Digital Education Leadership Mission Statement

My mission as a digital education leader is to:

 ♦  Share the joy and promise I find in using technology with educators and students.

 ♦  Promote equal access to digital tools and rich use of technology to help build lifelong skills of independent learning, critical thinking, creative problem solving and collaboration.

 ♦  Deeply understand the needs and concerns of teachers and students so that their digital tools will work for them and not against them.

 ♦  Encourage thoughtful use of technology in a way that reflects the tenants of good citizenship.

Being adept with digital technology is more than knowing how to use hardware and software. It also includes wisely navigating the online world and using technology to enhance human abilities and interests.  To address this, the International Society for Technical Education (ISTE) has developed a set of standards for educational leaders, teachers, students, and technology coaches. Digital Citizenship is a key component of each of these standards and for technology coaches includes:

Standard 5.a.  The promotion of equitable access to technology and the modeling of educational technology best practices

Standard 5.b. Safe, healthy, ethical and legal use of digital tools and information

Standard 5.c.  The application of technical tools for furthering cultural understanding and global communication

(ISTE Standards for Coaches, 2011).

 Guiding Principles

1.  Equitable access to technology increases opportunity.

Providing students with equal access to technology consists of many moving parts, including procuring devices, software, highspeed internet, and ongoing instructional, technical and financial support (Jones and Bridges, 2016). But the aspect of equal access that will create the greatest opportunity is learning to use technology to help develop lifelong skills: independent learning, creativity, communication, problem solving, and working well with others.

Seismic societal change caused by technology is nothing new in human history, but the speed at which our current society is changing is unprecedented.  Within 25 years, the percentage of the global population that is online went from 0.25% in 1993 to 55% in 2018 (“Current World Population,” 2018;  Ritchie, H. and Roser, M., 2018).  Basic aspects of daily living now require some level of digital literacy, from applying for a job, to navigating the healthcare system to mapping out a local bus route.  Technology is also changing the nature of work, and the job market that today’s students will face when they graduate will look very different than it does today. Up to 30% of global workers could be replaced by automation by 2030, pointing to the need for workers to constantly reinvent themselves by learning new skills and switching careers (Manyika, J., Chui, M., Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., Ko, R. & Sanghvi, S., 2017, Table: Impact of adoption by 2030).

Fortunately, technology provides many effective tools for building knowledge, including online degree and certification programs. To take advantage of these opportunities, however, people need to know how to use digital tools creatively, critically, and collaboratively. These are among the very skills that employers will be looking for in the years to come (Manyika, et al., 2017).

The World Economic Forum predicts that the jobs that will show the most growth across all industries will be in data analysis, science, software development, ecommerce and social media “…all of which…are significantly based on or enhanced by technology” (“Machines will do more tasks than humans…” Para 7).

Though technology is causing a shift in the skill sets required for future jobs, it also offers educational opportunities to build those skills through:

    • Online collaboration on projects
    • Positive interaction through social media
    • Access to rich scientific and historical research and exposure to industry and academic thought leaders and open educational resources (Jones and Bridges, 2016)
    • An array of digital tools for creating various types of artifacts (text, graphics, video, music, virtual and mixed reality, 3D printed objects).

For this to occur equitably, all teachers need professional development to keep up to date on best practices for creatively incorporating technology into their daily teaching. Funding is needed to pay for this training and for technology such as 3D printers and software that goes beyond basic office-suite functionality. In addition, Computer Science should be included as a required subject starting in elementary school.

Educators will continue to prepare their students for the future in the way they always have, by modeling a love of learning and encouraging critical thinking, creative problem solving, and collaboration. These skills are independent of technology. However, technology used effectively can let students explore and express these skills in new and personal ways.

(References ISTE Coaching Standard 5a)

2.  Technology in the Classroom should be Meaningful, Engaging and Culturally Sensitive.  

Equitable access to technology devices, software, internet access and quality instruction is essential. But the next layer of accessibility is providing digital tools that are flexible enough to enhance different learning styles and appeal to diverse cultural identities. The potential is there: technology offers many ways of customizing instruction for students, either through language, types of media, or self-paced curriculum.  Students can access artifacts, ideas, and people of similar backgrounds and/or interests through globally available content and social media. Ideally, students should never feel isolated or disregarded by the technology they use, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Robbin Chapman says, “The learner’s experience of a technology will be influenced by whatever cultural assumptions influenced the design of that technology” (2016, p. 289).  The developers of today’s digital technology are not a very diverse group, and as a result produce designs that reflect their own cultural bias.  As one example of the lack of diversity in tech, a report published by the National Center for Women and Informational Technology showed that only 25% of computing occupations were held by women, of which 16% were white, 5% were Asian, 3% were African American, and 1% were Latina/Hispanic (Ashcroft, C., McLain, B., Eger, E., 2016).  This lack of diversity in tech can contribute to several negative effects: students who don’t see themselves reflected in the digital media they use (through pictures, text, dialogue, video, or cultural situations) don’t connect as well with the material being taught. They also receive the subtle or not so subtle message that “people like me” don’t develop technology products, continuing the cycle of not enough diversity in tech.  A personal example includes an online Lego Robotics certification course I took this summer for teachers.  It included a nicely done video that explained the engineering process. Initially, I thought it would be helpful to show to students but then realized that there was only one African American man and no women in any of the crowded engineering classroom photos shown in the video.

Tech companies and universities are working to improve diversity in the industry, but it will take time.  Meanwhile, it is important that educators do what they can to select technology tools that can be customized and are culturally sensitive.  It is also important for teachers, curriculum specialists, and technology coaches at all grade levels to give feedback to product developers if they notice features or content that are off-putting or insensitive to their students.

Finally, though it should be a given, the technology chosen for classrooms should be based on the expressed needs of teachers and students. Digital education tools should never be irrelevant or a burden to learn or to use. I view the role of a technology coach as similar to my past role as a product manager: understand the goals, desires, and problems teachers and students face in their daily work and provide them with digital tools to help them meet their needs and solve their problems.

(References ISTE Coaching Standard 5a and 5c)

3.  Mindfulness and Digital Citizenship should be applied to all technology use.

Viewed historically, digital technology has come to monopolize human lives in a relatively short period of time – as mentioned earlier, most of us have only been online 25 years or less.  The combined speed with which the change has happened and the subtlety with which new aspects of tech steal our attention has left us with very little objectivity or resistance to it.  This is partially by design: tech companies have monetized our attention and do everything they can to keep us coming back for more (“Silicon Valley Renegades” 2018).  Many users feel bewildered, guilty and powerless at being “sucked in” by technology (Ticona and Wellmon, 2015).  The good news is that as a society we are starting to become aware of the need to step back and think about how we spend our time online and the importance of explicitly teaching students to do the same.

In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold advises that we apply mindfulness techniques to our online use.  This includes using metacognition – thinking about thinking – to become aware of how we are using our time online. Are we mindlessly scrolling through a newsfeed or social media? Is this what we really need to be doing right now?  Just taking the simple step of having a plan before going online and checking in with ourselves periodically to see if we are following the plan can make a difference. Rheingold also recommends using the breath to bring our minds back to the present moment and our own bodies during online use (Rheingold, 2014).

Another effect of rapid technology adoption is that we have difficulty recognizing that the online and offline worlds are inextricably linked.  In her book Disconnected, Carrie James describes teens and young adults as unaware or uncaring that certain behavior could harm others online.  James links this to the fact that as humans, we are more accustomed to interacting on a local level. It is easier for us to imagine the effects of our actions on our families, friends, or nearby communities, and this usually regulates our behavior.  In contrast, we have difficulty seeing the global online community as anything but a faceless, anonymous enigma.  James suggests we need to learn (and teach) an expanded ethical framework for living online that considers the needs of “…distant unknown individuals and the integrity of larger communities” (p. 7).

Fortunately, we have a model that already works for us in the real world – good citizenship – that can help us build James’ ethical framework for online living (Fingal, 2017; Ribble and Miller, 2013).  As good digital citizens we should:

    • Understand our roles and responsibilities for protecting our own data, privacy, and content ownership, as well as that of others.
    • Expand the empathy and protectiveness we feel for our local community to our global online community by treating others with kindness and respect.
    • Selectively consume and conscientiously produce online content.
    • Be conscious of our own health and that of our community regarding online use. Recognize that our actions affect others, and that in the ecosystem of the internet they can have far-reaching and unforeseen effects.

    From Carrie James’ research and our own experience, we know that it takes a conscious effort to connect real-world good citizenship skills to our online use. We can’t expect young people to know how to act online without being taught.  Interestingly, several of the most sought-after skills for future employment as described in my first guiding principle are the same skills we need to be good digital citizens: the ability to educate ourselves, think critically and work well with others.  As Ribble and Miller said, “Times and technologies have changed, but the need for basic skills in humanity are important no matter how people connect with others.” (p.139, 2013)

    (References ISTE Coaching Standard 5b.)

    Last Word

    Technology may present us with challenges, but like other human creations, it can also be inspiring and joyful.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve spent time in classrooms that were participating in the Hour of Code. This year’s showcase lesson is “Dance Party,” where kids (and yes, adults too) can create an onscreen dance party with effects, different animated characters, and songs by top musicians.  The students were having so much fun – dancing at their desks, sharing what they created with their friends – it was a powerful and happy reminder of the good that tech can bring to our lives.


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