With over three decades of experience in education, Alan Moose has seen classrooms transformed through the use of technology. As the supervisor of online learning for Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12, Alan created the Lincoln Cyber Café, which provides schools with a vetted list of tools and services available to support academic programs at consortium prices. As a member of the Teacher’s Collective Forum, we at Weld North Education wanted to share Alan’s advice for edtech administrators, and hope to inspire other educators to get creative with their implementation.
Weld North Education: As an educator who has embraced edtech, what excites you about the future of education?
Alan Moose: About eight or nine years ago, I was asked to create a program that could be customized and adapted to meet the needs of each student. Our goal was to serve both special education students and the general population, and technology was the best resource to do that.
We initially started a cyber-school program, but as an Intermediate Unit, we had a unique opportunity to serve the district at large. [In Pennsylvania, Intermediate Units (IUs) are public entities and serve a given geographic area's educational needs. They function as a liaison organization between the public school district and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.]
The idea of the cyber café was to create a menu of curriculum options to promote district choice. Since not every school wanted the same product, we provide a broad array of solutions for students at reduced pricing through vendor partnerships. Some vendors even allow us to resell their product (local and statewide), and we can bring any revenue back into the IU to improve programming for schools and reduce costs. We work as a collective (both internally and through IU partnerships) and offer technology opportunities to schools and districts statewide (serving close to 500 districts), instead of just those within our IU.
I am excited by the possibility of what education can really do. It’s being transformed, and people are putting their heels in the ground and trying to hold it back. We need to embrace it. Education is an industry that’s reluctant to change, and it’s often extremely slow. Technology is a tool that can help reach students and provide creative ways to educate them.
And ultimately, it gives students the freedom to grow at their individual learning capacity. All students grow at different rates, and our system has pushed them to learn a certain amount of content in a year. Some can exceed that and others need more time. If we can offer more customized learning pathways, some may end up leaving high school earlier, and others may take a little while longer but still get to the same place. It’s not about student ability, it’s about the rate of learning, and technology helps address that.
WNE: In your experience as an online learning consultant, what do you see as the foundational elements that every edtech program should have?
Alan: In my opinion, the following considerations are important in a successful implementation.
- Sufficient infrastructure instituted before creating digital classrooms (e.g., sufficient internet speed and LAN capacity)
- Up to date technology in student’s hands (e.g., iPads and Chromebooks)
- Teacher training on digital tools and curriculum
- Well-defined teacher expectations regarding how often to use the technology
- Follow-up coaching and instruction to help teachers learn from one another
- Continued support and responsiveness to issues or requests from teachers and students
There are impediments, of course, such as comfort level with technology or budget to consider. A lot of schools go one-to-one quickly but don’t build the capacity with teachers, so students wind up carrying around the tools but not actually using them. Or the technology is out of date by the time the educator feels comfortable incorporating it into their classroom.
Our IT department offers teacher training, and the PD department has a whole series of classes with coaches to work directly with teachers in the school district. We’re able to offer this free to the district through grant funding, which is another benefit of our program. We’re able to go in and help districts realize their vision with the technology they purchased alongside other tools and resources that are available through the cyber café.
WNE: How do you stay up to date with technology?
Alan: It’s hard to keep up, and I’m inundated every day. I feel like I’m always behind the eight-ball. But a few things help me stay as up-to-date as I can.
- Joining technology-related committees
- Continuing involvement with schools and coaches
- Implementing an online school and working closely with students
- Going to conferences and working with the vendors to see what they’re developing
- And, of course, my three adult children
'To have an impactful blended-learning environment, educators need to embrace technology to see what we can become.'
WNE: Talk to us about the importance of social and emotional learning in a digitally-enabled classroom. In an increasingly digital world, how can everything work together with digital?
Alan: SEL is inherently necessary for our students in cyber, as many of them are isolated from their peer groups. When we first opened the cyber school, we did a classroom-based option as part of the program, but because of the students’ backgrounds, they struggled to come into the classroom. Eventually, we dropped that component because it wasn’t cost-effective for us.
We have online providers for our SEL curriculum, and some courses are self-selected by the student while others are required. I’m also in the process of hiring a school counselor for the cyber school to take the SEL program to a counseling model and provide some face-to-face and group counseling to meet the needs of our students. The counselor will be able to give them the type of support they need and direct them to the online tools while building one-on-one relationships. Our students have unique differences from traditional students, and we need to address those. We do so much to ready them for life after school so we need to incorporate SEL alongside the career-based programs.
WNE: Have any particular student success stories stood out for you in your experience with edtech?
Alan: I had a special education student who came to our online school in 7th grade from public school. He was bullied and was anxious about school and the relationship with his peers. He had a lot to learn and wasn’t sure that an online solution would meet his needs, but we did provide for his needs.
We transitioned through various solutions and vendors, he took the most rigorous career and technical education (CTE) courses, and he graduated last year and is now in college. It wasn’t certain when he started that he would make it, but he is quite successful. He had two very involved parents, very collaborative, and worked to create a program that fit his needs.
WNE: What is your advice for edtech administrators looking to create an impactful blended-learning environment?
Alan: Well, that largely depends on how you define blended learning. Some people think a student taking an online course in addition to their regular school day constitutes blended learning, and I guess in a way it does, but to me, it’s the integration of technology into the instructional model of the classroom.
When a teacher uses technology as a tool for students to use to enhance their learning, whether it’s a program for math solutions, an individualized learning pathway, or a project assigned using digital tools, that’s blended learning. Or, it can be used in a collaborative way like a station rotation model where the teacher uses the computer for independent work while he or she moves around the classroom and intervenes as needed.
I’ve seen York Academy Regional Charter School do some great things with blended learning. They have great student data and results to back up what they’re doing. Central York School District has empowered its teachers to be creative in using digital tools and solutions to implement quality coursework and solutions for students. Their student-centered learning model makes them stand out.
To have an impactful blended-learning environment, educators need to embrace technology to see what we can become. I believe we can do great things. We are doing great things, but we can do more to become even better.