Prove It: Ensuring Efficacy in Digital Learning, Part One

Guest post by Eric Sheninger

I’ll never forget the day I presented my digital transformation plan to our superintendent at the time. I had spent days preparing and rehearsing all of my points, explaining the rationale for each new tool and making a strong budget case to secure the necessary resources. At the end of my presentation, the superintendent asked me point blank, “Can you prove it? What evidence do you have to demonstrate that all of this works?” These were fair questions that I had not fully anticipated. But at that moment in time, they provided the grounding that my school and I really needed. 

For change to really be embraced by all stakeholders, it is critical that we show improvements are occurring rather than just claim that they are. In professional terms, that means we need to demonstrate efficacy, i.e., the degree to which desired outcomes and goals are achieved. Applying this concept to digital learning can go a long way to solidifying the use of technology as an established practice, not just a frill or add-on.

In the next two posts, I will share a few tools you can use to help ensure your digital transformation achieves high efficacy and impact.

Rigor/Relevance Framework

In today’s dynamic classroom environment, managing and implementing change can be challenging for even the most talented teachers. As administrators, we have a responsibility to provide the right resources and support to enable our instructors to excel. So, when it comes to digital transformation, it is critical that we start with a strong foundation to establish context and then enable ongoing analysis and evaluation.

The Rigor/Relevance Framework is a conceptual system of checks and balances that provides a common language and critical lens through which to examine curriculum, instruction, and assessment along the two dimensions of critical thinking (rigor) and application (relevance). Developed by the International Center for Leadership in Education, the framework is based on a 2×2 matrix with knowledge along the y-axis and action along the xaxis. As indicated in the chart, the matrix can be further broken down into four quadrants—acquisition, application, assimilation, adaptation—which provide a measurement and evaluation tool for various levels of instruction.

Quadrant D (Adaptation) of the Rigor/Relevance Framework sets a clear goal in terms of overall outcomes:

Students have the competence to think in complex ways and apply knowledge and skills they have acquired. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, students are able to use extensive knowledge and skill to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.

Aligning digital to Quadrant D not only makes sense but also melds with a great deal of the conversation in digital and non-digital spaces as to why and how learning should change. A framework like this emphasizes the importance of a strong pedagogical foundation while helping to move practice from isolated pockets of excellence to systemic elements that are scaled throughout the learning culture. It also provides the means to evaluate and reflect in order to improve.

Once an overall vision for digital learning is firmly in place, you can begin to work on the structures and supports to ensure success. In my next post, I will share five key areas that can put your classroom, school, district, or organization on a path to digital efficacy.

How can school leaders establish a strong foundation for digital practices?

Eric Sheninger is a senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Prior to this he was the award-winning principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey. He was a 2012 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and has authored six books, including the best-seller Digital Leadership. Follow him on Twitter @E_Sheninger or visit ericsheninger.com.

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