The question I’m asked most often is, “How do I assess whether my technology initiative has improved learning”? My answer is always the same - “What are you measuring?”
Don’t misunderstand me. There’s definitely value in assessment but I find that our horizons are often limited by the skills and knowledge we valued when we were growing up. And the world has changed. Dramatically. Measuring skills that were important in 1980 may not account for the innumerable important skills and literacies that students need for success in the world we find ourselves in today.
I used to love watching Tarzan on television when I was a child. Inevitably, some naive explorer in a pith helmet would step in a large pit of quicksand and slowly start sinking. He’d always reach out desperately searching for a branch, a hand … anything that could pull him out and prevent him from falling to his death. He didn’t stand there patiently conducting studies about whether this branch or that rock would be more effective in saving him. He’d instinctively reach for the closest, most stable object that he could use to pull himself out.
Our schools are stuck in that quicksand and we don’t have a lot of time to rescue them. Change is urgently needed ... and any hesitation in changing our learning environments while we wait for definitive assessments may result in schools sinking to their demise. The world is simply changing too quickly and alternatives to traditional education are starting to emerge rapidly. By all means let's continue debating different measures and assessments but instinct and simple observation will certainly help point the way.
So how will you know if your educational initiative is producing results?
- When students wake up excited to go to school instead of having to be dragged out of bed dreading the day ahead.
- When they don't know what will happen on any particular day instead of knowing exactly what chapter of the textbook needs to be read.
- When a student comes home excited to tell his parents about the day at school instead of always murmuring "nothing" when asked what happened that day.
- When the urgency of a particular moment or issue in class takes precedence over the next item in the curriculum.
- When you hear the buzz of students working in the classroom instead of that all too familiar, stony silence.
- When you see students are sitting upright, engaged and involved instead of being slumped in chairs or worse, leaning their heads down falling asleep.
- When teachers are concerned about getting students to stop working instead of disciplining them to get their work done.
- When you can walk around school listening to different voices speaking in turn in classroom discussions instead of only hearing the singular voice of the teacher.
- When we have colleges that train teachers to be attentive listeners instead of just valuing their skill as speakers.
- When we realize the importance of making learning relevant to students' lives instead of filling their days with subjects they see as meaningless and unimportant.
- When classrooms constantly interact with the physical community around them and the virtual community online instead of being walled off as isolated institutions.
- When the school environment is awash in creative colors and inspiring objects instead of blank walls covered with institutional gray and white paint.
- When students have vivid long term memories of what they learned in class years ago instead of short term memories crammed with facts for tomorrow’s test – that will be completely forgotten a few days later anyway.
- When we give students the freedom to explore, pursue and learn about things that engage their passions instead of empowering an administrator - who doesn't know anything about the individual students or their lives - to determine everything they need to learn every single day of their school lives.
- When students have the time and freedom to FIND their passions instead of being shepherded carefully through subjects that we consider important for them to learn.
- When we realize that students have access to so much information at the touch of a button that our job as educators is to help them find, evaluate and use that information productively instead of delivering a small sliver of content that they need to remember and regurgitate.
- When we value the skill of asking intelligent questions as much - or even more than - the skill of giving answers.
- When we encourage experimentation and see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of the inability to meet a set standard.
- When we encourage students to be smarter than us instead of arrogantly enclosing them within the boundaries of what we already know.
- When we embrace learning as an unpredictable process instead of having the expectation of a single, “correct” answer.
- When we understand that the internet has connected us all in such a way that learning can and does occur at any time or place and with any person instead of assuming it to be contained within the walls of a classroom and the knowledge of a single teacher or textbook.
- When we realize that every student in every class is an individual with different talents and experience and we can’t possibly hope to educate them properly within a system that blindly pretends that they’re all the same.
- When we appreciate innovation and creativity as vitally important skills that can be developed instead of pursuing increasingly more efficiency and compliance in the name of “school reform”.
- When we understand that social networking has made learning more collaborative and that connecting and learning as a community has tremendous value instead of assuming that the teacher is in sole possession of everything students need to know.
- When teachers embrace their own roles as continuing learners and proudly present it as an example for their students.
- When we appreciate that learning is a journey that takes students down their own personal paths and that they need the freedom to explore and find their way instead of trying to bring them collectively to a predetermined destination at a designated point in time.
- When we finally value that personal journey and joy of learning – in school and beyond - far more than any content, skill or destination we can ever set for them.