Open Letter to Educators: (Re)Defining Digital Learning Day

Dear Educator:

Tomorrow (well, technically today by the time I am done writing this) is the second annual Digital Learning Day.

Cool. I’m all for digital learning, as the title of my blog implies.

But, as we prepare for the onslaught of tweets, blog posts, videos, webinars, and other celebrations, it is worth exploring the definition of “digital learning” that the group is promoting, as well as the background of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s president, Bob Wise. Understanding a little more about each of these components for the day should, I hope, give you a better understand of why it is happening.

First, the definition, straight from their website:

Digital learning is any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience. Digital learning encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices, including online and formative assessments, increased focus and quality of teaching resources, reevaluating the use of time, online content and courses, applications of technology in classrooms and school buildings, adaptive software for students with special needs, learning platforms, participation in professional communities of practice, access to high-level and challenging content and instruction, and many other advancements technology provides to teaching and learning.

In this sense, I read the definition of “digital learning” to mean content that can be delivered to students at a low-cost and, presumably, without certified teachers in place to facilitate their learning. Or, as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder calls it, “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way Any Pace.” The fact that teaching is only mentioned twice (one of those times as an adjective) and “teacher” is never mentioned should be of concern.

And, as a number of educational historians, most notably Larry Cuban, have pointed out, when there is no teacher buy-in with technology or technology-based efforts at reform, very little if anything changes. This line of thinking is very much with the proposals that organizations like iNACOL (one of DLDay’s partners) through their federal policy frameworks have proposed to essentially eliminate teachers and fuel public education dollars into private, online corporations.

Also, there are number of buzzwords and phrases in this definition that should raise the eyebrows of anyone who follows educational reforms efforts. Phrases like “online and formative assessments” is certainly a nod to the impending PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments, which will be relying on computer scoring of writing, rather than informed, teacher-led assessments. The phrase “learning platforms” also barely hides a thinly disguised approach to curriculum delivery that is, at best, a type of self-paced credit recovery option coming in the form of programs like e2020 and Read 180. Finally, the euphemism “communities of practice” is code for teacher groups that are formed under the guise of choice and interest, but usually are created to fulfill a school’s need for performance to meet AYP goals, not genuine inquiry through teacher research.

Lastly, it is worth noting that Bob Wise, who teamed with Jeb Bush for the first Digital Learning Day let year, remains the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, the main sponsor of DLDay. Despite his Democrat party affiliation, it is worth noting that Wise is an advocate for digital learning who has shared his views in conservative forums such as the Mackinac Center. Lastly, and perhaps most concerning, Bob Wise has close ties to ALEC and many other organizations tied to the corporate educational effort movement.

All of this hubbub about DLDay thus raised major concerns for me — as a teacher, teacher educator, author, consultant, and parent. As I look towards tomorrow and the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of educators that will participate in Digital Learning Day, I wonder what we are truly celebrating?

Kids?

Creativity?

Real, authentic learning?

Contrast that paragraph full of edu-jargon quoted above and compare it with what happens when authentic assessment, student centered technology interfaces, and teacher driven inquiry guide digital learning that happens in places and spaces like NWP’s Digital Is and the DML Hub, through conferences like EdCamp and EduCon, or other affinity groups that coalesce through twitter or other social networks like Connected Learning. There is great digital learning going on out there, but not necessarily in the spaces or formats that DLDay actively promotes through their corporate partnerships and special interests.

So, what do you plan to do as you celebrate Digital Learning Day this year?

While I certainly encourage everyone to participate, I also strongly suggest that you think about the message you are sending in relation to digital learning: who has power and agency? Who has access? Who is accountable, and for what reasons? Are we talking about students, teachers, and parents working toward a common goal of universal literacy and civic engagement?

Or, is this just another corporate effort at “reforming” education into another line in their profit ledger?

However you celebrate DLDay, you have the power to show what digital learning is and can be, not just what corporations and politicians tell us it should be.

Use your power — and hashtags — wisely over the next 23 hours.

Update on February 7, 2013: Minor editing/typo changes. 

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Examining Digital Learning Day

As with all educational initiatives and fads, I strongly encourage everyone participating in the Digital Learning Day celebrations this week to do some homework about the history of the day itself, as well as some of its corporate, foundation, and “core” partners (which, for the record, include the two professional organizations I call home: NWP and NCTE).

So, this week I’m playing with Storify and trying to curate a “live textbook” about Digital Learning Day, but looking at it from a critical perspective. In other words, I am trying to follow the money. Thus, as Digital Learning Day enters its second year… I wonder what do we know about the day itself?

  • Who are the corporate partners? Who are the foundation partners? What about some of the “core” partners such as iNACOL, CCSSO, and Pearson?
  • What are the broader themes and messages that we should explore, based on the stated interests and goals of these partners? Who wins and who loses in these partnerships? Teachers? Students? Taxpayers?
  • Finally, what is the vision of digital learning that these corporations, foundations, and “core” partners represent?

I pose these not to extinguish the excitement that so many people have in Digital Learning Day. But, I do want to raise awareness and ask the unasked questions. I’ll be curious to find out what everyone else discovers and reports back this week.

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Broadening the Scope: Teaching Multiple Literacies in an Era of Common Core Standards

Originally posted on the #literacies chat blog:
On 12/6 7PM EST, guest host Troy Hicks (@hickstro) will lead our last #literacies chat of 2012:
While scholars of literacy studies push the envelope and explore ideas such as multi-modality, digital writing, and critical literacy, our colleagues in K-12 classrooms continue to face a number of challenges. Most notably, countless elementary, middle, and high schools are now preparing for the Common Core State Standards as well as the PARCC/SBAC assessments that will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year. What will these changes bring to an already narrow vision of literacy proffered by a years of NCLB-style “reforms?” 
Some questions we will consider:
  • In this era of corporate education reform, where “educational technology” and “networked learning” are often euphemisms for standardized curriculum packages that can be sold and delivered online, how do we help students and colleagues maintain a broader vision of literacy?
  • Given the reality of these new standards, how might we leverage the demand in the CCSS to “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently” to teach multiple literacies?
  • With the large variety of organizations that are touting plans for education reform, with whom can we ally our efforts? With which constituencies do we need to collaborate with as we try to broaden the vision of literacy — and the technologies needed to enable those broader visions — while still maintaining our core beliefs about literacy learning?

Chat with you all online via Twitter with the #literacies hashtag tomorrow night at 7:00 EST!