Digital Learning Day – A Movement’s Defining Moment
By Ferdi Serim
With over four times the participants of Woodstock, Digital Learning Day may serve as the downbeat for a movement that cares as much about learning as “the Woodstock generation” cared about music over four decades ago. For those of us living then, Woodstock was about much more than music: it symbolized the cultural power inherent in the free expression of ideas, whether supported or not by the dominant culture. For Digital Learners, the genie is out of the bottle. No longer is learning limited by locality. No longer must instruction suffer from isolation. No longer can anyone limit what can be learned, by whom, from whom and when.
This moment has been decades in coming. Personally, I’ve been involved as “midwife” for the birth of digital learning for over twenty years. In 1992, my sixth grade students participated via email and listserv with NASA physicists in a simulation of solar sailers (spacecraft powered by solar sails) on a mission to Mars, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. The Internet didn’t have pictures yet, back then. Universities had Internet, some K12 schools and most homes were limited to dialup modems. What a difference we see today!
Ubuntu is a Swahili word that means “I am who I am because of who we are together,” and it captures the ethos of the open education resource movement. Digital Learning Day marks a moment when we have the opportunity to look up, look around and celebrate what millions of us are doing to move education forward.
Surveying the dazzling array of activities taking place in 38 states, the cloud of despair that shrouds most education focused discussions today is dispelled by the passion, innovation and commitment of people who’ve personally experienced the power of Digital Learning. These initiatives can’t be confined to a single day, but the genius of connecting all these innovators (who include students, parents, community members in addition to the expected policymakers, providers and school leaders) is what adds the quality of a defining moment to the enterprise.
And yet, the challenge is huge. For too long, the goal of connecting classroom learning with real-life relevance has seemed beyond our grasp, with the vast potentials of digital age learning taking root in only a relative handful of pioneering educators’ learning environments.
Digital Learning Day challenges us to consider and explore innovations that require us, and everyone we work with (students, parents, peers and school leaders), to examine everything we do through a very rigorous lens: if what we do is helping kids prepare for a future filled with expanded opportunity, we will continue to do it; if not, we won’t, and we will remove any obstacle that stands in the way.
This commitment unavoidably puts us in the path of conflict and controversy, as old and new worlds collide. Until recently, the path of least resistance was “business as usual,” but it is becoming clearer every day that we can no longer afford (on any level) to sustain practices that don’t work. I acknowledge and salute your efforts to build the schools we need, starting now!
What can you do, right now, to take practical steps that prepare yourself, your classroom and students for the power of Digital Learning? You can learn about strategies to incorporate the power of a blended model into the work you ask students to do.
As fate would have it, the day shares the name of my new book: Digital Learning. This could not have been predicted eight years ago, when I began work on the book. The process by which this book came to exist is unusual, and is itself a journey into project-based learning. In 2003, I realized that progress in extending the benefits of digital learning as a right for all students would be blocked unless and until we had ways of assessing what was then the relatively new idea called “21st century skills.” The measurement mania was already creating a hyperfocus on what is tested, marginalizing development of key capabilities whose growth could not be strengthened until they could be observed. This became my project.
I wanted to find a way to help teachers simultaneously meet core content standards while developing what became known as 21st Century Skills. The vehicle, creating engaging projects that would be completed online by teams of students, grew into the strategies that I share in the book.
In the ensuing years, we’ve seen the emergence of the Common Core State Standards and the requirement that schools “upgrade their game” to address College and Career Readiness. Digital Learning projects cause students to act and think in precisely the 21st century ways that are necessary for success in both the new standards and new levels of performance expected by employers and higher education. The practical processes explained in the book are designed to provide a bridge for school leaders, teachers and students that allow them to connect their prior knowledge and experiences in ways that lead to success in new, blended learning environments.
Here are links to further information and resources:
Digital Learning Day Website: http://www.digitallearningday.org/
Digital Learning Day State events: http://www.digitallearningday.org/events/state-events
Digital Learning Process Website: http://digitallearningprocess.net
Digital Learning Process Resource Exchange: http://digitallearningprocess.schooltown.net
Digital Learning Online Course: http://www.kdsi.org/CL-Digital-Learning.aspx
Ferdi Serim helps people become more effective in “real life” by incorporating the power of digital learning communities focused on talent development. He has worked in many venues: Board Member of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the New Mexico Public Education Department’s EdTech Director, Reading First Director, Program Manager for Literacy, Technology & Standards; Board Member of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Innovate+Educate, and Education360; director of the Online Internet Institute (OII); Associate of the David Thornburg Center for Professional Development (and jazz musician). Most recently, he has launched CLARO Consulting: Community Learning and Resource Optimization, focused on talent development through knowledge capture and transfer.