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Statewide efforts put personalized learning within students’ reach

personalized-learningEducation leaders in West Virginia are moving forward with an ambitious plan to bring personalized learning to students in a statewide effort under an initiative called Project 24.

Project 24, which advocates for the purposeful and effective use of technology and digital learning in order to position students for college and career readiness, supports districts with planning tools and best practices from experts and education nonprofits.

“Personalized learning can transform how students learn,” said Chip Slaven, council to the president and senior advocacy adviser for the Alliance for Excellence in Education (AEE), which spearheads Project 24. “It changes the traditional classroom from one that operates like an assembly line where every child is being taught in the same manner without regard to individual strengths and needs to a new, flexible model that utilizes a full portfolio of opportunities promoting creativity.”

(Next page: The state’s efforts to achieve personalized learning for students)

All 55 counties in West Virginia are participating in Project 24, said Mike Green, vice president of the West Virginia Board of Education, during a webinar spotlighting the state’s efforts.

There exists today a “fundamental crisis” in education, said Tom Murray, AEE’s state and district digital learning director, because many districts eagerly purchase technology tools before identifying their educational goals and determining what they want to accomplish.

“What they’re focusing on is often the technology and the hardware, but what’s going on with curriculum, professional learning? Project 24 gets at the heart of that crisis,” he said.

Education leaders in West Virginia share the same goal, Green said: ensuring that all 282,000 students graduate ready for college or a career. This shared goal is the impetus for collaboration.

“One of the hardest parts of the planning process is gathering stakeholder feedback to determine where we are right now in order to move forward. That’s what Project 24 has done for us in West Virginia,” said Sterling Beane, chief technology officer with the West Virginia State Department of Education.

State officials have used information from reports and data, which are steps in implementing Project 24, to guide the state’s personalized learning implementation.

The Claude Worthington Benefit Foundation supported the state in its efforts to develop an independent report, commissioned by AEE and conducted by the Metiri Group, in order to identify the resources already in place and those needed to move the state’s personalized learning goals forward.

Each of the state’s 55 county districts and its two state districts convened a leadership team to analyze resources and data and complete a self-assessment as part of Project 24. School principals and teachers, along with district administrators, completed surveys. Those results were combined with the state’s technology inventory and stakeholder interviews to give a more complete idea of what resources were in place at all levels.

Teacher and administrator readiness for digital learning, as well as a fairly robust infrastructure, are working in the state’s favor, Beane said. The state is examining use of time and how to allow flexibility in that area. Pilot projects throughout the state are implementing personalized learning policies to examine what policy requirements or code changes are necessary to support personalized learning processes.

“The data in Project 24 really shows us the areas we need to focus on, and where we need to spend most of our time,” Beane said.

Right now and based on the data collected, said Cheryl Lemke, CEO of the Metiri Group, most districts are embarking on the path to personalized learning by defining terms to ensure they understand the impending transition, and are beginning to put policies in place and do pilots.

Supporting teachers is a large part of making Project 24 successful, and teachers need engaging, meaningful, and relevant professional experiences, just as their students need those qualities in learning experiences.

“We need to build capacity in our teachers…when it comes down to professional learning, who owns the learning, [who] does the learning, so how do we differentiate professional development, cultivating that teacher capacity to allow teachers to lead?” asked Murray. “Sometimes administrators need to allow [teachers] to run and be a very big part of the process. Get teachers involved, listen to their voice, let them run, and it will be engaging.”

Project 24’s framework includes seven interdependent gears that represent readiness for digital learning: curriculum and instruction, use of time, technology and infrastructure, data and assessment, academic supports, professional learning, and budget and resources.

Beane said each district will create its own comprehensive technology plan, with decisions informed by data regarding each district’s technology needs and stakeholder feedback.

Communication is key to pulling all the different stakeholder groups together to ensure the state is unified in its move toward personalized learning, Green said.

Educators and administrators at the state, district, and school levels, as well as students, parents, and community members, are all transitioning to personalized learning together.

“It’s really critical that we continue to involve everyone in the community who is involved in education from the school board down,” Green said. “We’ve got to get our boots on the ground…get to our kids, and really understand where their issues are if we’re going to be successful in changing the way education works in our great state.”

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