to shape their digital lives!

References:

Curious what Digital Bytes is all about? (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2016, from http://digitalbytes.commonsensemedia.org/

Hayes Bell, A. (n.d.). Communicate. Collaborate. Create. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from http://annhayesbell.org/

InCtrl. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2016, from http://www.teachinctrl.org/

K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum | Common Sense Media. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2016, from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship