The Future of Education: Transcending the status quo – how do we get there?

This is part four of a five-part series.

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” —David Foster Wallace, commencement address at Kenyon College, 2005

Life is a complicated affair. So many complex phenomena interact with our planning for a better future, that we sometimes have to stop and ask ourselves, “What is the context in which we are currently swimming?” Framing complex phenomena into sensible and understandable contexts helps us to make meaning from the complex interactions we’re experiencing. In short, frameworks help us make sense of the medium in which we’re swimming.

Teaching and learning is an even more complicated affair because of the profound challenges associated with the nature of knowledge and understanding. Add technology tools to the mix, and the complexity of teaching and learning increases by several factors. So do frameworks help us contextualize these complexities so that our students gain the most benefit from technology use in education? It depends upon the framework you’re using.

Existing Frameworks

There are two dominant frameworks that are currently used to guide technology integration in educational settings: TPACK, and SAMR. TPACK (which stands for Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge) was developed in the late 1990s and helped to bring the importance of teachers’ technological knowledge as equal to pedagogical and content knowledge. The trouble is, TPACK doesn’t explicitly show us how to achieve that technological knowledge; so there’s a goal, but no pathway forward.

Like TPACK, the SAMR model offers goals, but no route towards attaining its goals. SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition) identifies four different levels of interactions between tools and tasks, which is fine, but educators have spent an inordinate amount of time trying unsuccessfully to come up with a common definition of “augmentation,” “modification,” and “redefinition” in the context of teaching and learning. If you can’t define it, you can’t observe it; if you can’t observe it, you can’t measure it. Frustratingly, these models have not helped develop the collective efficacy needed to move whole learning systems forward.

What’s been missing in the surfeit of inspirational messaging imploring educators to embrace innovation is an answer to an essential question: ‘How do we get there?’

The T3 Framework

The first step towards building the collective efficacy of any organization is to embrace a common language for innovation and growth. The primary objective of my newest book, Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education, is to provide learning systems with a common and actionable language for implementing and measuring the impact of innovative teaching and learning practices with readily available technologies.

In the book, I introduce my new T3 Framework for innovation in education. The T3 Framework provides a much-needed pathway forward that is grounded in sound research and theory and promotes educational uses of technology that unleash students’ limitless learning potentials. The T3 Framework increments the use of technology in the realm of teaching and learning into three hierarchical domains: Translational, Transformational, and Transcendent. A brief overview of each domain is warranted.

Translational technology uses reflect the most common ways that digital tools are used in schools. Translating tasks from an analog to a digital form adds some value in terms of increasing efficiency, accuracy, and time savings. These translated tasks include automating administrative and teaching duties such as communicating, budgeting, grading, attendance taking, testing, as well as consuming digital content from online sources or other electronic media. This is a necessary first stage, but all too often school systems make the mistake of stopping there.

Transformational technology uses, on the other hand, enact significant changes in the learning tasks and substantive changes in the students performing those tasks. This domain includes strategies for students to embrace a “mastery mindset” through developing mastery goals and then mindfully monitoring the impact of their effort and progress towards those goals. Moreover, affording students multiple opportunities to use digital tools to represent what they know, what they can do, and make their thinking explicit so they can contribute to others’ learning is illustrative of transformational technology uses.

In addition to enacting substantive growth in student cognizance, transcendent technology uses push past the boundaries of prior experiences and expectations for education. The strategies in the domain of transcendent technology use include students identifying, investigating, hypothesizing, and iteratively generating more robust digital solutions to wicked problems that matter to them. This represents an entirely new domain of strategies that is only possible when students mindfully wield digital and cloud-based production technologies. We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible when students’ limitless passion and purpose are catalyzed in an educational setting.

The teaching and learning strategies articulated in the Transformational and Transcendent domains in the T3 Framework are correlated with an effect size of d = 1.6, which is the equivalent of a 16 on a scale of 1 to 10 (Haystead & Marzano, 2009; 2010, Magana & Marzano, 2014). You may recall that the average effect of computers and technology in education for the past 50 years rates a 3 on that scale; read more here.

We simply can’t continue to rely on popular opinion to identify ways that technologies accelerate student achievement. We’ve tried that for decades, and what we have to show for it are classrooms that are digitally rich, but innovatively poor.

In order to realize the desirable future articulated in Part III of this article series, we must follow the guidance and direction provided by the highest quality educational research. The signal provided by such research will help us cut through all the confounding noise and help to identify strategies that amplify collective efficacy in our schools. If we disregard the research evidence, we run the risk of ending up like the fish in David Foster Wallace’s allegory wondering, “What the hell is water?”

I’ll explore this idea further in the final installment of this article series by providing a brief overview on implementing and evaluating the impact of technology on student achievement using the T3 Framework.