Category Archives: virtual learning

Lateral Innovation Network Outline

“The path to transformation is decentralized, distributed, and disciplined.” – D. Hargreaves


  • Open the instructional, professional, and curriculum development processes to a peer-led network in order to provide a more effective means for sharing best practices and transferring them more rapidly
  • Improve the quality of teaching and learning broadly across a group of schools
  • Create a climate for teachers to innovate by promoting:
    • the motivation to create new professional knowledge;
    • the opportunity to engage actively in innovation;
    • the skills for testing the validity of the new knowledge; and
    • the means for transferring the validated innovations rapidly within their school and into other schools.

Structure of Network

  • Totally cloud-based
  • Initial focus would be K-8. Elementary and middle level innovation capacity would lead high school transformation.
  • Implement a common communications infrastructure. All districts would join Google Apps.
  • Implement a common Learning Management System. See below. (approximate cost $10 per student)
  • Curriculum development on Curriki.
  • Common tags would be established to identify work across all platforms.

LMS Functionality

  • Individual learning plans for every student
  • ePortfolios
  • Units can be matched to current and future standards
  • Capacity to share instructional materials, units, and assessments among teachers
  • Other standard LMS functionality: design online and blended learning activities, implement assessment, monitor student academic progress, iterative academic feedback, teaming of staff and students around learning activities, connect to web-based learning resources, establish non-traditional support groups for students, new learning opportunities and new structures of knowledge – mash up, 365 and 24/7, parent connection, personalization around UDL principles.

*Objectives adapted from Working Laterally: How Innovation Networks Make an Education Epidemic by David Hargreaves.

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Rethinking the Social Studies aka World Ecology

I think we need to revisit the social studies as a content area.  I have been thinking about this for a while, but I was prompted to do so after hearing a presentation this summer by Bob Goodman of the Progressive Science Initiative in New Jersey.  Bob was describing how his work had led him to reorganize the science curriculum so it made better sense to students:

  1. Physics is taught in the freshman year and students learn the necessary math as an application of the science.  At the end of the freshman year, students study quantum mechanics and atomic structure which leads into
  2. Chemistry taught in the sophomore year.  At the end of the sophomore year, students study proteins which leads into
  3. Biology and the study of life in the junior year.

This is a simplification of Bob’s work, but it resonated with me.  Content curriculum should make sense to students as a narrative, and I believe this type of approach is needed for the social studies, which suffer from fragmentation.  At the same conference where I heard Bob speak, I asked the conference sponsor, Alan November, what he thought about the social studies.  He agreed that it was time revisit this content especially in light of new technologies.  He suggested a more appropriate title for the social studies could be World Ecology.

If World Ecology works as a new discipline, I think it needs some design questions.  The one I have come up with so far is, “Why is the world the way it is?”  Imagine having 10 years (my schools are preK-8) to explain the world to students in a way that made sense from a narrative perspective, and in a way that was both relevant and engaging.

I think the way to do this would be to adopt Geography as the overarching content structure.  Since Geography by definition covers everything about the Earth both in terms of its physical and human characteristics, I think it would be particularly well suited for making sense of things.  We could structure a curriculum around the 5 Themes and the Geography Standards.  We could also embellish units with foreign language study using products such as Rosetta Stone Classroom.

I am going to start working on a structure for this “World Ecology” curriculum using Curriki.  If you would like to help out, contact me.

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Tech Thoughts for the 10/14/10 New Superintendents Meeting

Here are some of my thoughts on technology and organizational change as it pertains to Vermont school districts.

Personalization of Instruction – the objective is to leverage new technology to achieve our progressive ideals; all learning is social, and we can now customize learning experiences at the individual level while at the same expanding learning opportunities for all students. See the National Tech Plan for a big picture perspective. My work in this area at BRSU has been at several levels, attended to at the same time:

  • Educate district leaders about the potential for new technologies to transform the structure of education. A great way to do this is to attend the BLC conference in Boston with a team. See my Disrupting Class blog activity as an example.
  • Technology Integration – equip classrooms and teachers with instructional technology and move organizational processes to cloud-based applications (e.g. professional development and teacher re-licensing with MyLearningPlan).
  • Put technology in the hands of students – 1:1 initiatives
  • Deploy teaching and learning online through cloud-based content management systems (CMS – we use SchoolFusion) and learning management systems (LMS – we use Brainhoney). See more information below under Areas of Focus.

Opening Up Education – move from a Corporate IT Infrastructure to an Educational IT Infrastructure

  • Remove directory services, mail and file servers and go to a cloud-based collaboration platform (we use Google Apps) and network attached storage devices (NASs – we use Buffalo) and/or cloud-based storage.
  • Remove filtering appliances or filtering services at the firewall in favor of simpler approaches such as OpenDNS and teacher-based filtering.
  • Deploy managed wireless access throughout all buildings
  • Abandon commercial and proprietary software in favor of open source software – OpenOffice or LibreOffice as a replacement for MS Office, Linux as a replacement for Windows or Mac.
  • Through social media applications such as blogs, feeds (Google Reader), social bookmarking (Delicious), Twitter, Facebook, and the VSA ning, develop a reflexive disposition towards sharing and creating information. Create content under a Creative Commons license.
  • Secure the necessary bandwidth to support the needs of your districts.

Areas of Focus for “Virtual Merger” Provisions of Act 153

  • Collaboration Platform – implement a cloud-based, organization-wide, collaboration platform (such as Google Apps) that includes students.
  • LMS/SIS – the LMS and student information system (SIS) market is changing rapidly and is being disrupted by cloud-based applications. LMSs are becoming more SIS-like, and SISs are adding LMS functionality. New LMSs are cloud-based and relatively affordable. Most SISs are primarily used to print report cards – do we need this functionality as we move to web-based platforms where students and parents can monitor learning progress in real time? We will need some basic “compliance” functionality (eg attendance, demographics, etc.) from a SIS but most SISs are not well-suited for supporting the personalization of instruction and have a high total cost of ownership. Examples of new LMS/SISs: Spiral Universe, Schoology.
  • Accounting-HR System – integrate accounting-HR in a single platform and provide web-based self service to employees and real time dashboard indicators of organizational status to decision makers. Two leading vendors in Vermont are Unifund and Tyler.
  • Instructional Management Systems – manage professional development, teacher evaluation, curriculum, special education, etc. Examples include MyLearningPlanCurrikiiObservationMcRELGoalView.
  • Transportation – systems such as Transfinder allow districts to better manage the location of bus stops and routes, and the maintenance of equipment.
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The Online Learning Imperative

I ran into this nice policy statement by Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Education Excellence and the former governor of West Virginia, on why online learning needs to be aggressively advanced in public education.

As technology-based education programs spread, states and districts must monitor quality and hold virtual schools accountable for improvements in learning, just as they do brick-and-mortar schools. Indeed, quality online learning offers the opportunity for higher learning expectations than currently exist in most traditional systems. Operating in an environment where time can be variable and learning constant, online learning is in the unique position to focus on outcomes rather than inputs. Assuming that quality data systems and assessments are in place, state and school district funding can be based solely on student results and mastery. Effective online instruction joined with a data rich environment is an important step to bringing accountability for student outcomes to a much higher and meaningful level.

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