Digital Readiness Project: Study of a Public Middle School

Digital Readiness Project For Public Blog TEASER

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview my principal about the digital readiness of our middle school. The goal was to discover how my institution is ensuring that technology is being used wisely for teaching and learning. The infographic that follows is a visual representation of my findings. The two driving questions at the top of the infographic guided the interview, while Mike Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship, the ISTE Digital Citizenship Standard 5, and a number of informal interviews with colleagues guided the construction of the interview questions that follow.

Digital Access

  • How are we helping to provide and expand access to technology both at school and at home?

Digital Communication

  • How do we balance a middle school students’ level of maturity, brain development and need for attention with their ability to make responsible decisions when exchanging information online?
  • How do we promote the personal connectivity among students when students appear more interested in interacting online?
  • How do we use digital tools of communication and collaboration to interact with larger communities and promote diversity and global awareness?

Digital Literacy

  • How do we determine which technologies need to be taught?
  • How are we addressing technological skills that are currently being used in the workforce but are not being taught in the classroom?
  • How do we bring cohesion to technological skills being taught among various curriculums? What is the bigger plan for system wide integration?
  • How do we foster the use of technology that goes beyond the role of entertainment and utilizes educational objectives?
  • How do we instill in educators the desire and personal responsibility to be digitally literate in way that fosters the purposeful integration of technology?

Digital Etiquette

  • How do we teach students what is appropriate (safe, legal, ethical use) behavior online?
  • How do we teach online etiquette in a way that does not promote avoidance?

Digital Law

  • How do we teach students what is the legal and responsible use of online mediums?

Digital Rights and Responsibilities, Health and Wellness, and Security

  • How do we help students balance free speech with the responsibility to protect their privacy and identity online?
  • How do we teach students that what they do online travels with them?
  • How can we alert our students to the consequences of ill-informed use of social media?
  • How can we educate parents when they often assume to already be knowledgeable?

The organization of the findings utilized a set of five-years goals my principal was charged to create by our technology specialist, specifically without the inclusion of the word device. I thought it would be interesting to measure goals currently addressed, and the icons in the top corner of each block represent this measurement. Five separate themes ultimately emerged from the interview and make up remaining six blocks of the infographic: technology curriculum and its nested state, educator preparation, access via funding, and major challenges.

 

DigitalReadinessPublicInfographic

School access continues to be an overarching challenge and was addressed heavily in the interview. My principal seeks to leverage all funding available to the school, and she noted that we are the only middle school in our district accessing all possible CTE funding from the state. Her ability to leverage additional technology funding from the state came from simply putting in the effort to move a course to a different grade level. This is a clear indication of her commitment to providing access to technology.

The nature of adolescents was another running thread. I asked how we prepare adolescents, who are still maturing, to be responsible online. She noted that the expectation for all adolescents to be mature and responsible during the school day is unrealistic, and, as a result, having this same blanket expectation for the online world doesn’t make sense. Rather, she believes that students need to have the tools in their hands as they learn, not after. She posed the analogy that student maturity does not impede the use of expensive or potential hazardous laboratory equipment in science labs to illustrate this point.

Parental involvement was another important aspect of the school’s digital readiness as she saw it. Parent education is regularly offered, but rarely utilized, and parents later comment that they already possess necessary skills. However, my principal noted that she regularly speaks to parents who are unaware of their child’s improper use of technology. Specifically, she believes that parents should be more involved with their child’s use of social media. She analogized that a parent wouldn’t send his or her child into a city alone, and should not do the same with the online world. She referenced the need for “just in time” parent education. When something buzzworthy occurs, parents are more likely to have open ears.

Following the interview, there were two areas that I felt continue to need address. One of these areas is system-wide cohesion of technology skills. I shared some educator concerns that students are often unprepared due to a lack of commonality among teachers. I feel that a plan for cohesion would benefit all students, as the teacher a student is assigned to should not result in a disparity of skill.

Lastly, the use of digital tools to interact with larger communities and promote diversity and global awareness remain a goal in her eyes. She agrees that having students collaborate with students in other cultures would give students purposeful opportunities to communicate. However, she stated that we are responsible for protecting students from themselves and others. It is important to have a safe place to practice these skills at school. Platforms like Edmodo can provide these opportunities, while the transition to the global arena remains in sight.

I went into this interview with the knowledge that our school appears to be ahead of the curve with technology implementation. Throughout the school day, there are varied opportunities for students to interact with digital tools and obtain important skills. My administration strongly supports educators in their experimentation with technology. My principal believes, “[her] job is to remove all hurdles.” As such, “whatever teachers can dream up, [she] want[s] to make it happen.” She felt that, “when you establish this culture, people dream big.” To me, this spoke to the heart of my administration’s focus: support. I do believe that our teachers feel very supported to try out new tools and applications for the benefit of our students.

 

International Society for Technology in Education. (2008). ISTE standards: teachers. Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.iste.org/docs/pdfs/20-14_ISTE_Standards-T_PDF.pdf.

Ribble, Mark. Digital Citizenship: Using Technology Appropriately. (2014). Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html.

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