by Dawn Casey-Rowe
The Highlander Institute is rapidly changing the conversation around technology and education in Rhode Island schools. What was once a small local non-profit is growing, and is on track to affect how schools integrate technology into the classrooms not only in Rhode Island, but if things go as predicted, the nation.
At the 3rd Annual Blended Learning & Technology Conference, Highlander Director of Blended Learning, Shawn Rubin announced a new state-wide initiative called Fuse RI. This program will tackle one of the largest problems districts and schools face–how to make smart decisions around limited resource allocation while still leveraging technology to best support student growth & personalized instruction.
Fuse RI is funded by The Learning Accelerator, a non-profit seeking to accelerate the implementation of high-quality blended learning across the nation. On Saturday, the Institute announced the first program component, the Fuse Fellowship, which will train teacher-experts calle Fuse Teachers, who will be available to each of Rhode Island’s fifty-seven districts to support the district’s personalized needs around blended learning. Fellows will work hand-in-hand with districts, identifying district strengths and areas of improvement. Through the Fuse Fellowship districts will receive custom built solutions to some of their most pressing challenges.
The goal of this program is not only to co-ordinate blended learning across Rhode Island, because, Rubin challenged, “If you’re not sharing, you’re holding out.” It will also be scalable, creating and collecting proven successes that could be implemented nationwide. “Our hope is to bring blended learning throughout the state by leveraging the talents of these teachers.” Far too often, change is top down. The unique thing about the FUSE program is that it is change for teachers, by teachers, supported by organizations with access to best practice nationwide.
The conference’s keynote speaker Richard Culatta, Director of the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, complimented the program, stating, “If every state had a Highlander Institute things would be very different in this country.”
Innovation is the key. “How”, Culatta, a native Rhode Islander asked, the overcapacity crowd, “do we use technology to reinvent learning and solve problems in new ways rather than digitize paper practices?”
Culatta provided the example of the pencil sharpener. People sharpen pencils, and it gets easy to write again. “No amount of sharpening will ever turn a pencil into a pen,” he said. This is why innovation in critical sectors is so important.
One of President Obama’s initiatives is to connect every school to the internet. According to Culatta, fewer than 20% of the nation’s schools currently have the broadband infrastructure for successful implementation of the President’s ConnectEd project. Getting schools up to par is not only an education issue, it’s an issue of national wellbeing and security, he advised. The nation needs our students to be at the forefront of technology and development throughout the world. There are several programs in place now to get those schools up and running, including grants to schools for wireless access and subsidized internet for struggling families.
All the wireless in the world won’t help schools who don’t have a fundamental command of best practices for using educational technology. This the mission of Fuse RI. The application process for the Fuse Fellows position, Rubin advised, is currently in motion. The training for the program is set to commence this summer with schools and fellows meeting in the fall of 2014.
In addition to the generous grant from The Learning Accelerator, the program will be supported by the Highlander Institute, the Rhode Island Society of Technical Educators, and the RI Department of Education.
Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the union, but as the May 3rd turnout of educators, educational leaders, and entrepreneurs showed, it’s poised to make a difference in the nation.
The Blended Learning & Technology Conference hosted panels on “Getting Your House in Order for Blended Learning,” “Using Storytelling Apps to Help Students Find Their Voices,” “Math Instruction in a 21st Century Blended Classroom,” and “Applying the Flipped Classroom Model.” There were workshops for educational leaders and teachers new to blended learning, and those who want to implement blended learning or 1:1, but have concerns regarding logistics, expense, or legalities.
This conference just keeps growing. You’ll want to put this on your “do not miss” list for 2015.
Blended Leaning Conference In Rhode Island Continues To Grow; image attribution flickr user familymwr