A Magnetic Field of National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)

Sorry!  This one just couldn’t be said briefly!

Magnetic FieldsIt seems that I remember an experiement that we conducted when I was in 4th or 5th grade, where we put some iron filings on a piece of paper.  The small flakes of metal arranged themselves randomly as they fell.  Then we placed a magnet under the paper, and then raised it up closer to closer to the mass of filings, they rearranged themselves into curving lines, illustrating something meaningful, which the teacher had to explain to us.

This is what I needed yesterday, as I tried to make sense of the new NETS Refresh standards.  Now don’t get me wrong.  They make perfect sense, especially in this atmosphere of reinvention that is about to take hold in education.  Yet, when I try to think about them in terms of what they look like in the classroom, what teachers and students are actually doing to effect those outcomes — well it isn’t quite clear to me. 

Now they’re new, and I’ve not been a part of any of the conversations about their creation.  I’m certain that there are smarter people than me who can and will explain it.  But after a short e-mail conversation I had with Gary Stager yesterday about why bloggers are not talking about them, I got to thinking.  My immediate response to him was that they are new, and that I’m waiting for a formal announcement and explanation before I weigh in.  But another thought that had been squirming around, just beneath my consciousness, and irritating a real raw place in my psyche, was the extreme direction that these standards had taken in contrast to what the original NETS were.

In the beginning, there was technology — and there was the urge to teach how to do technology.  Possibly this came out of our own lack of confidence with the new information and communication tools, but a set of standards that itemized and specified machine-oriented skills was what we got, and it’s what we needed.  They were clear, and it was easy to imagine teaching children how to boot up a computer and access the Web.

However, I, for quite some time, have been complaining about an over emphasis with the technology, that it’s actually the information revolution that we should be focused on.  These thoughts seem to have simultaneously occurred to others who were associated with the standards, because the Refresh version seems almost entirely about the information.  This is good.  The problem that’s been scratching at my nerves is “What does this look like in the classroom?”  “What are students and teachers doing that effects the outcomes of: creativity and innovation, communications and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking, problems-solving, and decision-making, digital citizenship, and technology operations and concepts.”  Well, picturing some of this in the classroom is not difficult.  But some of it is hard.  It sounds too big!

Again, I’m sure it’s all going to be explained to us perfectly clearly in less than three weeks.  But what I sought to do last night was to hold a magnet under the standards and see how they lined up.  The following Slideshare presentation walks through the process, as well as the descriptions that follow that.

  1. Slide 1 — I did what I often do, I went to familiar turf, tierra familiar (thanks Google).  I went back to my thinking about the information revolution and lined up the characteristics that define today’s information landscape, that information has become increasingly networked, digital, and overwhelming.
  2. Slide 2 — Applying the new web (Web 2.0) on this listing, it seems to me that as information has become networked in the past 10 to 15 years, it has also become more participatory during the past three to five years.  We are not only access information through networks, but actually interacting with that information in many trans formative ways.  As information has become more digital, it has more recently become trainable.  Using tags and types of aggregators, we can literally train information to behave in useful ways — on a personal level.  And, finally, as information has become overwhelming, it has also served to connect people, through their ideas.  It has become (forgive my use of a non-word) collaboratory, facilitating groups of people working together on common goals from diverse perspectives.
  3. Slide 3 — These ideas about the changing nature of information have been useful to me as a way of spring boarding into new notions of literacy (Skills necessary to use information to accomplish goals).  Starting with the three Rs, reading, in a networked and participatory information environment, expands into Exposing the value of information and ideas.  In an increasingly digital and trainable information landscape, arithmetic expands into a wide range of skills involved in employing that information to solve problems, answer questions, and accomplish goals.  And, as we become overwhelmed by information, and at the same time challenged to collaborate through the storm of information, writing has expanded into a range of skills involved in expressing ideas compellingly.
  4. Slide 4 — This new information landscape has also necessitated a new layer of concern for our visions of literacy.  Largely because much of the information that we use today can not be contained inside a file cabinet, the covers of a book, shelves of a bookcase or rooms of a library, we can no longer guard it, protect it.  There for the position of gatekeeper has shifted from something that teachers and librarians do to something that we all must know how to do — and the thread that runs all over this is ethics.
  5. Slide 5 — Now I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and writing about it, and I have some sense of what all of this should look like in the classroom, how we teach children to be exposers, employers, expressers, and ethical users of information.  So an interesting sense of tranquility came over me when I moved the magnet of these ideas up close to the new NETS Refresh — because they lined up, just like those iron filings.
  • Exposing the value of information is very closely aligned with Information Fluency.
  • Employing information requires the creative use of information tools, inventing solutions to new problems, and then critically examining the results.
  • Expressing ideas is entirely about communication.
  • Ethics is responsibility, and, in my mind, that’s what digital citizenship should be about — learning to use information responsibly.
  • None of this happens without the tools.  They are not the outcome, but the avenue, and the avenue is constantly changing.

Of course, there is a whole lot of overlap happening all over the model.  But lining these ideas up, creating a magnetic field of contemporary learning literacies is helping me to make some sense of these very important skills that are critical to our children’s future prosperity.

2¢ Worth!

16 thoughts on “A Magnetic Field of National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)”

  1. I, too, have been referencing the new standards and also feel that they are difficult to digest. I have spent time with the draft version, trying to note in the things we are currently doing with kids so they’ll make more sense to teachers. I have my fingers crossed that ISTE will be releasing grade level indicators for the refreshed standards, as were available with the previous version.
    Thanks for initiating this conversation.

  2. Michelle,

    With all due respect, why are you looking to an anonyomous committee to tell you what to teach, especially at grade levels? Do you really require such granularity?

    Any such proclamation is bound to be deliberately vague (to work everywhere) and arbitrary. If some set of standards says that digital video is a 6th grade activity does that mean that kindergarteners cannot make movies prior to learning to write, despite the evidence that it may be a beneficial tool for storytelling?

    It’s time for us to take responsibility for what we teach without depending on buying random lists of stuff from others.



  3. David

    That has been my problem with standards in general for years. Most that I have seen have any specific classroom references buried deep, if at all. When I work with teachers in workshops and classrooms, any references to overarching standards are purely for the framework, not the nitty-gritty.

    But, as Gary said in a previous comment, why rely on others to tell people what to teach? To me the answer is that examples, etc that the NETS folks can provide act as a jumping off point. Most of the teachers I’ve worked with are still, in this day and age, very technologically hesitant. They may buy into the philosophical standards statements, but want and need direct hand holding to get them started. (And, by the way, most still want and need the tech instruction as well. But maybe that’s just the folks I tend to work with).

  4. I think that what is important here is the clout of ISTE. ISTE standards has become something that perks up the ears of many educators. I know that when North Carolina established computer skills standards in 1994 and said that they were going to test every 8th grader, superintendents started taking technology seriously, and investing in it. That of course was not “the answer” because teachers started preparing kids for the computer skills test, rather than integrating the use of technology and related information skills into their classroom instruction. But it was a step in the right direction.

    I also agree that some one, suggesting specific skills to specific grades (or dates) would simply be business as usual, rather than truly transforming teaching and learning. However, to get from the ivory tower of a set of standards, to the classroom will take a lot of conversation. I’m looking for, in my head, a latter, a structure that we can climb up and down on, a rack that we can hang ideas on — and I always reach for Inspiration when I’m trying to solve that kind of problem 😉

    Thanks, guys!

  5. Standards, Indicators, “voluntary” state curriculum, pacing guides: These aimless laws are constituted for 2 reasons.

    1. No trust in teachers: Hold teachers responsible for educational content
    2. Test Scores: Test scores will eventually rise if students are taught to the test

    Why? I wish I understood the psyche of the community that are compensated for making the paramount decision that effect the lives of so many. It seems as though they are in a fog of supremacy.

    The world is morphing. Shouldn’t the education system morph with it?
    I appreciate the idea that standards sometimes get the ball rolling with some concepts. I also believe that now, teachers are using technology just to use technology. They have no concrete idea as to why or how they are using the technology. Let’s get to the point. We need to use technology to get back to the root of education. Teaching, learning, communicating, experiencing, reflecting and collaborating: These are the skills that we should be executing in our classrooms on a daily basis.

  6. One problem with this set of standards is that it is difficult to work out how it would interact with subject-area standards. Depending on where you live, more than half of these are probably already covered by subject area standards, except perhaps for the “using technology” part. This is almost like a set of meta-standards to inform standards-making bodies in the subject areas.

  7. This is just as I see it, Tom, and the reason why I try to tie it all to literacy. Literacy already get integrated in. If we could expand people’s notions about what it means to be literate, and tie the use of digital networked information to that, then we might start integrating technology more relevantly.

  8. I do not think the standards will become any more clear in the next three weeks, as they are intentionally abstract when it comes to seeing them as classroom practice. In my opinion, they are moving in the right direction. The last set of ISTE standards, which informed many state standards including ours in Wisconsin, focused too much on the “doing technology”. Unfortunately, we somehow lost the “why” or “to what ends” in the previous standards.

    I think David’s thought process of assimilating the new standards into his existing framework for literacy is one that is interesting. I would like to see more of our teachers internalize items like this.

    Tom is exactly right about the standards and how they are likely part of other standards areas and they should be. The hardest part of moving technology forward in our district is the notion that technology is in addition to what is already being done; when it truly should just be another way to get somewhere.

    I think the new ISTE standards have helped us better look at technology as a means to an end and not the destination.

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  10. Tom, David, and all

    ISTE did bring together representatives of the national curriculum groups and a strata of practicing teachers to write sample lessons for teachers. The lessons were intended to demonstrate that teaching to a particular science, social studies, mathematics, etc. standard would also address one or more NETS*S standards. This document was a separate printed resource.

    Perhaps after the vetting of the revised standards, ISTE may be planning to do something similar. It may not be a face to face meeting as before, but one in which we use the read/write web to gather example lessons and a jury process “publishes” the best of the best. (or all).

    It is good when teachers 1. Don’t have to always create lessons from scratch but can adopt and adapt one’s they have researched. 2. They contribute and collaborate across distance for a common goal.

    http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php is another initiative emphasized at a recent NECC which also took a stab at standard writing. I recall that a business group was also working on a set of standards (the name escapes me.) They are all welcome guides and resources which individual boards of education can consider for incorporation (or in some cases state department’s of education).

    CU in Atlanta.


  11. Hi,

    I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now and really appreciate your thoughts and links. I am an adult literacy worker in Toronto, Ontario – working at a provincial level engaging literacy learners and practitioners in integrating technology into their practice.

    Recently a colleague sent me a link to the YouTube clip called The Machine is Us/ing Us developed by Mike Wesch in Manhattan, Kansas. It blew my mind open.

    Just wondered if you have seen it and what you think about it.

    Your thoughts about organizing the NETS and your PowerPoint rendition just brought my mind back to this YouTube message.

    Nancy in Canada

  12. Dave,
    Great slide presentation with a succinct explanation of the most recent NETS and 21st century potentials. My take on all this is we are at a similar point now as we were when the printing press was invented. “Back then” when there were just a handful of copies of each book, if you had one of those copies or very good notes, you could lecture (give a reading) and “teach” the book. Then we struggled with everybody having the books. Now everybody has access to more information and the tools to publish/share than ever before in the history of mankind. So how can we make the most of that, from kindergarted on up?

  13. Responding-
    The situation I’m faced with is rewriting a K-5 technology curriculum with teachers that do not quite see things the way I see them (yet) and are not comfortable using technology to teach their students. That leaves the whole set up to me – I have to come up with the plan, guide the planning, assist with implementing the plan, and continue to push the plan to success. All this happens with constant teacher resisitance.
    While the NETS will be helpful to me, they are not in a language that means much of anything to our elementary teachers. These teachers need to see a clear picture of what the standards can mean for them.
    It’s not necessary for ISTE to give me grade level indicators, I can do it myself. But when it feels like you’re doing everything yourself, it’s nice to be able to feel like you’re not really alone in your quest.

  14. I was interested to read about the ISTE standards. I am a fourth grade teacher and I had no ideas these standards existed before reading your blog. I am familiar with state standards for reading math, science, etc. and the administration in my district is very concerned that all teachers are familiar with these standards. However, technology standards have never been mentioned by administration and are not acknowledged by teachers. I think I know why. Technology is not tested by our state tests. Emphasis is put on what is tested because these tests determine our school ranking and state funding. In my district, technology standards are of little or no consequence and will probably remain that way until technology becomes a tested skill. This is a sad fact, but it is a fact of life.

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