Archive for February, 2012


Blog Post #3

February 27, 2012

Andrew, What a wonderful

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What a wonderful transition in teaching and learning to witness first hand. Using the iBook app to distribute teacher created texts, student handbook, and other student reference materials throughout the year seems not only brilliant, but also eco friendly and surely long term cost effective. In many districts in the Chicago-land area, the iBook is being piloted by Special Education Programs, but the potential benefits reach far beyond Special Education Services Programs. As our students are more connected than ever to their iPhones and digital media devices, it makes me wonder why education has lagged so in partnering with apple/kindle. A student’s relationship to family and friends has for a decade been linked to such media devices. This cultural shift in the way we communicate with each other and access information has already produced a difference in how our students learn. It gives me hope to see strides like yours in addressing 21st century learning with the present.
Juan Medina

How My School Is Transitioning to Digital Textbooks: Organizing (Step 1 of 5)

By Andrew Marcinek

Overview: The Role of iPads

There is no denying iPads are becoming a dynamic tool for education. However, with the integration of new tools into the classroom, there is a learning curve. The evolution of the iPad has created more than just a learning curve, but a cultural shift in the way we access information and connect with the outside world.

This fall, Burlington High School will transition to a 1:1 school exclusively with the iPad 2. One of the goals of this initiative is to slowly transition curriculum and textbooks to ePub format. ePub file format allows anyone to create a file that is readable on an iOS device or Kindle like a book. At Burlington, we will be using the iBook app to distribute teacher created texts, but also the student handbook, and other student reference materials throughout the year.

Multi-district Collaborative Event

While this transition is exciting and new, there are not many examples out there of the ePub format in use. Therefore, we decided to create a multi-district edcamp-like event over the span of four days in June. This event was scheduled during the first week of summer vacation for teachers in Massachusetts. The focus of this four-day event was to bring together superintendents, principals, teachers, librarians, and academic technologists and start talking about ePubs. While the goal was to create an ePub that teachers could use to replace a textbook in class, the primary takeaway was the conversations and multi-district collaboration that was taking place.

The organization of the event was lead by three Massachusetts Superintendents: Dr. Eric Conti, Burlington Public Schools, Dr. Marinel D. McGrath, Andover Public Schools, and Dr. Maureen LaCroix, Bedford public schools. Dr. Conti pulled together his instructional technology staff at Burlington High School along with Paul Facetau from Apple to create a planning team for the event. The first meeting covered the logistics of the four days: schedule, cohort organization, collaborative teams, presentations, etc.

Event Planning and Organization

During the next few days we created a website that presented an overview and welcomed all to attend the four day event at Burlington High School. We placed a Google form on the website for registering attendees and sent out an email blast to Massachusetts districts (I would also recommend using a free ticket service like TicketLeap as well).

Once the website was live, we started planning opening keynotes for the first day of the event. The planning team compiled a list of topics that needed to be covered during the morning session of the first day. We decided on the following topics (in no particular order):

1.  ePub: Creating classroom texts with connected resources
2.  Creative Commons: Creating a license for your work and citing others
3.  Using a wikispace for cohort collaboration
4.  Workflow within content area cohorts
5.  Moving from a wiki to Pages to the ePub format
6.  Keeping the conversation alive: Connecting and sharing beyond the event

The next thing we created was the schedule. We posted this on the website but messaged that the schedule was tentative and most likely would change from day to day. Here is a copy of our schedule:

Reflection of the Organizing Process

The planning team created overview presentations on these topics and decided who would speak on each subject. During the morning of the first day, we spent roughly three hours covering these topics.  The instructional technology team also checked in throughout the day to help everyone with these topics and reinforce their purpose. At the end of day one we placed another Google form on the website to elicit feedback from attendees. The majority of the feedback was positive, but we received a lot of requests to cover the opening keynote topics again. We spent the morning of day two covering these topics again. It was imperative that everyone was clear on these topics in order to move forward.

At the end of day two and three we brought back attendees to the auditorium to share what they learned or accomplished during the day. We also allowed time for questions and made sure everyone in attendance felt supported.

The organization of this type of event, as I mentioned earlier, is very new. The planning team set out to create an event that brought together a variety of educators from different districts to learn something new. Those in attendance not only walked away with a new skill, but a new community to share and learn with. If you are interested in planning an event like this centered on creating an ePub or just a way to bring together multiple districts for collaborative work, please contact me through my Edutopia profile or Twitter @andycinek.

Other blogs in this series:


Blog Post #2

February 7, 2012

International Comparisons in Digital Literacy: What Can We Learn?
By Anne OBrien

Anne OBrien

A former public school teacher and Teach For America alumna, Anne O’Brien is the deputy director of the Learning First Alliance.

The importance of “digital literacy” for all citizens in the 21st century seems to be universally accepted. The Obama administration has launched DigitalLiteracy. Microsoft has launched a curriculum on digital literacy as well. Educators across the nation are incorporating it into their schools and their teaching.

But I often wonder if what we are doing in the name of “digital literacy” is actually developing the skills that we hope to develop in our students. So when I recently learned that PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment, a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance — and one of the main sources of concern over the state of reading, math, and science education in the US) had released an overview of performance in digital reading, navigation and computer use in 2009, I was excited. Unlike standardized assessments that measure how well a student can regurgitate knowledge, PISA attempts to measure skills and competencies — what we hope to impart on students.

Unfortunately, the US did not participate in this section of the assessment. I don’t know why (a brief Google search didn’t turn up any indication), but I still think that we can learn a lot from those that did take part as we as a nation struggle to figure out how to best impart digital literacy to students.
The Definition

For starters, I appreciate that PISA uses the same definition of “reading literacy” (understanding, using, reflecting on and engaging with written texts in order to achieve one’s goals, develop one’s knowledge and potential, and participate in society) for both print and digital reading. In doing so, it helps ensure that computer skills are not substituted for digital reading skills. Students who can simply scroll and navigate through web pages and locate simple information are not considered performing well. While such lower-level digital skills are critical to eventually gaining what we as a nation mean when we say “digital literacy,” those aren’t the skills critical to life in the new century.
The Results

The top performing system in digital reading was Korea, by a significant margin. Also performing above average were New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Iceland, Sweden, and Belgium. In most countries, performance in digital reading and print reading are closely related.

There were a number of additional findings in the report, but a few in particular stood out to me. Not surprisingly, socioeconomic background is associated with digital reading performance. And while overall access to information and communications technology (ICT) has grown significantly in recent years, a digital divide (often linked to socioeconomic background) still exists between and within countries.

But there were a couple surprises here. The biggest? While using a computer at home is related to digital reading performance in all participating countries and economies, computer use at school is not always. The report suggests this means that that “students are developing digital reading literacy mainly by using computers at home to pursue their interests.”
What Does This Mean for the US?

Given my limited knowledge of education here in the US, I think that it is unlikely that we would perform much differently than those participated in this study. So for educators and education advocates, there are a number of important policy implications pointed out in the report.

For starters, we need to do more to eliminate the digital divide and ensure disadvantaged students have access to computers at home, not just at school. Some programs, such as Connect to Compete and Internet Essentials, have already started on this work, offering low cost computers and Internet access to families of students that receive free or reduced price lunch. There are also one-to-one programs that allow students to take home devices. And there are examples like those of the Salesian School in Hong Kong, which provides their old computers to low-income students.

In addition, we must reconsider how we use computers at school. Perhaps computer use in school should look more like computer use at home. The report suggests offering more project-based activities using ICT, particularly those that do not impose constraints on how to accomplish tasks but allow students to explore various approaches to problem-solving (like they do when they use the computer at home) to improve their navigation skills. At the same time, we must develop assignments that improve students’ ability to judge whether material is relevant or not, and that help students learn to structure, prioritize, distil and summarize text.

Of course, this vision for learning is much more difficult to enact than simply putting students at a computer to type, make a spreadsheet, or go to three pre-assigned websites. It requires extensive professional learning by educators at all levels, as well as the development of new materials and the purchase of new technology. But if we truly want to ensure that all students have the digital literacy skills required to succeed in the new economy, we have to do it.

Interested in spreading the word about the importance of digital learning? Participate in Digital Learning Day on February 1. Learn more at

If you like this, you might also like

Digital Literacy is the Bedrock for Lifelong Learning by Vanessa Vega
The Digital Divide: Resource Roundup by Amy Erin Borovoy
The 21st-Century Digital Learner by Marc Prensky

Anne OBrien’s Blog
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Juan Medina
High School Art Teacher from Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Posted on 2/6/2012 10:32pm
The Art Angle on Digital Literacy
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Much like you suggested, we in the Fine Arts seek to impart knowledge while not confining the student to a set path towards discovery. By empowering the student with the power to explore, we inherently teach the students the skills necessary to achieve on his/her terms. The process of exploration cements the student’s point of view regarding the assignment, thus becoming ever more connected to the task of learning. We must, in education, not be afraid to allow students to pilot their own learning, lest we turn technology education into yet another yawn of a power point presentation. As technology becomes more and more linked to education. One must support if not demand self advocacy regarding digital literacy and loosen the reigns that tie us to antiquated methods of evaluating teaching and learning.


Reflection #1 Curriculum & Instruction 579

February 1, 2012
  • What attitudes, skills, and concepts have you gained from participating in the course so far?
  • What have you learned in the course that you will not forget tomorrow?
  • How will you apply what you have learned to your teaching and future learning?

With this class, I have become more aware of educational technologies.  I have come to realize that many more technologies than I currently employ can be effectively used in my classroom to not only spice things up, but to also generate better avenues for learning.  Recognizing that my teaching methodologies do not fully explore and capitalize on the communication modalities that our students are programed with; I am now exploring angles that include technology as a means to deliver and evaluate learning.  I especially like the accessibility of distance learning.  With the use of video embedded websites such as you-tube, I can better aid students that are absent by simply video documenting a process that works in conjunction with the tired power-point presentation that most of us employ.  The video will also be an assured benefit to students that need to review prior to a project evaluation or a process evaluation.