What I Learned At The Highlander Institute’s Blended Learning Conference

09 Mar What I Learned At The Highlander Institute’s Blended Learning Conference

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This weekend I attended The Highlander Institute’s 4th Annual Blended Learning Conference in Providence, Rhode Island at the University of Rhode Island Providence Feinstein Campus. The Highlander Institute uses research-based solutions to help improve opportunities for educators, students, and families. Their work includes blended learning, expanded learning time, and meeting the needs of diverse learners.

The conference was designed to bring together, teachers, administrators, and experts in the field to discuss current trends and practices occurring to integrate technology into schools. Guest speakers included Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gist, First Gentleman, Andy Moffit, and keynote speaker author and former Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, Tom Vander Ark.

The key take away I left the conference with was nicely summarized by Andy Moffit. In addition to being husband to the Governor of Rhode Island, Moffit has a well established career in the field of education as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, professor at Brown University, and a former educator. He explained:

“The term ‘blended’ should go away and just be ‘learning.’”

Echoed throughout the day by the presenters, teachers, and admin was that the use of technology and, in turn, blended learning is no longer a secondary part of our education system. It is a necessary skill for improving teacher practice and student learning.

The conference was an excellent opportunity to listen to the opinions of teachers, administrators, and principals about the methods they’re using to implement blended learning techniques. I spent the morning floating around and was able to see different blended learning techniques including mastery teaching and flipped learning.

As an educator/researcher, it was really informative to see how teachers throughout Rhode Island were using technology to make education more individualized to students of all ages and academic abilities. It certainly gave me some ideas on how to integrate technology into the lessons I teach students as well as understand the challenges and strengths of programs such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and One to One technology.

I then moved on to a session with Eric Butash, the Director of Strategy and Implementation at the Highlander Institute, called “A Wired Generation: Preparing Students to Navigate a Digital World”. At EduMetrics we are constantly trying to better understand non-academic skills that are essential to a student’s development. Digital literacy is often clumped with these skills because of the moral complexities that come with internet use. The teachers and administrators in the session reiterated that even though digital literacy is essential it’s often overlooked. The session went through some excellent resources on how to integrate digital literacy into the curriculum and provided a space for teachers to collaborate on some of the most pressing issues that students face when using technology to learn.

We spent the majority of the time talking about the resources offered by Common Sense Media. They have a readily available curriculum that outlines how to implement a digital literacy curriculum from elementary to the high school level. As Butash pointed out, much of the discussion of digital literacy focuses on cyberbullying but that is only one component of being a good digital citizenship. If we plan on educating and using technology effectively we must educate students on a deeper level. Common sense highlights the key components that they have identified including relationships, self-image, and digital footprint (full list can be found here).

I left the session invigorated and inspired about how EduMetrics can think about digital literacy and better meet the needs of students and teachers when thinking about digital literacy.

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