How the Illinois Shared Learning Environment is poised to help teachers fuel student growth.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tim Farquer

CREDIT Illinois Shared Learning EnvironmentAs an elementary teacher, my mother worked tirelessly to provide her students with the “holy grail of teaching and learning,” timely/personalized feedback followed by targeted learning resources. She continually helped students develop and strengthen new skills. She inspired student growth – a growth that didn’t happen accidentally, but rather by design. I watched my mom work days, nights, weekends, and summers to pull this off.

When I taught middle and high school students, my colleagues and I wanted the same results. At the secondary level, 150 different students each day and additional extra-curricular assignments made personalized instruction a significant challenge. Factor in student mobility and semester length; by the time I really got to know my students it was time for a new set of faces to walk through the classroom door. For me, this made the “holy grail of teaching and learning” very difficult to attain.

Does it have to be this hard?

Instructional improvement systems such as the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE) have been designed with this in mind. Advances in technology position such systems to tighten the feedback loop and personalize the learning experience. Chief among these advances is the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI). The LRMI helps educators and content curators/publishers get the right resources in front of the right students at the right time. By leveraging the LRMI, the ISLE will allow experienced educators to feed students the learning resources they need to continually develop and strengthen new skills.

ISLE is designed to empower educators and learners with integrated data and tools that drive student success from Pre-K to career. The system is constructed atop an inBloom platform, which enables it to maintain an integrated modular design. This design allows developers and content curators to work within their area of expertise, whether it’s developing a “killer app” for English Learners; developing a Common Core digital badging system; or authoring text-dependent questions that accompany historical documents. With this flexibility, developers and content curators can spend their valuable time and resources fulfilling specific educational needs.

One such example of a “killer app” within the modular design is ISLE Learning Maps. These Maps provide a way to link standards, tagged content, assessment, and student needs, using LRMI metadata to help pinpoint the most appropriate learning resources. These Maps take traditional static curriculum map documents and turn them into dynamic living organisms. ISLE Learning Maps include the flexibility to encompass whole courses, as well as the “units of study” that make up the course. By utilizing the ISLE modular design, these Maps integrate with assessment authoring and delivery applications, content tagging and discovery tools, and data dashboards designed to continually fuel individual student growth.

This type of modular design will allow districts the flexibility to partner with the best apps in the marketplace. As a district leader, I anxiously await this day. Our district will finally be able to sever ties with mega-applications attempting to integrate SIS, LMS, RTI, and financial data with a “jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none” mentality. We will finally be able to stop exporting student learning data from three different assessment applications, then merging them into a spreadsheet to inform educational decision-making. We will finally be able to locate learning resources connected to real evidence indicating what a student needs to learn and grow. Finally.

My mom fed each student the right resources at the right time by photocopying and distributing differentiated skill-building activities. She was always searching for new materials and there were always more copies to be made. Today’s tech-savvy teacher combs through Google search returns or jumps back and forth among OER repositories such as OER Commons, Curriki, Khan Academy, or the National Science Digital Library. The Illinois Shared Learning Environment is designed to leverage LRMI-aligned metadata on each resource, bringing each student targeted skill-building options when evidence indicates the need.

As an educator, a district leader, a citizen of Illinois, and a father of three, I can’t wait for these tools to reach our classrooms. When we begin leveraging instructional improvement systems such as the ISLE to bring targeted learning resource options to our kids, excellent classroom teachers will have more time and energy to interact with students and families. Net result? Significant increases in student growth. This may bring my mom out of retirement.

Caution: Opportunity Ahead.

Tim Farquer is the superintendent at Williamsfield Schools in Williamsfield, Illinois. He can be reached at tim.farquer@billtown.org.