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It’s Time To Think Differently About Writing In The Classroom

Among the biggest changes of modern academic standards is the shift in the burden of general literacy. Rather than only ‘writing teachers,’ teaching reading and writing, now all teachers across all content areas are being asked to do so (something we’ve talked about before).

In the past, literacy—the ability to read, write, and understand—has been the domain of the English-Language Arts teachers (and elsewhere in the world, Literature and Composition teachers).

Limiting the craft of writing to a single content area has altered the landscape of students’ minds in ways that are only now being revealed as math teachers are told to teach writing. Students are now used to flinging rudimentary understandings on exit slips in broken sentence fragments, taking notes that neatly curate other people’s ideas, and otherwise ducking the responsibility to craft compelling arguments that synthesize multiple perspectives on a daily basis.

So we—English-Language Arts teachers—respond by handing them fill-in-the-blank graphic organizers that coax them to give reason 1 reason 2 and reason 3 in clear sentences that shun complexity or intellectual endurance, provided their ‘writing’ adheres to an expected form.

And handing those same graphic organizers out when other content area teachers ask for resources.

Now, generations later, the idea of writing about math or science seems not just challenging, but forced and awkward. Science and Math, properly taught, are more akin to philosophies and ways of making sense of the world than “content areas,” offering an infinite number of prompts to spur students to write.

This is the 21st-century, and 21st-century thinking is different.

While it is full of connectivity and collaboration and stunning possibility, the 21st-century learning era is one of infatuation with image, visual spectacle, flashing alerts, endlessly accessible whimsy, and cognitively stunted communication patterns.

And in capable response, writing could be the answer we’ve been looking for, right beneath our noses the whole time.

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The Challenge Of Global Learning In Public Education

For every person reading this quick preview, probably 18 more skimmed right past, busy trying to survive right here, right now. This makes sense.

Even when it does get attention, it is often bursting with rhetoric and emotion—discussed in tones of enthusiasm (we should do it—the students deserve it!) and grey stereotypes (we Zoom’d with a classroom in Peru last week—if that’s not global, I don’t know what is).

In high-stakes testing environments prevalent in many formal learning institutions, the focus is on standards and standard-mastery. ‘Globalization’ is a haughty kind of ‘pie in the sky’ idea thought about only when watching one of the “Shift Happens” videos on YouTube, or daydreaming on the drive home from a challenging day in the classroom where there is time to honestly reflect on—in solitude—the kind of education teachers can only dream they could provide students.

Now over a decade into the 21st century, there is tremendous pressure for education to ‘globalize.’ What this means exactly isn’t universally agreed upon.

Does Globalization Play A Role In Learning?

For education, globalization is the natural macro consequence of meaningful micro placement.

Globalizing a curriculum isn’t (initially) what it might seem. To globalize, start small—with the self.

Now over a decade into the 21st century, there is tremendous pressure for education to ‘globalize.’ What this means exactly isn’t universally agreed upon. In major world markets, the business world globalized decades ago, expanding beyond domestic markets in pursuit of more diverse audiences and stronger profits.

And while major players in business continue to experiment and find their way in markets whose culture and buying practices diverge from those domestic, the ‘field’ of education has been slow to follow suit.

This is made all the more strange by the relationship between education and economic systems. If one goal of education is to prepare a ‘workforce,’ the more parallel the system of education is with the workforce, the less ‘waste’ there might be. While industrialism, commercialism, religion, and technology all reach out across political and geographical borders, education lags awkwardly behind.

The most startling reality here might be the jarring power of juxtaposition: stakeholders in education everywhere struggle for change—meaningful, sustained movement in a new direction–yet within education overall, there is relatively little progress compared to tangent fields, including science, technology, entertainment, and business.

For education, somewhere there is a tether, likely rooted in sentimentality and disconnection. The learning process has become so culturally detached from the communities it is designed to serve that families are no longer sure what quality education looks like, resulting in blind trust of an education system that struggles itself to plan, measure, and remediate learning, all the while families stand aside unsure of their role.

Defining Global Learning

Globalization is less a singular initiative than it is the effect of a thousand initiatives, many of which are currently under-developed. When defining a ‘global curriculum,’ one issue that must be confronted is the issue of perspective: Do we all have the same definition of ‘global,’ and do we understand the word “curriculum” on common ground?

In brief, let’s agree that in this context, ‘global’ is a word that describes anything that is truly worldwide in its awareness, interdependence, and application. Right away, the scale of any such endeavor should appear, at best, intimidating, and, at worst, impossible with any degree of intimacy. Beyond that which is geologic and atmospheric, few things can truly maintain wholeness while being ‘global.’ Global implies a scale that’s not just ambitious and comprehensive, but truly inclusive by definition. Things can’t be ‘partially global’ any more than the lights can be partially turned on.

So if ‘global’ is fully interdependent and inclusive, what about the curriculum part? For the purpose of this piece, we’ll say that a curriculum is intentionally designed of learning content and experiences. It may be more or less planned and scripted, created backward from a sort of curriculum map into units, lessons, and activities, or far more open as ‘learning pathways,’  each a different style of curriculum. To clarify, learning standards such as the Common Core are not curriculum, but are rather ingredients with which you can create your own.

So what then does a ‘global curriculum’ require and imply? And how do we get there from here?

The term ‘global’ tends toward business, marketing, and technological connotation, which is always dangerous. The ambition of business leaders, technology inventors, and scientists alike shows less respect for the practical than the possible. While exciting in theory, it flaunts a hubris that should serve as a warning for fields with much more to lose than money or shareholders.

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The Benefits Of Using Technology In Learning

While technology opens new horizons for education at home, adapting to this is more challenging. What are the pros and cons of remote teaching technology?

Education is one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 lockdown with social distancing measures meaning schools could be closed for the foreseeable future.

However, thanks to technology, teachers are still able to continue teaching and students don’t lag behind. And while this is good news, many educators face new challenges due to this switch to remote learning, and for some, it takes time to accustom.

Collaborative learning environment regardless of location

Without effective collaboration between learners and teachers, students often lose motivation due to the perceived lack of community and sense of shared learning. This is why it is critical to use various forms of online interaction, from text messages and video conferencing to collaborative interactive projects and the latest online platforms, to support students and keep them engaged. 

Encouraging active participation

Remote teaching gives learners flexibility you won’t find in the traditional classroom setting. Instead of having all students participate simultaneously, teachers can schedule separate group or individual lessons, give personalized content, and always stay in touch.

Jerry Blumengarten, a connected educator with more than 30 years of experience, suggests“To make distant learning work, you should prepare tutorials on the use of the tech tools you will be using for your instructors and students. This should be done in a step-by-step simple way to avoid any confusion and mistakes. Provide a contact number where you can be reached to answer any questions and offer further help to your students.”

Engaging Students In New Ways

Online distance learning allows you to move from static learning materials to more dynamic interactive media content. Another benefit of technology in learning is that students often learn faster when they are not only listening to the teacher and reading textbooks but also participating in engaging academic activity. That’s why it’s a great idea to encourage learning using short quizzes, exercises with elements of gamification, interactive apps, and more.

Easier Plagiarism Detection

Technology is your friend when it comes to academic integrity, and is the bestway to effectively check works for plagiarism. Text similarity detection tools like Unicheck thoroughly scan students’ texts for plagiarism and help teachers see where students have relied too heavily on other sources. There are dozens of reasons why students cheat, but it’s the teacher’s role to teach them to realise that this won’t help  – either in school or in life.

Assessment And Grading Automation

You can use various interactive tests and multiple-choice quizzes to quickly and easily check student knowledge. Utilize online grading tools to organize your grade book, see overall marks for every student, and empower them to follow their success. 

Changing Roles For Student And Teacher

With information easily available on the internet, the teacher’s role as a subject expert becomes less critical. It’s the ability to guide students through these volumes of information that really matters in modern education.

At the same time, finding the most effective ways of learning from different sources together with students makes teachers co-learners rather than the sole source of knowledge. And this is exactly the behavior that can inspire students and encourage them to study beyond the curriculum. It might look like teachers are losing control, but in fact, these new approaches build real trust and respect within the class.

Adopting Progressive Educational Technologies

Information technology in education provides a large variety of new methods for teachers. Mobile educational apps, collaborative platforms, learning analytics, and so many more innovative tools and approaches make the learning process much more appealing for both student and teacher.

Access To The Latest Information 

It takes a long time to update academic textbooks and other printed materials, so they often contain obsolete knowledge, especially when it comes to modern science or contemporary history. But online information is dynamic and always updated. On the internet, new information is spread instantly, and can be instantly integrated into the learning process making this one of the most powerful benefits of technology in learning.

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Are You Prepared For The Future Of Social Learning?

Social Learning: A Way of Life

With the Internet exploding with information resources and tools for learning, teachers can be facilitators of information with a greater emphasis on explanation and critical thinking as opposed to the dissemination source. Formal learning systems have in some cases been slower to adopt this model, rightfully concerned with the accuracy of material and consistency; yet with ever-increasing numbers of individuals accessing information in learning environments, the necessity of these formal systems to adopt technological change is very clear.

Where once a rote chapter on the Renaissance movement devolved into students losing interest and ultimately forgetting the lesson, now augmented reality technology enables learners to have an immersive ‘experience’ of the Renaissance era. For the current generation of ‘digital natives’ who start using tablets and smartphones even before they can talk, social learning is not an alternative but an inherent way of life. The challenge becomes how to ingrain the knowledge of the teacher, their skills, and efficacy in explanation into the almost infinite expanse of knowledge that students get through shared Facebook posts, Twitter links, YouTube videos, Quora threads, or any number of constantly emerging and growing online resources.

Considered from this angle the challenge is really an opportunity to merge the ubiquity and deep capacity of information present in these platforms with the inspiration and commitment of teachers to students constantly improving and dedicated to advanced learning. Social learning is already proving to be not just an alternative system, but the growing norm and tool that will shape the education of tomorrow.

Is your Learning Management System (‘LMS’) Social Learning Friendly?

Due to the multiple access points of information, students need less direction to find a particular piece of knowledge. What students do need is a secure and structured environment where they can use the resources of their choice (including text, audio, and/or video) to discuss, communicate, and collaborate. Learning can then be more engaging and interactive. While learning platforms have long been integral to school and college education, in some cases existing tools and systems have not kept pace with the rapidity of technological and innovative change to deliver a truly collaborative learning experience. In many cases Learning Management Systems (LMS) are either restricted to automating formal learning or only add in a few social media tools to round off their delivery model.

An LMS is fundamentally a framework by which students and teachers can integrate their learning on a unified system. Because of the diversity of source material, educators and students need a secure platform that allows them to work on shared documents, make and exchange notes, start live chats and conference calls, or start a discussion thread with fellow students. The differentiators from a traditional approach include flexibility, reach, scope, and scale that allows students and instructors the freedom to engage and explore the material on their terms. With the vast amount of content available, coupled with the diversity of platform delivery options, the importance of a structured system to provide seamless integration offers a knowledge advantage.

This single-point secure encrypted environment prevents any possibility of the content getting leaked or any copyright violations. Additionally, from a learning perspective, benefits to the students and teacher include multiple device access, remote learning, testing, and assessment fluidity and comprehension advancement leading to higher-level offerings.

Technology is increasingly embedded in the work/life equation, now educators and learners need a smart platform, commensurate with intelligent technology, which saves every interaction with the context of the topic, section, notes, and other reference materials along with a date and time stamp, creating a robust content archive, allowing for access at any time.

Tools like Skype, Google Drive, OneNote, OneDrive, Zoom, and others are some of the most widely used channels to share content, communicate, and work together. Integrating these cloud technologies with learning management systems is critical for making a digital education platform truly social, interactive, and value-driven. For students and teachers relying on multiple tools to share and access different forms of content or different channels, difficulties, and complexities arise that can burden the learning process. A unified interface that drives all activities is far superior for making social learning integral to digital education.

Content gamification is yet another vital aspect of social learning. As educators, it is important to have an LMS (here are a few LMS Design Tips) that goes beyond the standard leader boards, point, or level system. Number games, word puzzles, and even inter-team quiz contests after the end of every chapter or section can truly get the ball rolling, leading to more learners participating, working in groups, and getting more engaged.

Students of today are the workforce of tomorrow. Future workplaces are all about using modern tools of communication and collaboration to work in virtual teams spread across locations. Thus, social learning at an early age is now essential to create a future-ready skilled workforce that is adept at self-organized learning, knowledge sharing, and working seamlessly with teams.