When ISTE released its first student standards in 1998, digital technology in schools was mostly limited to a computer lab students visited once or twice a week. Technology use was primarily focused on productivity and, during school hours, students learned how to use a word processor or manipulate spread sheets.
With productivity as the driver, the first iteration of the ISTE Standards for Students focused on learning how to use technology. It wasn’t long before it was time to revisit those inaugural standards.
When the ISTE Standards were revised in 2007, mobile carts were increasingly available to teachers in the classroom, as was access to the internet. While the focus on productivity remained, the emphasis shifted to using technology to teach critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. By now, students were using technology to work on projects with each other or even with peers in other classrooms, states or countries. This second version of the standards emphasized learning with technology.
Digital technology in education continues to evolve. In fact, the changes between 2007 and 2016 are arguably even more dramatic than those that occurred between 1998 and 2007. That’s why ISTE set out once again to revise the ISTE Standards for Students.
ISTE has spent the last year engaging members and stakeholders in conversations about what should be included in the 2016 student standards. More classrooms than ever have ready access to technology, many putting devices in the hands of every student, and technology is no longer seen as optional. New designs for learning and teaching are emerging that extend beyond the classroom and support personalized learning pathways. Brain science and new technologies hold the promise for supporting enhanced human interaction and more equitable, lifelong learning opportunities across the globe.
What does this mean for the future of ed tech?
Carolyn Sykora, senior director of ISTE Standards, says the new standards represent a significant shift in our approach to learning and teaching. “The 2016 ISTE Standards for Students are less about what students should know and be able to do and more about who we want our students to become in a world that will reward adaptability amid rapid and ongoing change,” she says. “They emphasize empowering the learner to take charge and take advantage of learning that is available at the tips of their fingers. The standards establish a practice for learning, a foundation for lifelong learning and, ideally, a love of learning.”
The entire suite of ISTE Standards serves an even loftier cause – changing the world by transforming learning and teaching. The standards are the foundation that support ISTE’s caused-based mission.
In fact, the ISTE Standards have always led the way in redefining learning and teaching. Educators who participate in ISTE Standards-based professional learning programs say they see positive results, including increased student engagement, improved proficiency with technology and student learning gains.
The ISTE Standards are used throughout the world and by educators in all 50 U.S states. Additionally, at least 20 U.S. states or territories have formally adopted or adapted the ISTE Standards as part of their academic standards or curricular frameworks. The ISTE Standards are also truly global and are based on input from more than 50 countries. The standards recognize that what students need to know and do to succeed in the 21st century is increasingly more common across borders than different.
Unlike other standards that apply to education, the ISTE Standards are not high stakes, not tied to testing, not mandated and not a measurement of an educator’s practice. Additionally, as their widespread use exemplifies, they are locally and globally adaptable.
“The standards are a relevant resource that serve schools, teams and learners, ensuring the implementation of technology to transform learning and teaching is both effective and swift,” Sykora explains. “The ISTE Standards complement Common Core and individual state standards and assist in engaging those standards more effectively.”
Engaging across borders
When ISTE announced it was revising the standards a year ago, ISTE member Mahmud Shihab wondered why. Shihab is head of educational technology at International College in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been using the standards since the first iteration was introduced in 1998. He used the standards first as a teacher and now in workshops for technology coaching certifications in the Arabian Gulf.
“Teachers can easily relate to student outcomes and immediately grasp the idea of using the standards to enhance learning,” Shihab says. “The 2007 Standards were so powerful, but ISTE is ahead of its time and preparing us for the next five to 10 years.”
The discussion about revising the standards began last year at ISTE 2015 where attendees reviewed the 2007 standards and envisioned the future of education, work and life. ISTE also brought together a group of education influencers at the conference. Dubbed the Stakeholder Advisory Council, they provided initial, strategic insight into the refresh process.
After the launch, ISTE evolved the public comment model into a toolkit available for anyone willing to host their own sessions with colleagues or at conferences. ISTE also surveyed individuals and groups to get their perspectives. Drafts were posted online and feedback came in from around the world.
A Technical Working Group of education professionals, including teachers, technology coordinators, library media specialists, consultants and administrators, provided expert insight and wordsmithing. They helped pull together the feedback data into what became preliminary versions of the first and second drafts. All told, 2,714 people from 52 countries participated in the effort, including 295 students.
The voices of those 295 students are perhaps the most innovative part of the 2016 student standards, and the feature that sets the ISTE Standards refresh process apart from that of other standards-issuing organizations. When empowering students emerged as a core theme in the refresh, ISTE knew that it could not release the 2016 standards without getting students’ input.
ISTE provided materials to help educators gather student perspectives. One of these educators was ISTE member Anna Baralt, director of technology education at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, Florida. Baralt was on the Core Working Group and led the first student feedback session. She asked in a blog post for ISTE, “What better way to discover if the standards are achievable, interesting and likely to be useful to students than asking students themselves?”
Transforming learning and teaching
The latest standards aspire to be more than achievable, however. They aim to lead the next transformation of learning and teaching. From the preamble: “The 2016 ISTE Standards for Students emphasize the skills and qualities we want for students, enabling them to engage and thrive in a connected, digital world…The reward, however, will be educators who skillfully mentor and inspire students to amplify learning with technology and challenge them to be agents of their own learning.”
Richard Culatta, former director of the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education and now chief innovation officer for the state of Rhode Island and an ISTE member, says that allowing students a voice in the standards, as well as in their own learning, signifies an important shift.
“Ten years ago we might have wanted to include ‘empowering students’ in the standards but didn’t have a lot of tools to make that possible,” says Culatta, also a member of the standards refresh Technical Working Group. “When you have tools to allow students to choose a variety of different topics and take ownership over their learning, it’s able to be reflected in the standards. Now we can ask, how do we create learners and not just students with particular skills? How do we create lifelong learners?”
Creating a classroom where students are agents of their own learning is a concept most ISTE educators are familiar with, but it’s something many still find challenging. This is only one area where ISTE is leading the way.
Standards, whether subject specific
or state or federally mandated, tend to be content-based, but the ISTE Standards for Students are usable across content areas and age levels. Rather than a checklist of content to cover, the ISTE Standards ask teachers to enable each student as an “Empowered Learner.” This first standard states, “Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.”
In other words, technology is an integral part of students’ lives, but in school they are generally not capitalizing on its potential to drive their own learning. Not only is this concept of empowerment called out in standard 1, it is also embedded throughout the standards and reflected in the shift in title style from topic areas to student personae.
The standards also establish an expectation that students understand the science of learning and how technology might enhance or impede the cognitive and affective (emotional) processes that are critical to deeper learning.
“If we expect students to be empowered, lifelong learners, they must own at least a basic understanding of how the brain works and the rapidly advancing insights into the science of learning,” says Jim Flanagan, ISTE chief learning services officer. “This is not only foundational to learning, but also critically important to inform the personal and societal decisions they will have to make related to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence as adults.”
The second standard, “Digital Citizen,” expands on this concept of student empowerment by viewing students as active citizens in the digital realm. Culatta says that when he worked in the classroom, he used to teach behaviors such as not running in the hall or not stealing from your neighbor. “What’s the equivalent in digital space?” he asks. “It’s always so fascinating how much good students can do in the world when they know how to use technology for creating a good, safe learning community, for standing up for someone who’s being picked on.”
Baralt agrees. In fact, students’ lack of digital citizenship was the thing that surprised her the most in the standards feedback sessions she held with her students. Having taught some of the students, she knew they had heard information lISTEd in the standards, such as, “cultivate and manage a digital identity,” or “engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology.”
Still, they seemed not to grasp what being a digital citizen is all about. “We have a long way to go. There’s still a very superficial feeling that their actions online aren’t permanent,” she says. “Further, they don’t seem to understand what’s happening with data while they’re on the internet. They don’t understand what’s happening behind the scenes and how that could affect their future.”
This is one area where the 2016 standards really move the needle. The implications of data collection weren’t as serious in 2007 as they are now, thus the 2016 standard “Digital Citizen” includes an indicator highlighting the need for students to understand this concept and act within the digital world with this knowledge in mind: “Students recognize that data is collected and tracked as they navigate online; they proactively manage personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware that automated personalization can reduce diversity of viewpoints and knowledge.”
The 2016 standards include other important shifts. Communication became its own standard, coupled with creativity. The standard “Creative Communicator” recognizes how technology has proliferated the ways we can communicate and reach audiences and the importance of choosing the medium and the channel to correspond with a particular audience. Similarly, collaboration is also emphasized within the standard “Global Collaborator” that also underscores how critical it is in today’s world to build global understanding. “Knowledge Constructor” establishes a foundation for an individual to access information and make meaning for themselves – a key to building critical-thinking skills.
ISTE strategically pared the 2007 standard “Technology Operations and Concepts” down to a single indicator within “Empowered Learner” that states: Students “understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.” This decision made room for other indicators, but its placement in the Empowered Learner standard signifies its importance as a foundation for a learner-driven approach. Students need to have the prerequisite skills to achieve greater agency.
The concept of problem-solving is now embedded across many different standards, including “Innovative Designer” and “Computational Thinker.” Both of these standards represent significant shifts in learning and teaching – using design for active, hands-on learning and recognizing when and how computing power can innovate products or solve problems.
The goal of both of these standards is not to funnel students into careers in software engineering or design, but rather to empower them to tackle complex problems or projects in dynamic ways that also lead to greater understanding of the underlying logic behind the technology that infuses their lives.
Despite the functional need to organize the standards into conceptual buckets, all of them overlap and intersect with each other in ways that increase the power of the standards to transform learning with technology.
Connections to the ISTE Essential Conditions
The ISTE Standards have never been a shopping list for the latest tech products or services. In fact, Shihab says he appreciates that ISTE doesn’t mention any specific technology or platform.
“They emphasize the learning,” he says. Some initiatives “are tied to different technologies, where the name of the technology comes before the learning. Instead, ISTE talks about the characteristics of a 21st century student, an empowered learner. Even the titles of the standards can become a strategic plan of any institution looking into the future. This is how to future-proof your schools.”
ISTE has, however, established a set of system-wide considerations intended to support the implementation of the standards. The ISTE Essential Conditions, first released in 2003, include 14 components for leaders to use to plan for and guide a school’s or district’s technology for learning.
To fully implement the standards, schools should have many, if not most, of the Essential Conditions in place. ISTE recognizes that school systems fall along a continuum of readiness and the Essential Conditions help schools to recognize gaps and priorities.
The Essential Conditions include items such as a shared vision among stakeholders, empowered leaders at every level and a focus on student-centered learning. Schools may have divergent needs around the areas reflected in the Essential Conditions, but the 14 conditions are intended to support efforts to accelerate student learning through technology.
Unlike other standards
Of course, teachers have a long checklist of content to squeeze into the school day. Is teaching digital citizenship or computational thinking just one more thing they don’t really have time for? The answer is, “no.” The ISTE Standards for Students are an approach to transformative learning and teaching that supports other curricular standards.
Current member and former ISTE Board of Directors member Ben Smith, a physics teacher in Pennsylvania’s Red Lion Area School District who served on the Technical Working Group, has been a classroom teacher for 27 years and has used the ISTE Standards since 1998.
Smith built his engineering curriculum around the 2007 ISTE Standards for Students. He encourages innovation by allowing students to patent ideas and have exclusive rights to that idea. If another group wants to use a patent, it costs the group some points in their grade. He says his method promotes an entrepreneurial atmosphere in the classroom that is not described by anyone except ISTE.
“I looked at the standards and thought about what I wanted my students to know outside of the core content. How to communicate, collaborate, solve problems and be innovative,” he says. “It all comes essentially right out of the ISTE Standards. This is what we want from our kids, to go beyond creativity.”
The standards are intended to be visionary in how we approach education, something that is not always easy to achieve in the day-to-day world of schools. In the end, the ISTE Standards were developed by educators, for educators and now for their students as well. Baralt says that even though she is from a small school, ISTE listened to her input. “Sometimes as a teacher you feel like things are handed to you,” she says. “But I think teachers will feel like they had a voice in these standards.”
The standards are intended as a road map for educators as they navigate the daily decisions surrounding content and technology. “In today’s era of testing and pressure placed on educators to meet standards,” says Baralt, “it’s hard to find this balance to let students drive their learning. The 2016 standards are going to call on educators to force the issue to change that model and really make it about the students.”
Raleigh Schmidt, a senior at James Clements High School in Madison, Alabama, participated in a standards feedback session. He agrees that the first standard, “Empowered Learner,” is the most important. Schmidt looks to his father as an example. Phil SignSchmidt makes commercials and works nightly on learning new camerawork and editing.
“It’s nothing like calculus homework,” says Schmidt. “But he keeps on learning. In everyday life, you’re going to have to keep learning things. You have to have that drive to become better at your art or trade.”
Getting your hands on the standards
The ISTE Standards are intended for educators across all grade levels and areas of education, whether for use in the classroom, the central office or online. ISTE encourages educators far and wide to use the standards, however, in an effort to better track the uptake of the standards and measure their impact, ISTE will survey requestors about how they plan to use them and showcase examples to inspire others. In exchange for this information, ISTE is providing an implementation toolkit to support educators using the standards.
The 2016 ISTE Standards for Students were officially released at ISTE 2016. Resources to support the use of the standards were released at the same time, including an ebook, an open-learning network, a free poster, a report detailing the research and methodology that went into the 2016 student standards, and an interactive webpage that will “unpack” the standards through definitions and examples.
What’s next? ISTE launched the refresh process of the ISTE Standards for Teachers at ISTE 2016. The refreshed version of these standards will be released in June 2017.
Jennifer Snelling writes for ISTE's member magazine entrsekt, where this article first appeared. ISTE members can find more thought-provoking articles in entrsekt online or in print. Not a member? Join today.