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The Marriage Between IT & Curriculum

Relationships are always a work in progress. Kayne and Kim. Will and Jada. Beyonce and Jay-Z. Carl and Renee. The list goes on and on.  Some couples make it, others end in divorce. While every couple has its own unique circumstances and situation, there are some common tips to make their marriage more successful.

Over the last few years, more and more, I feel like a marriage counselor when it comes to the couple known as “IT & Curriculum.” This relationship is a tricky one, because there is no way to opt out. While my district has what I would call a very healthy relationship between the two, it wasn’t always that way. And when I go out and speak with other districts, there seems to be some common problems that arise between curriculum and IT.

Last week at #TLTechLive event in Boston, I had the honor of being the opening keynote to address this topic head on. And while I won’t recap the entire presentation, I found some interesting insights over the course of our one hour “counseling session” that I thought I would share here.

Presenting the vows of Ed Tech

The Vows

Like any marriage, there need to be a set of agreed upon vows or standards. During my session last week, I donned some preacher robes (actually a graduation gown) to deliver the vows between IT and Curriculum. Here’s an abbreviated version:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called….Learning.

Curriculum – Do you solemnly swear to check interoperability standards before purchasing an application?

IT – Do you solemnly swear to being open to new ideas, as long as it furthers the learning of our kids?

….in sickness and health, through printer errors and slow wifi, until death or the end of public education do us part….may I have the ringtone?”

As I recited the vows on stage, I realized that wedding vows sound an awful lot like Acceptable Use Policies.

Patient #1 – Dealing with Insecurity

With all the new applications or online textbooks being purchased almost daily it seems, our schools have many points of vulnerability when it comes to data. The IT side of the relationship wants to be open to these new programs and applications, but also is concerned about security and data privacy.

While there is no magic bullet answer to this relationship issue, many districts and states are moving toward a standard agreement when it comes to the use of student data. In fact, in Massachusetts, there is a Student Privacy Alliance which connects districts across the state to leverage the collective power in getting companies to agree to their student data privacy agreement.

With all the recent news with the Zuckerberg testimony to Congress and the subsequent avalanche of companies changing their terms of service when it comes to user data, this issue in the relationship between IT and Curriculum could soon be going away, allowing the happy couple to finally go on the honeymoon they’ve always wanted.

On stage with one of my ‘patients’ @MatthewXJoseph

Patient #2 – Spicing things up…in the classroom

If you’ve ever been a teacher and attended some state-wide or national ed tech conference, there is almost always some app or tool that you learn about that you want to try. However, when you get back home, IT says “no” before you even attempt to pilot it with your students.

The truth is, there is more than just IT that needs to vet new tools. I’ve seen many an app out there that is really just students mindlessly tapping on screens and not vetting in any type of research. In our district we have a workflow for requesting new apps for students (the app store isn’t on their iPads) as well as our League of Innovators – a group of early adopters that are willing to try and test new software or hardware. What mechanisms does your district have in place for trying new applications or tools? Is there a process for piloting new ideas?

These questions can sting an unstable relationship as it gives IT the impression that you are happy with what they are offering and your eye is starting to wander. However, a stable relationship has an open dialogue and a process for getting new ideas, if effective, into the hands of students.

Patient #3 – Feeling out of sync

After the honeymoon phase, typically a couple decides to purchase their first house. In the case of IT & Curriculum that could be in the form of a Learning Management System (LMS) or perhaps a large online textbook adoption. This new purchase has many needs and requires the attention of both sides of the relationship.

For IT, there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that Curriculum has purchased a new adoption that either doesn’t work on the district’s existing devices OR requires a lot of heavy lifting to get student data into the system. The good news is, there are more and more platforms moving to a Single-Sign On (SSO) approach and with the One Roster standard from IMS Global becoming more widely adopted, the issues of data uploads via .csv files may soon go away.

Patient #4 – Worried about our kids

@SimplySuzy – final patient of the day

At some point in a relationship, kids enter the picture. With IT & Curriculum, they are there on day one. The focus of both ‘parents’ in this marriage should ultimately be the students. Many times, districts purchase expensive software or applications in the hopes of enhancing student learning.  But how do we know if that’s actually happening? How do we measure the effectiveness of the programs we are using?

For me, it means pulling up usage statistics of over 40 applications or online resources. This process can take more than a week and the data comes in a variety of formats which is rarely longitudinal in terms of usage. Again, the good news here is that there are now tools in development to help with this efficacy of use and ultimately, learning. One company I’ve been advising with over the past year that does this very thing is CatchOn. Their motto is simple – “Simplify the evaluation of Ed Tech usage.”

Once you have the data you need at the touch of your finger, the next challenge becomes those hard conversations in the relationship around budget. Maybe curriculum is spending too much or IT is too much of a penny-pincher, whatever the case, once you have the usage data you can make better decisions for your “family” around whether to cut a program or keep it and provide more professional learning around it.

How do we save this marriage?

Through all of the issues between this couple, the keys to an effective relationship sound eerily similar to that of an actual marriage:

  1. Better communication
  2. Empathy and understanding of both sides
  3. Being open to new ideas
  4. Working together, not separate

And ultimately…we need to stay together…for the kids.

Editor’s note: Looking to learn more? Check out my book Mobile Learning Mindset: The IT Professional’s Guide to Implementation which includes an entire chapter dedicated to the marriage between IT and Curriculum.

It’s Time for a New Core Curriculum

Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. For decades, these subjects have been the staple of the modern American educational system. The creative arts and physical education have also been played somewhat of a secondary role in that system. While all of these subject areas play a role in the development of our youth, they are based on career needs of the mid-20th century. According to this Pew Research study on Changes in the American Workplace, there has been an exponential demand on the social and analytical skills.

However, in our schools, we still teach the same “four core” areas and then fill in the rest with other subjects ranging from World Languages to Robotics. What’s interesting is, those original core 4 were considered the staple in preparing students for a 1950’s factory model work force. In this Sir Ken Robinson animated video, he talks about how our schools are designed for the assembly line.  One only needs to look at the following graphic of companies that no longer exist to see that the American economy has shifted rapidly since the early 1970’s.

Compare the above with the graphic below which shows companies that didn’t exist in the early 1970’s that are now on Forbes top 200 list.

While there are some mainstays in terms of travel, service and retail companies, there is a huge growth in technology based companies. Now taking these new companies into account, let’s focus on the skills they desire for their future employee and see where schools stack up.  This graphic by Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) has been one that I’ve shared for many years.  It’s sort of a “Soft Skills Bingo” chart of things that employers in those Fortune 500 companies look for when hiring.

I don’t see any of the “core four” subjects listed on that chart.  While you could definitely argue that communication plays a role in language arts and critical thinking plays a role in math and science, I start to wonder why we are trying to “fit” these soft skills into our 1950’s core?

What would a modern core curriculum look like? And probably even more importantly, how would we transition from the current curriculum to a more updated model?

Let’s break apart both of these questions so I can attempt an answer.

Future Ready Curriculum –

If we were starting the American school system from scratch today, knowing what skills our students will need, we could change the subjects and not base them on what big-time publishers want us to focus on with our students.  Building on some of the great work from FutureReady.org, the ISTE NETS for Students and keeping in mind those most desired future job skills from above, I would propose the development of the following 7 courses for every student:

Collaborative Outreach – A way for students to both serve the communities around them, but also work in teams, plan projects, and practice empathy.

Entrepreneurialism  – Thinking “outside-the-box” but in a class form. Many of the ideas from this class could work hand-in-hand with the other courses listed here. Again, working in teams, students create solutions or products with the goal of developing the entrepreneurial spirit.

Communication & Design – Oral and written communication still play a major role in our current system, and by all accounts they will in the future. However, what about visual communication? What about making a visually pleasing presentation to pitch a product or reflect on an outreach opportunity? This course would encompass those skills.

Creative Expression – Having outlets to express yourself creatively and time for passion projects is huge in the workplaces of Google and Apple. The same should be true for schools. This course could be all about an app you are designing or a sculpture you are trying to complete (either by hand or by 3D printing).

Critical Problem-Solving – Much of the curriculum from math and science would fall into this course, although elements would be sprinkled in the other courses (like economics in the entrepreneurial course and science in the Environmental Mindfulness & Outreach courses)

Investigative Thinking – This course takes many of the research skills taught in social studies and applies it with a twist. How can looking back and investigating history help predict future outcomes? Traditional statistics would play a role in this course too.

Environmental Mindfulness – We need to allow time for students to be outside and/or active during the traditional class day. We also need to allow time for students to reflect on what they have learned and set goals for their future. This course takes some of traditional P.E. and mixes in meditation and deeper thinking exercises as well.

Transition to the Future

Creating these courses is the easy part. The hard part would be transitioning our current core areas into the above. It will take me an entire new blog post to outline that plan for this transition, as it involves some heavy change in mindset (by both educators and community). In the meantime, here’s where I feel parts of our current courses would fit in the above new curriculum:

Mathematics – Critical Problem-Solving, Entrepreneurialism, Investigative Thinking

Language Arts – Communication & Design, Investigative Thinking, Creative Expression

Science – Critical Problem-Solving, Environmental Mindfulness, Collaborative Outreach

Social Studies – Investigative Thinking, Communication & Design, Collaborative Outreach

World Languages – Collaborative Outreach, Communication & Design

Fine and Performing Arts – Creative Expression

Physical Education – Environmental Mindfulness

Career and Technology – Entrepreneurialism, Collaborative Outreach, Creative Expression, Communication & Design

If we really want to prepare kids for what’s next, whether that be in a high-tech career or the service industry, we need to transition our curriculum into areas that will help them be more successful in a highly automated future. I feel like the new core curriculum I am proposing does that while at the same time folding in some of the ‘classic’ curriculum models of our educational fore-fathers.

What did I miss? Chime in on the comments below.