Tag Archives: teaching

The Importance of Feedback: Both Fast and Slow

Feedback is one of the most important parts of a teacher’s job. Even if they don’t always act like it, students tend to be very interested in teachers’ reactions to their work. The emotional course of a young person’s entire day can be strongly affected by the sort of feedback–both positive and negative–that a teacher may provide. The power of effective feedback, of course, doesn’t only impact a student’s affective domain; cognitive development also depends on frequent and specific feedback from teachers. As Wiggins (2012) pointed out, feedback based on formative assessment is one of the most powerful factors affecting student learning.

For adult learners, of course, feedback is no less important, but it needs to be structured a little differently. Adults, especially professional educators, often have a well-earned sense of their own expertise, which they may have developed over the course of many years or even decades of classroom experience with young people. Even the most personable and trustworthy administrator, instructional coach, or trainer might offer a well-stated and specific suggestion to a teacher, only to be rebuffed as a non-expert who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. In short, providing critical feedback to adults is complicated.

Mochari (2014) described how Abraham Lincoln was masterful at providing feedback to his generals during the Civil War. After Lincoln’s death, unsent letters were discovered in Lincoln’s desk that he had wisely decided not to send. Writing these letters must have helped Lincoln clarify his thinking, and perhaps even vent some of his frustrations and anxieties about trying to keep the young nation together in spite of a brutal war. Among Mochari’s takeaways was the importance of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes before criticizing him or her (Mochari, para. 11). I once worked for a superintendent who developed a well-deserved reputation for fits of rage, during which he would yell at employees so loudly that others could hear his every word through the wall. Hearing my colleagues, some of whom had been educators for decades, being cursed at and belittled didn’t just affect their morale and self-esteem; it had negative effects on everyone within earshot. While this is a rather extreme example, the fact remains that supervisors must tread lightly when providing feedback.

Of course, treading lightly isn’t always possible. Swartz (n.d.) outlined a system of writing feedback she used with her online language arts students. Among her insights was a commitment to provide feedback via electronic comments within 24 hours of a student writing submission. Prompt feedback is key to learning because the learner needs to hear both positive reassurances and suggestions for improvement while their work is still fresh in their minds. Most people have had the dubious experience of receiving feedback so long after finishing a job that many of the decisions and actions associated with the work have been forgotten.

As I consider the feedback mechanisms in my Demo Unit for this course, I believe there are several good ways that the instructor can provide prompt and specific feedback to learners. Wiki posts and threaded online discussions, for example, give instructors an opportunity to participate in a discussion in real-time, certainly within the 24-hour constraint that Swartz developed. Virtual online meetings and video conferences allow for feedback that is even quicker, in that they approximate the face-to-face conversations that occur constantly in a classroom environment.

Although feedback is most effective when it is prompt, it is sometimes important for teachers to take at least a little more time to carefully reflect on which suggestion(s) will have the most impact on learning. Several of my Demo Unit assignments have rubric-based feedback, associated with formal grading tasks, which are somewhat slower than online meetings and simultaneous discussions. The advantage to slower feedback is that great, breakthrough ideas often require more time and reflection before they can be formulated. If there is one lesson that we can learn from Abraham Lincoln, it is that the slower, more deliberate approach may not always be the most popular choice, but it is sometimes the most effective.


Mochari, I. (2014, February 11). Abraham Lincoln’s brilliant method for handling setbacks. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/ilan-mochari/lincoln-lesson-setbacks.html

Swartz, J. (n.d.). Strategies for providing substantive feedback in language arts in the online environment. Retrieved from http://itlab2.coe.wayne.edu/it6230/casestudies/english/english.html

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10-16. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

The Nature of Our Learners: Prezi Reflection

For this week’s Blog post, I will be reviewing Elizabeth Neal’s (2017) presentation about the nature of our learners, and comparing and contrasting her thoughts and beliefs with mine. Neal’s presentation describes three specific beliefs about 21st Century learners, and makes connections to relevant iNACOL standards throughout (International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2011). My presentation similarly concerns three of my core beliefs and makes reference to the same standards.

Both Neal and I listed a strong system of feedback as essential to understanding the nature of our learners, which both of us related to iNACOL Standard D. Her associated artifact, an Edutopia article about how to provide effective feedback to students, strongly supports and expands upon this belief. Although we both outlined that effective feedback can come from both students’ peers and teachers, she went a step further by mentioning the possibility of eliciting feedback from experts. When students are using technology to produce authentic products, the value of feedback from experts in the field is especially important to keep in mind. Teachers should endeavor to establish partnerships with community experts, who can provide valuable feedback by sitting in a presentation audience and/or providing written feedback of student work. Neal also overtly connected this belief in the importance of feedback to the accessing of students’ cognitive domains. Rather than making such connections to affective, behavioral, and cognitive domains, I instead made specific mention of components of my Demo Unit that support each of my three beliefs. Although we approached this assignment with this slight difference in perspective, I think both approaches resulted in a good analysis.

For Neal’s second belief, she outlined the importance of student motivation, which she related to iNACOL Standard A. I also mentioned student engagement in my presentation, although I linked it instead to iNACOL Standard B. Our beliefs about these two standards are somewhat similar; Neal focused on students being able to make choices in their learning, and provided a link to a journal article about fostering students’ skills in working independently. I chose instead to cite a resource about how technology tools can be used to promote student interest. Both of these connections are, I think, valid. Both are clearly connected to the affective domain of learning, although Neal made this connection overtly, while I did not do so.

Finally, Neal described the importance of students being actively engaged in their learning, which she related to iNACOL Standard C. She connected engagement strategies to the behavioral domain, which is a connection I would not have thought of. I tend to connect student engagement primarily to motivation and student affect, as I explained above. Her artifact is a very interesting video that illustrates the concept that 21st Century students make a very real contribution to the learning relationship because they have technological expertise that their teachers may lack (MacPherson Institute, 2015). Teachers are still, of course, content experts, but students are adept at using multiple technological tools to efficiently find and vet information.

My third belief, by contrast, concerned a completely different issue, that of using formative assessment to inform, modify, and improve instructional design. I related formative assessment to iNACOL Standard I. I think this is an especially important concept in blended and online instruction, because teachers cannot always rely on nonverbal cues and face-to-face conversation with students in order to assess whether or not they are understanding the desired learning objectives. In fact, it is sometimes challenging for the online teacher to even know whether or not the students are paying attention. Thus, the importance of using frequent, multilayered formative assessment looms large in 21st Century learning. For this final argument, I selected a very practical artifact in the form of a blog post that outlines several dozen tools and apps that teachers can use to make different types of formative assessments.


International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online teaching. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/resource/inacol-national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2/

Neal, E. (2017, May 11). The nature of our learners [Prezi slides]. Retrieved from http://prezi.com/sdvtycdt8n9g/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

MacPherson Institute. (2015, October 26). Peter Felten on engaging students as partners in learning and teaching [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/pPU4ckBBeEU

Refining the Demo Unit: Strengths and Areas for Growth So Far

My Demo Unit contains many elements that strongly address some of the iNACOL Standards (International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2011). Three standards in particular stand out as particular areas of strength in my Demo Unit:

iNACOL Standard D

The threaded discussion and summative assessment rubrics provide some clear expectations for how my learners need to demonstrate their learning. At the same time, the rubrics were carefully designed to accommodate a wide variety of project formats and technology tools, so learners still have plenty of freedom about how to design their learning. For example, the summative portfolio must include a minimum of 3 artifacts and a reflective essay, but the format of the artifacts can be anything including a text document, slideshow, image, video, or URL link to some other online resource the learner has designed.

iNACOL Standard J

Communication with colleagues and stakeholders is an important part of my job, so I feel this is a real strength in my Demo Unit. The sample letters I included in my Hidden Instructor Resources folder are just small samples of my everyday interactions with technology tool vendors, colleagues in other districts, parents, students, etc.

iNACOL Standard F

Many of my weekly lesson design tasks are very flexible. These open-ended assignments create rich opportunities for accommodation because learners have a lot of choices to make in how to represent their lesson design tasks. For example, the weekly assignments may be submitted as either text or slideshow documents. My Demo Course also includes several screencast video explanations with embedded subtitles, which provides some support for learners with disabilities and/or different learning styles.

Of course, the work of a thoughtful designer is never really complete, and I see several areas in which my Demo Unit still needs revision in order to meet some iNACOL Standards:

iNACOL Standard B

Since the whole point of my Demo Unit is to teach a variety of media tools, I’m concerned that the curriculum may have too many new technology tools squeezed into the original seven-week time frame. Perhaps it would be better to spread this number of technology tools out over an entire school year of professional development meetings. Maybe each lesson should really happen over the course of a month, rather than a week, since many of my learners are employed as full-time classroom teachers. Also, the Demo Unit does not include any lesson that encourages learners to connect with outside colleagues via Edmodo, Twitter Chat, or similar networking activity designed to support a community of practice. In order to address this shortcoming, I will be replacing one of the redundant assignments in Week 6 with a social media assignment.

iNACOL Standard G

I feel that my assessments are very strong overall, especially the summative ones. However, there are not sufficient formative assessments upon which to make adjustments in the course, especially in the early lessons. I will be adding a formative assessment component that checks the learners for basic conceptual understanding after the second or third lesson of the Demo Unit. I will probably design an easy- to medium-level difficulty test of basic knowledge of SAMR, HyperDocs, and using YouTube for education. In keeping with the Demo Unit’s main theme of media tools, I will probably structure the quiz in a way that incorporates embedded graphics and video clips via Socrative or similar online assessment platform.

iNACOL Standard I

While I am designing the quiz mentioned above, I will also include one or more questions that solicit feedback on how the course is going, including suggestions for how the remaining lessons might be better explained or modified to meet learners’ needs, so that the early formative assessment may be used to make adjustments to the course in real time.


International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online teaching. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/resource/inacol-national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2/

Authenticity In the Exciting World of Education Technology

The design of my Demo Unit was an authentic experience because I decided to make a course for the adult professional educators whom I work with every day as part of my job. It would have been much easier for me to build a Demo Unit full of lesson resources that I have used in the past with my high school science students, but that would not have been an authentic learning experience for me, because I no longer teach high school students. In short, I decided to look forward to the future, building learning activities that I might use next year, rather than looking backward.

I think it’s important to look ahead when designing curriculum. Too often, I see teachers design activities that are primarily designed to review prior knowledge. I’m not sure this is a great way to build student motivation for learning. Especially at the secondary level, teachers often precede a key exam or quiz with one or more review days. These lessons typically include vocabulary games, Jeopardy!-style competitions, and teacher-led rehashing of previously learned (or, perhaps, previously not-learned) concepts. While many of these activities are designed with good intentions, and may help remind students what they should remember for their upcoming test, I wonder if they are very effective. When students hear that today is a review day, they may feel entitled to turn off their brains to some extent, because their teacher is basically telegraphing that nothing new will be learned today. Ideally, however, something new should be learned every day!

So I am tempted to blow up the idea of the review day. In fact, maybe we should even blow up the idea of a test or quiz as a primary summative assessment altogether. Imagine how much more engaged a student might be in a one- or two-day summative project that would require some independent research and application of key concepts to practical problem-solving. Rather than give my students a multiple-choice quiz about atomic structure, for example, why not assign them to prepare multimedia presentations about how atomic structure relates to everyday teenage problems, like crack-resistant cell phone screens or artificial sweeteners? After all, I typically put my chemistry students to sleep with even the best-designed lessons about electron orbitals, but if I taught them how those orbitals related to, say, the interaction of a drug molecule with the human brain, suddenly their interest level would increase dramatically.

Upon final reflection about our Demo Unit assignment at Brandman, one modification that could have made the learning much more authentic would have been allowing some flexibility about the platform used. Although Blackboard and CourseSites are still very good ways to structure online learning units, there are newer platforms with more reliable functionality, like Canvas. In my specific case, because I work in a district that has a 1:1 Chromebook implementation, it would have made more sense for me to structure my Demo Unit using Google Sites, Classroom, Hangouts, and other Google Apps. Of course, I can appreciate the difficulty in modifying course content to stay up to date with the latest developments in education technology.

In fact, I can foresee a time when something else may replace even Google as the predominant technology platform in my district. Both Apple and Microsoft, for example, are developing their own classroom technology environments. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see my colleagues and their students using OneDrive and/or Microsoft Classroom just a few years from now. Just don’t tell them I said that! It can be daunting enough for educators just to keep up with the amazing variety of apps and web tools that are available right now. Considering how rapidly education technology may evolve over the next five years, I think we have much to be excited–and frightened–about.

Navigating UDL and Technology In the 21st Century Classroom

In a world where Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the standard for learning is structured, there should be fewer missed opportunities to engage students. Obviously this is important so we may use modern technology to its full advantage in order to level the playing field for students with disabilities and special learning needs. If I were to encounter an administrator who was hesitant to invest funds in staff development to support UDL, I’d point out that universal design also supports students who, for a variety of reasons, don’t tend to engage well in traditional teacher-led, textbook-based learning. These reasons can include unique preferred learning styles, varying personalities, and barriers presented by differences in culture, home language, and/or socioeconomic background. Even simple technology features like the ability to pause and replay a YouTube video, or to enable subtitles with a simple mouse click, can make a tremendous difference for a student with any of the challenges listed above.

Of course, faithfully implementing UDL in all classrooms is a tall order. In addition to the obvious challenges of limited time and funding, there is also an attitude among many educators that technology is contributing to an outbreak of increased cheating, including plagiarism, students sharing answers, and erosion of the security of high-stakes tests. To teachers who are nervous about such threats to the validity of assessment, I would offer the glimmer of hope that technology may help us detect plagiarism much more quickly and objectively via such checking apps as LiveText and Turnitin. 

There are even more powerful tools for detecting dishonesty coming very soon. My school district, for example, has been evaluating a new form of software that allows teachers to access their students’ active browser tabs and URL histories, and even to partially control the active windows of their devices. While these functionalities give teachers a lot of exciting new ways to streamline classroom instruction, they also open the door to an unprecedented level of access to what students choose to read and watch, including what they do with their devices during non-school hours. I am concerned about potential overreach that is possible with these technologies. I recently participated in a webinar in which privacy expert Amelia Vance pointed out that all of our new and powerful forms of electronic tracking of students may contribute to a so-called surveillance effect, which may inhibit the formation of the trust between students and teachers (A. Vance, personal communication, April 5, 2017). I would hope that teachers, administrators, and parents can work together to create a new set of norms that will help us optimize the environment for student learning in ways that are equitable and motivating, while at the same time monitoring our students well enough to ensure their safety and honesty.

Perhaps the most important thing teachers can do in order to support these efforts is to design learning activities that take full advantage of the technologies currently available to their students. The SAMR conceptual framework, although far from perfect, gives teachers a useful tool they may use to evaluate the quality of technology use in their lesson designs (Dunn, 2013). My Demo Course incorporates a brief SAMR that asks teachers to reflect on which level a lesson utilizes–substitution, augmentation, modification, or re-defintion (Dunn, 2013). This tool reminds me of the Bloom’s taxonomy that I learned two decades ago when I was starting my career as a classroom teacher. In fact, Bloom’s taxonomy itself has been updated to make more explicit connections to specific measurable learning outcomes (Iowa State University of Science and Technology, 2017). I think it’s useful for teachers to consider, as they write the learning objective of a lesson, which Bloom’s level and/or SAMR category the lesson fits into. The bottom line is, it’s more difficult for students to cheat when we ask them to answer questions and solve problems that don’t have a simple, single correct answer.


Dunn, J. (2013). New pedagogy wheel helps you integrate technology using SAMR model. Retrieved from Edudemic web site: http://www.edudemic.com/new-padagogy-wheel-helps-you-integrate-technology-using-samr-model/

Iowa State University of Science and Technology. (2013). Revised Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved from http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/effective-teaching-practices/revised-blooms-taxonomy

Role Playing – Not Just for Fun & Games

Role-playing is a key skill for effective teachers, because it gives us an opportunity to contemplate how our lesson design might be received by a student. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as an average student. Rather, each student brings a unique set of experiences, abilities, and skills to class each day. One of the benefits of my 20 years of experience in education is that I can think back to some of my more memorable students and ask myself whether or not each of my lessons would allow them to be successful. Would my D/deaf student be able to understand a video I am showing the class? Would one of my many students with ADD or ADHD be able to focus on my delivery during concept development? Am I providing enough scaffolding for my students with special learning needs? Do my English learners have rich opportunities to practice their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills?

Fortunately, the tenets of UDL philosophy have encouraged me, time and again over the past several months, to keep asking such questions. This constant self-criticism and high-standards reflection hasn’t always been easy; my lesson design certainly takes more time than it did before I discovered UDL. On the other hand, this sort of role-playing creates a certain sense of satisfaction from lesson design. Even though designing learning for UDL is not a simple task, viewing lessons through the lens of a student who has a name and a story reminds me that, even though I will make mistakes and stumble along the way, at least my heart is in the right place when I try to make learning more relevant and accessible for all of my students.

The exercise of having a critical friend review my lesson design has been a valuable one. Although my classmate validated much of my Demo Course Shell, she made a couple of specific recommendations that I did incorporate into a last-minute revision. For example, she suggested that I provide my students an opportunity to discuss something they had tried during the demo course that did not work well for them. This was an interesting twist on the discussion prompts I had included, because it created a place where I could reassure my students that mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process, and that they should not be afraid to make them. For this step of the process, I think it was especially helpful that I was paired with a partner from a very different grade level, because she was able to give me valuable feedback from a very different perspective.

Making a Google Sites Portfolio Assessment More Accessible Via Screencast

Technology in education is certainly a two-edged sword. On the one hand, modern technology gives students fantastic opportunities to learn in ways that were previously difficult, expensive, or impossible for teachers to design. Teachers often appreciate new technology tools that allow them to perform many of the complex or tedious tasks of education, like correcting papers and analyzing testing data, more effectively and efficiently. Modern media tools also have the potential to convey instruction–and develop problem-solving skills–much more effectively than the overhead projectors and chalkboards I used when I started my teaching career (Net Industries, 2017, para. 11).

On the other hand, new hardware and software learning tools are being developed and modified at a rapid pace that can overwhelm even the most tech-savvy educators. Often when I show teachers a new tech tool to make their jobs easier, they will ask me how long I think it will take for this tool to be replaced by something even better. My worst fear is that education technology might turn into a sort of Red Queen’s Race, in which teachers, like Alice in Wonderland, must constantly run just to stay in the same place (Carroll, 1871).

I’m currently working on designing my Demo Course Unit, which is a mini-course for teachers who would like to integrate visual media tools into their instruction. I’d like my teachers to build an electronic portfolio as a summative assessment for this Demo Unit, so that they can collect and share several artifacts that represent what they have learned about using modern technology tools in their lesson designs. I have decided that the best way to provide structure to this rather open-ended assessment is to provide my teachers with a template they may use to construct their New Google Sites portfolios (Wise, 2017b). My template will be shared with my teachers in a way that incorporates some variation in representation, which is an important consideration of Universal Design for Learning (CAST, 2015). I will provide my teachers with both a direct link to the template site and a narrated screencast video with subtitles (Wise, 2017a).


Carroll, L. (1871). Through the looking-glass [Project Gutenberg version]. Retrieved from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12/12-h/12-h.htm

CAST. (2015). About universal design for learning. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.WI4edhsrLD4

Net Industries. (2017). Media and learning – definitions and summary of research, do media influence the cost and access to instruction? Retrieved from State University Education Encyclopedia web site: http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2211/Media-Learning.html

Wise, B. (2017a). How to build your media tools portfolio on New Google Sites [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/kGHN2_oklJg

Wise, B. (2017b). Template – media tools. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/mail.brandman.edu/wise-eduu628-demo-summ-port/

Using Google Sites to Create a Portfolio that Teachers Will Really Use

Since I left the classroom to work as an EdTech Specialist in my district, I didn’t think it would be appropriate to design a Demo Unit based on K-12 content standards such as the Common Core or NGSS. Rather, because my students are adult teachers with students of their own, I needed to find a set of standards that address professional learning and practice for teachers using technology in their classrooms. Fortunately, such a set of standards already exists; in fact, the ISTE Standards for Teachers have been adopted and used by many educators (International Society for Technology in Education, 2008).

For the purposes of my Demo Unit, I have selected ISTE Teacher Standard 2a, which states that teachers “[d]esign or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity” (International Society for Technology in Education, 2008, p. 1). I selected this standard because I try not to dazzle my teachers with all of the latest technological tools, but rather to show them how technology tools can be thoughtfully and strategically used to support and enhance student learning. I love this particular standard because it focuses on using technology tools to support not only student learning, but also creativity. I am convinced that technology should not be used only as a substitute for traditional textbook-based instruction. Teachers should also use technology to allow their students to create meaningful products with relevance to their everyday lives.



In keeping with the spirit of 21st Century learning, this standard’s key verb is to design, which occupies perhaps the highest position on Bloom’s taxonomy (Armstrong, 2017). In my school district, we spend a lot of time and resources on thoughtful lesson design. I work in the Education Services division of my District Office, where I frequently collaborate with our twelve Instructional Coaches on lesson studies and concept-building activities with grade-level and subject-area teams of teachers. We often help teachers build complete lessons using complex templates that incorporate instructional norms including lesson objectives, content and skill development, embedded checks for understanding, relevance, and (of course) technology.


My teachers work in virtually every type of classroom imaginable, from transitional kindergarten to adult school, including both general-education and special-education settings. Thus, it is important for my summative assessment to be open-ended enough that each teacher would be able to create a practical and relevant project that could be used with his or her own students. I decided the best way to accomplish this goal was to assign my teachers to construct an online portfolio of lessons, learning activities, and assessments using the New Google Sites.

The ISTE Standard gives the option of designing or adapting lessons; therefore, it isn’t essential that the teacher personally design each item in the portfolio from scratch. In fact, teachers need to know how to efficiently and strategically adapt preexisting lesson resources to meet their students’ needs. The rubric for this portfolio won’t focus excessively on details of the artifacts themselves. Rather, I hope to focus my teachers’ attention mainly on the planning, feedback, and reflection associated with each artifact. In the end, I want my teachers to design a portfolio of technology-based lesson resources that they, their colleagues, and their students will really use.


Armstrong, P. (2017). Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

International Society for Technology in Education. (2008). ISTE standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://iste.org/standards

My Journey from Ed-Tech Novice to Expert

According to Herr (2007), one of the most important differences between an expert and a novice is that experts are able to recognize patterns fluently with little or no effort (para. 14). Whereas a novice might be able to mobilize good strategies in order to solve a problem, experts have the ability to take a step back and assess whether or not the problem at hand is truly the most important problem.

Early in my teaching career, I once asked my principal if she could increase my copy budget, because I didn’t have enough funds to duplicate all of the lab instruction booklets I wanted for my science students. Because the principal was an expert, her response to my request was not a simple yes or no answer. Instead, she asked me a series of reflective questions about how my lab program was structured, in order to better judge whether my lab instruction packets were the best use of limited funds. Her motivation may have been, in part, to help me find ways to stay within my copy budget (after all, principals know that money doesn’t grow on trees), but she also did something that only experts can do: She changed the conversation from a relatively minor funding request into a much more valuable reflection on what my students were expected to learn from their labs, and how I expected them to demonstrate that learning.

Fast-forward a couple of decades to the present year, and most of my colleagues regard me as an educational technology expert. One principal I recently worked for even refers to me as a technology guru. I don’t know if I can quite live up to that moniker, but as I reflect on my own learning journey through my current master’s degree program, I see that even experts can learn more. In one of my earliest posts on this blog, I wrote about technology’s potential to expand learning opportunities for students by motivating them to learn (Wise, 2016). While this is true, I didn’t mention another very important advantage of modern instructional technology: its capacity to make learning more accessible for students with different abilities and/or learning styles.

Over the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about assistive technologies and universal design. For many students with special needs, modern technology makes a tremendous difference–not only in their learning, but in their entire lives. One of my colleagues recently showed me several types of software and devices that allow moderately and severely handicapped students to communicate; such technologies, she explained, give students access to language (K. Blevins, personal communication, March 8, 2017). I hadn’t thought about this idea much, mainly because I didn’t need to. As a general-education teacher, I’d only thought about assistive technologies and universal-design philosophy when I needed to adapt my curriculum because a special-needs student was enrolled in my class. Now my perspective has changed: Universal design isn’t just for students with special needs; it can benefit all students.

Of course, one of the consequences of being labeled an expert is that people turn to me for advice and answers to their trickiest problems. I hope that, over the course of the next several months, I may gain a deep understanding of universal design, so that I may provide useful services to not only my special-education colleagues, but for general-ed teachers as well. If I can manage to pull that off, then perhaps I may be one step closer to becoming a legitimate expert.


Herr, N. (2007). How experts differ from novices. Retrieved from The Sourcebook for Teaching Science web site: http://www.csun.edu/science/ref/reasoning/how-students-learn/2.html

Wise, B. (2016). Three ways electronic learning will be important to the classroom of the future [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://bwisetech.wordpress.com/2016/10/30/three-ways-electronic-learning-will-be-important-to-the-classroom-of-the-future/

Digital Curation: A Tool for 21st Century Learning

My first teaching job was in a high school science department that had a shared office where each of the teachers had a desk with one or two file cabinets. In those days, most lesson plans were still on paper, although there was a computer in the room with a floppy disk drive and a modest connection to the recently-invented world wide web. When I began working in that office, the department chair encouraged me to freely peruse and borrow lessons and resources from any of the other teachers, and then pointed out an empty file cabinet that I should use to begin my own collection of lessons that I would be willing to share.

I quickly learned which teachers could usually be trusted to have a well-organized drawer of carefully vetted lesson ideas, and which teachers simply stored 35 copies of every worksheet that came with their adopted textbook. The cabinets packed full of paper worksheets weren’t where I usually would find the best lesson plans, assessments, and project ideas, and herein lies the distinction between curating vs. collecting. Curators try to share a relatively small number of the best resources, whereas collectors tend to stash everything they can get their hands on. In his video, Pant (2013) gave the example of the sommelier as a curator of fine wine, which I think is an excellent analogy. Twenty years ago, I never would have consulted a sommelier except maybe to help pick the wine to be served at my wedding reception–but now, with a smartphone in my pocket, why wouldn’t I want to peek at a trusted wine review web site when I’m deciding which bottle of wine to pick up at the grocery store?

Simply put, technology has made quality curation available to everyone, including teachers. Educators now have access to literally millions of their colleagues’ virtual file cabinets on the Internet. These resources aren’t all paper worksheets, either; a URL can point to almost any type of media, from movies to blog posts to interactive learning environments. CourseWorld, for example, is a curated set of 16,000 educational videos that have been selected and indexed by a staff of over 50 experts in the humanities and arts (Nelson, 2013). What makes this site powerful is that the videos are organized in a well-designed topical hierarchy that allows a teacher to quickly drill down, with just a few mouse clicks, to a small set of vetted videos on a specific topic.

As we have discussed earlier in this course, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) philosophy emphasizes the variation of representation in teaching, so that students with varying abilities and learning styles will be able to succeed (CAST, 2011). A well-curated resource list should allow teachers to quickly access a variety of learning resources, preferably in a variety of formats, so that different types of learners can be supported. Curation itself can be an excellent authentic assessment task for students, because they would use higher-level thinking skills as they evaluate which resources they should collect into a portfolio. This is not just a cute way to structure a hands-on lesson; curation is quickly becoming a 21st century job skill, as more and more career fields depend on web-based resources for communication, training, design, and collaboration. Curation even has the power to open whole new types of learning for students. Sheninger (2013) described how high-school students used MIT OpenCourseWare to learn about video-game programming. This learning resource contained a carefully curated set of coding lessons, which the students were able to freely access as they were trying to figure out how to code their video games. Perhaps this is the most exciting possibility for digital curation: that people are free to use curated resources to quickly and efficiently teach themselves whatever they want to learn about virtually any subject.

Of course, digital curation does open up ethical and legal issues. Some of the best educational content on the Internet has been produced by people who have invested significant amounts of money and/or time. We teachers have liberal fair-use rights under copyright law, but we don’t get to steal expensive resources for free. A teacher who violates terms of use restrictions, even with the best of intentions, can expose himself (and the school district) to significant financial and legal liability. Even more importantly, we teachers have a responsibility to keep our students safe online. Many online learning resources are intended for older children or adults, and don’t feature the privacy protections and/or content filters that should be in place for younger children. Here is where curation is especially important: teachers should be able to quickly filter out web sites and web-based learning tools that aren’t appropriate to students at their grade level. In fact, this may be a part of the teaching role that won’t change by the end of the 21st century. No matter how much knowledge becomes available on the world wide web, and no matter how well that information is curated and organized for students, we will still need human teachers to guide students safely along their learning journey.


CAST. (2011). UDL at a glance [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/resource_library/videos/udlcenter/udl

Nelson, S. (2013, September 24). CourseWorld curates repository of free arts and humanities media [Web log comment]. Retrieved from THE Journal web site: https://thejournal.com/articles/2013/09/24/courseworld-launches-free-liberal-arts-video-platform.aspx#UMJwHJzTfQFaL6t5.99

Pant, A. (2013, October 7). Art of curation in education – course and instructor introduction [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/s5gpOQjuPh0

Sheninger, E. (2013, March 22). OCW supports independent study for N.J. high school students (via MIT News) [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://mitopencourseware.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/ocw-supports-independent-study-for-n-j-high-school-students-via-mit-news/