I heard about the Summer Institute years before I found a way to get there. I remember reading a description of the Institute and thinking, these are my people. I’d been working in the blended learning space, and had been feeling like we were so focused on just getting edtech tools in teachers’ hands, we were pretty much ignoring the actual student experience. True, gaining the experience of using technology for learning and not just for entertainment is in and of itself a worthy goal, but I was realizing it wasn’t enough. Young people need to explore how they can best coexist with technology as it and they develop, and the curriculum must make room for this. Or so I was beginning to suspect, and it seemed that the Institute was attended by kindred spirits.
I was finally able to attend the Institute in 2016. I was in my first year as Technology Integration Specialist at McAuliffe Charter School in Framingham, Mass., and my position had me teaching the class of my dreams to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I was crafting a curriculum that goes beyond “let me teach you about the dangers of the Internet,” which too often is what kids get in school. I went into the Institute wanting to fine tune my technology-infused pedagogy, for the benefit of my own class.
I wasn’t disappointed. I not only learned about but walked away comfortable using so many edtech tools, and gained a robust framework that helped me evaluate curricular moves I was making utilizing these edtech tools. I wasn’t adding an app for the sake of adding an app: as a result of the Institute, I gained clarity in my planning and reflection, which is invaluable as new edtech is constantly introduced. I also gained confidence in labeling myself as a digital literacy teacher. I no longer needed to use the inexact “technology teacher” label. Students in my classroom use technology to create, critique, organize, collaborate, and reflect. And that’s not a made up subject: that is digital literacy.
But the Institute has impacted the other half of my job – the integration work I do with other teachers – in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. I started to understand my class as a laboratory: I discover an intriguing edtech tool, I try it out with my curriculum, I observe student engagement and assess student products, then I confidently recommend said edtech tool to teachers within specific contexts, and success breeds success as new practices become commonplace across classrooms. I was happy to bring back the “everyone learns from everyone” ethos from the Institute.
As I have applied my learnings from the Institute to my work in the past 18 months, I’ve discovered that, when it comes to digital literacy, it’s not only that “everyone learns from everyone,” but also “every teacher is a digital literacy teacher”. For students to come to understand technology as a tool for professional and educational purposes, technology must be used for authentic professional and educational purposes, throughout the curriculum. This year I am leading a Digital Literacy Working Group, made up of a diverse set of teacher representatives from all grades and content areas, classroom and inclusion teachers. We are looking across the curriculum to determine where technology skills and tools will best authentically integrate. These are ideas that I started exploring – purposefully, confidently, rooted in a pedagogical framework of inquiry – at the Institute.
I will return to the Institute in the coming years. I’m anxious to return, as I know that when I do it will alter the trajectory of my work preparing young people to creatively and critically participate in our future. Digital literacy continues to evolve in exciting and unpredictable ways, and so I know that the Institute will as well.
Michelle Ciccone is the Technology Integration Coordinator at McAuliffe Charter School in Framingham, MA. Michelle previously worked with nonprofit organizations in the blended learning space.