Of That

Brandt Redd on Education, Technology, Energy, and Trust

01 November 2019

Themes manifest as iNACOL Becomes Aurora

Arrows representing systems integration.

In 2010 I took on the responsibility of forming an Education Technology Strategy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That same year, I also attended the iNACOL Virtual Schools Symposium (VSS). A year later, I presented at the symposium and I've been pleased to present or contribute in some way most years since.

As my colleagues and I at the Gates Foundation worked on a theory of technology and education education, something quickly became clear. Technology doesn't drive educational improvement; it's simply an enabler. In the early part of this decade there were numerous 1:1 student:computer initiatives. Most failed to show measurable improvement and many turned into fiascos as teachers were tasked with finding something useful to do with their new computers or tablets.

At the foundation we turned to personalized learning, a theory that was based on promising evidence and one that has gained more support since then. With that as basis we looked to where technology could help. The result was support for key projects including Common Education Data Standards, the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative, and Profiles of Next-Generation Learning.

The great folks at iNACOL observed the same patterns and so they pivoted. VSS became, simply, the iNACOL Symposium and their emphasis shifted to personalized and competency-based education with online and blended learning as enablers. This year, they completed the transition, renaming the whole organization to The Aurora Institute. In their words:

[Our] organization has evolved significantly to become a leading nonprofit organization with a deep reach into practitioners creating next-generation learning models. Our focus has grown to examine systems change and education innovation, facilitating the future of learning through personalized learning and student-centered approaches to next-generation learning.

Serving Educators and Students

A theme that spontaneously emerged at the symposium this year is that we must do for the educators what we want for the students. It was first expressed by Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizard in her opening keynote. As she advocated that we care for the mental health of the children she said, "Across all of our partners who have successfully integrated whole child practice, there isn’t one who didn’t start with their adults." She proceeded to show examples where the a school mental health programs were designed to support both staff and students.

With that as precedent, the principle kept reappearing throughout the symposium.

  • If we expect personalized instruction for the students we must offer personalized professional development for their teachers.
  • Establish the competency set we expect of educators and provide opportunities to master those competencies.
  • Actionable feedback to educators is critical to the success of any learning innovation just as actionable feedback to students is critical to their learning.
  • Create an environment of trust and safety among the staff of your institution - then project that to the students.
  • Growth mindset is as important to educators as it is for the students they teach.

Continuous Improvement

Both themes — technology as enabler, and caring for the educators — are simply signposts on a path of continuous improvement. We must follow the evidence and go where it leads us.

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