Monday, May 2, 2016

Digital Support for Customized Student Education

Vision for MCPS 21st Century Schools: Pt. VI

The driving force of change in the world of work is technology. Computers, robotics, and the Internet led to a revolutionary shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. Public schools were actually created at the advent of the Industrial Age to prepare students for those jobs. 21st Century Schools must engage students with the digital tools that they will use in the Information Age.

A key development of the Information Age is customization of product to fit individual needs. Student development varies dramatically from child to child. Learning styles and talents are quite different.  Educational technologies available today allow students to customize their instructional program to fit special needs and goals. Additionally, the Internet opens opportunity for a plethora of learning engagement that may not be available at the local school or at the time convenient for the student. The 21st Century schools will work with the student (and parents) to support, coordinate, and qualify the effectiveness of the customized education most appropriate for maximum career and life preparation.

Customizing the education program provides maximum benefit for the student, but it also places additional responsibility on the student and parent. The Industrial Age schools set graduation goals for the student and expects everyone to march through for the same outcome at the same rate of time. The custom program places more responsibility of choice and maturity to complete the individual goals. Fortunately there are digital tools known as personal learning platforms that support the student and the school in this process.  

A personal learning platform is an online digital portfolio that is a repository for all the formal and informal education data that a student engages throughout their life. The program organizes the data to show exposure, mastery, and the interrelatedness of all learning. The student can collect or share their data with any educational facility, teacher, counselor, coach, tutorial service, or potential employer. Data is collected digitally as badges, grades, certificates, or credentials and can include sampling of art, presentations, and even video.

Lets consider some examples of how a student would make use of the personal learning platform (PLP):
·      At the elementary level students mature at different levels for math and language skills. Teachers currently give grades reflective of development and move from one concept to the next without assurance of mastery due to constraints of time. With a personal learning platform the teacher can give a grade and assign resources such as Khan Academy videos for the student to engage beyond class time for mastery. The student can engage this material outside of class, record their progress in their PLP, and report success back to the teacher in real time.
·      A middle school student has determined that they want to pursue a career in computer science. The local school has no classes to support this goal beyond the typical math and language arts. However, computer coding and networking classes are available online through Code Academy or Team Treehouse. The student can take these classes, record their development in the PLP, and upload credentials earned to the local school for local credit.
·      A student is participating in the local robotics competition program. They engage many practical applications of algebra, calculus, and physics as they engineer the robot to compete. These concepts can be tagged in their PLP through the use of digital badges and imported to the local student information system for credit.

There are many other examples demonstrating how students can take personal responsibility for their educational development using a PLP and take full advantage of every learning opportunity to become competitive for the careers of their choice. There is yet another advantage available. Students can actually import data that shows the level of expectation for success for the next level of education, credential, or even a job. This information is revealed in a spider graph. The student is shown what they have currently mastered in a particular subject compared to the level expected. An actionable gap gives the student an indication of what needs to be mastered for success. An example of the graph is provided using the MARi© Personal Learning Platform.


You can easily see how this digital tool places the opportunity for customized education directly into the student’s hand throughout their lifelong learning process. Students gain credit for every learning experience. Competition drives mastery. Teachers and counselors now become valuable education mentors rather than the sages of knowledge and development.

Mecklenburg County Public Schools will begin piloting the use of the MARi Personal Learning Platform this summer. The program is free to all students. All federal and state requirements for personal security have been fortified. Counselors and teachers will begin to take advantage of the tools available for assignments. Digital badges will be given to students for informal education activities including the Children’s Theater and Cybercamp program. We are pleased to take advantage of this digital tool as create 21st Century schools that will prepare students for the careers of tomorrow.