Project 24 resources have helped guide almost 1,000 school districts through a digital learning planning and implementation process

districts-digital-learningOn Digital Learning Day 2013, The Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit advocacy and policy group based in Washington, D.C., unveiled Project 24, a framework for Digital Learning implementation offered free to schools and school districts across the nation.

In the 15 months since implementation, Project 24 materials and resources have helped guide almost 1,000 school districts through a digital learning planning and implementation process.

In 2013, the Alliance recognized a perfect storm for innovation; districts being pushed to achieve higher career and college standards for all students, budgets that were stagnant or shrinking, price points of technology that were advantageously dropping, and in many states the deadline for online assessments looming on the horizon, all of which began forcing discussions about devices, infrastructure, and adequate connectivity.

Former Governor of West Virginia, and now President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Bob Wise, beckoned an urgent call to action for school districts across the nation.  A call to STOP and make a “plan for progress” in an era where purchasing devices without the appropriate vision and support, often with little thought or planning, was running rampant.

School districts often fall in the trap of using grants, PTA/PTO fundraisers, local taxpayer money, or federal funds to purchase technology equipment without an understanding for proper implementation and the infrastructure needed, minimal professional development for staff to shift instructional pedagogy, few contacts for community engagement or support, and little to no action plan for long term sustainability. Project 24, a free resource for school districts, set out to change the course of this looming crisis.

School districts are often focused on one or two implementation areas when rolling out digital learning, inadvertently and mistakenly leaving departments, stakeholders, and various decision points out of a shortsighted process. To avoid such common mistakes, districts can begin the systemic planning process by working through a free self-assessment, known as the Project 24 Digital Readiness Survey, created in conjunction with a well-known expert in technology integration policy and practice–Cheryl Lemke of the Metiri Group.

This comprehensive survey forces school district leaders to come together to analyze current district readiness in seven key areas known as “gears.” The seven gears highlight necessary implementation points and district level planning in the following areas:

Academic Supports: A well-instituted digital learning framework isn’t just something that occurs inside a district, as there are many outside support and resources that must be maximized to dynamically personalize the learning experience for all students.

Districts poised to be successful with digital learning implementation should have the following expectations and community partnerships in place: learner-centered  environments, community engagement and outreach, a digital learning environment, as well as parental communication and engagement.

Budget and Resources: Shrinking or stagnant budgets and growing college and career readiness demands require that districts and schools approach budgeting and resources in creative, systemic, and new ways. School districts succeeding in this gear are successful in the following areas: efficiency and cost savings, alignment to district and building level strategic and tactical plans, consistent funding streams, and learning return on investment.

Curriculum and Instruction: Providing multiple sources of high quality content offers students much greater opportunity for high level learning experiences. Districts that have this gear in place have planned for success in the following areas: College and Career Readiness/Deeper Learning, personalized learning, have curriculum that is collaborative, relevant, and applied, are leveraging technology while integrating 21st century skills.

Data and Assessment: Data, assessment, and data analytics are vital aspects to digital learning implementation.  Visioning in this area requires thoughtful planning in the following areas: through a culture of evidence-based decision making, online assessments and a data system that supports a data culture, staff that is literate in data and assessment, and adaptive learning where data informs instruction.

Professional Learning: For educators to be properly prepared to lead students to higher levels of achievement through digital learning, high quality, relevant, meaningful professional learning must be in place for all staff. In fact, professional learning should be personalized to ensure that school districts provide high quality support. This kind of support is essential to ensure teachers and administrators are prepared for and successful through this transition to new standards enhanced by digital learning strategies.

Districts and schools must have the following in place: A developed skillset for the digital age, diverse opportunities for professional learning, new responsibilities for collaboration, and broad-based participative evaluation. The shift from one-size fits all, sit and get professional learning, to a process that is meaningful, engaging, ongoing, job-embedded and relevant is vital.

Technology and Infrastructure: Educational technology, when properly implemented, offers students significant opportunities for high levels of learning described in curriculum and instruction gear; as well as enhanced teacher capabilities mentioned in the professional learning gear above.

Districts thriving in this area have a robust infrastructure, with meaningful technology tools including the following in place: Adequacy of devices in quality and availability, a robust network infrastructure, adequate and response support, and a formal cycle for review and refresh.

Use of Time: In a traditional paradigm, time has long been considered the constant, whereas learning was the variable. Today, digital learning strategies have enabled schools, districts and states with the ability for learning and outcomes to be the constant, and time to be the variable.

Educators recognizing this vital aspect of digital learning have the following in place: anytime-anywhere learning, new pedagogy and learning environments for personalized learning, learning that is competency-based, and strategies that provide extended time for projects and collaboration.

The work of Project 24 is supported by a team of 18 experts, nationally known for their leadership in digital learning. Tech Savvy Superintendent of the Year, Lisa Andrejko, Superintendent of the Year Pam Moran, and Mooresville Graded School District CTO Scott Smith are a few of those who contribute through blog posts, Google Hangouts, Webinars, providing advice and insight into proper implementation and planning.

Content for Project 24 has been a collaborative effort with national organizations such as Consortium of School Networking (CoSN), Digital Promise, National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE), among others. In a similar fashion, a number of states, including Rhode Island, West Virginia, Maryland, and New Mexico, have used the Project 24 framework and supporting materials in statewide efforts to plan for progress.

Multiple times each year the Alliance for Excellent Education, in conjunction with the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University, host a Digital Transition MOOC that is aligned to the Project 24 gears. This MOOC is offered FREE for school leaders and includes expert advice, planning tools, discussions and collaboration between school districts to navigate the implementation waters through a rock solid online, open course. This course has been completed by thousands of educators, who in utilizing the Project 24 framework to guide the digital learning transition, have benefited school districts and students around the nation.

Please join Governor Wise and his call to action, demanding a plan for progress in your school, district, and state. The plan to articulate a systemic vision for leveraging digital learning to achieve the goal of college and career readiness for every student. This summer, we suggest districts or schools mobilize a team, and take the self-assessment as well as peruse the resources and materials. In early August, a new website will be available with more resources and several pathways to help districts develop a customized plan for progress by visiting www.plan4progress.org.

Tom Murray currently serves as the State & District Digital Learning Policy & Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Excellent Education out of Washington, D.C. He recently served as the Director of Technology and Cyber Education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, PA. Connect with him on Twitter @thomascmurray.