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How One Vermont Supervisory Union is Integrating Digital Tools

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The Vermont Digital Economy Project has been very active in promoting digital skills-building through its Internet Intern program at 24 Vermont libraries and by making digital workforce training available to hundreds of Vermonters. Despite its critical importance to the future of Vermont’s digital economy, VCRD has not worked directly in promoting the use of digital tools in K-12 education since the close of the e-Vermont project. Hopefully, that’s about to change. Our Vermont Connected Summit in late September will place tremendous focus on the topic of Educating for a Digital World. One of the many Vermont experts in this area who will be speaking at the summit is John Dawson, the Director of Instructional Innovation at the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union. I asked John to speak at the summit, because of the forward-thinking work in the BRSU of implementing the Haiku Learning cloud-based digital K-12 learning platform in the schools across their supervisory union. Launched in September, 2011, this work reaches 1,200 students and their teachers in 6 rural Vermont schools. John has written the following blog post on the successful deployment of digital tools within these schools in the BRSU system.

BRSU

For the last three years I’ve been working with the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union trying to personalize student learning. I’ve had many tools at my disposal, including technology, an active and engaged faculty, staff and school boards, and integrative systems that work together.

When you start with the student, personalized learning requires us to ask three basic questions: What do they know? What do they need to know? How are they going to get there?  Like no other time in history, we have the tools to answer these questions in hours rather than days. In a state like Vermont, where small population centers of disparate income levels and access to enhanced educational opportunities are often separated by many, many miles, we must harness these tools to our advantage.

Our research shows that on the first day of school, in any grade level, only 25% of the students entering the grade are considered capable of handling that grade’s curriculum. That means 75% of the students either exceed the grade level curriculum or fall behind. That reality alone makes personalized learning a daunting task. When considering class size, family dynamics, language barriers, learning styles, or any of the multitude of other issues teachers and students face every day, it can seem overwhelming.

So, how do we connect teachers across schools and facilitate the sharing of curriculum, best practices, and, most importantly, resources? How do we expand every teacher’s curriculum without “reinventing the wheel” at every school? And, how do we measure personalized learning based on progress and achievement, rather than traditional grades? How do we do it today?

Answer: a statewide web-based ecosystem of tools to formatively assess student progress toward common standards with a robust curriculum library that is tagged to many different standard sets and focused on evidence of individual success guided by a personal learning plan.

A common, web-based ecosystem benefits every stakeholder immediately. The learning curve for entry is shallow and the local time and cost savings significant.

I know how I best learn new skills and ideas and it’s likely different than the way anyone else absorbs the same knowledge.  Students access an ecosystem with a robust library of learning activities accessible on any device that suits their learning style, anywhere they are, anytime they’re motivated to learn in any language. They build a personal learning plan, make lots of mistakes and then document success in new and exciting ways. They can easily communicate with students in their classroom or across the state engaged in opportunities previously limited by a bus ride. Their personalized learning plan is accompanied by a portfolio of historical achievement and exemplars that are developed as the student grows, and moves from one school to another.

Teachers can create rich learning activities aligned to Common Core, State, or local standards and easily differentiate instruction for every student in their class. They also have access to in-depth information on the students’ strengths and weaknesses and can contribute to each record, much like one’s own personal medical record. They also have access to a Curriculum Library to share and rate their best learning activities tagged by standards, grade levels and core content areas with their peers quickly and easily. Just in time social professional development augments traditional professional development.

Parents and guardians are directly connected to teachers and their school. They receive daily updates on progress, have a clear understanding of the next steps and access to the tools and learning activities that best suit their students. They have more opportunities to be engaged in the learning process.

Schools Boards and Admins can govern their community based on learning results in real-time and guide policy based on their own local community needs.

Local schools and classrooms are essential, but learning doesn’t necessarily stop or start when the door closes and is no longer restricted by geography. Learning has to happen when the student or teacher wants it to happen: on the bus, travelling to a baseball game, after school, or on a break from a part-time job.

We are on the cusp of worldwide change in the way we embrace lifelong learning – the internet brings the world to our fingertips and through comprehensive education, we can harness the best of it to create the greatest generation of students the United States has ever seen. Anytime, anywhere on anything that connects people with information.

We created a digital ecosystem for the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union community that provides teacher-driven curriculum based on Common Core, State, and Local Standards, provides on-demand, social professional development and connections to every member of our community around each and every student. This is achievable and scalable for every community in Vermont, and as the number of participants in the ecosystem grows, so does the potential -- exponentially. If you’d like to learn more, start with Superintendent Dan French’s blog post and his presentation to the Vermont Superintendent’s Conference this past spring. If you’re inspired, join us for the VCRD’s Summit “Vermont Connected:  Envisioning the Future of Vermont’s Digital Economy” this September 23rd.

It does take a village, but that’s what Vermont does best.

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