Posts Tagged Digital Age Learning
Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for eSchool News entitled, “The Advantages of the BYOT Classroom.” At the time, I was the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, and the advantages that I listed were the qualities that I had observed in classrooms that effectively utilized Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to transform teaching and learning opportunities with students’ personal technology tools.
Now, I’m collaborating with several schools and districts around the country that are beginning to implement Personalized Learning to better connect students with engaging academic content; to facilitate the development of digital age skills; and to utilize technology to provide access to anytime, anywhere learning. These benefits occur as districts, schools, and teachers recognize that students have unique strengths, needs, and interests that must be considered within the design of instruction. The methods for addressing student individuality may differ, but they include the same hallmarks of the BYOT classroom. In the illustration above, I refer to these as building blocks, as they collectively construct a firm foundation for personalized learning.
Within each of the blog posts linked below, I focused on the concepts included within the illustration of the building blocks to highlight why they are essential, foundational components for personalizing learning. I also included strategies or described necessary qualities for encouraging the development of each building block within your own personalized learning implementation plan.
Building Blocks for Personalized Learning Blog Posts
- Critical Thinking
As teachers begin to shift toward greater personalized learning experiences for students, their initial steps build upon what they already know from face-to-face instruction. Districts usually provide teachers with easy to use Learning Management Systems (LMS) that can facilitate new learning opportunities with technology. However, the greatest potential of learning with technology tools is that teachers and students can transform the traditional learning environment, processes, and products. Just providing teachers with an organizational tool, such as an LMS, will not lead to transformative practices. Teachers need on-going support if they are to truly transform their classrooms into ecosystems for digital age learning.
A Model for Redefining Learning
The SAMR Model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura provides a guideline for explaining the digital transformation. The four levels within this model are Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. At the Substitution level, teachers merely replace the traditional methods of instruction with digital tools, so instead of reading a printed textbook, the students are printing out their own pages from an online textbook. Instruction is at the Augmentation level when the use of technology benefits a commonly performed task, such as, having students submit their work within an online dropbox instead of having to turn papers in to their teacher in the classroom. At the Modification level, there is a significant change between what happen’s in the traditional face-to-face classroom and the digital age learning ecosystem. An example of this type of instruction is to design an authentic project and to share it in order to receive immediate feedback from others. Finally, instruction reaches the level of Redefinition when something is created that could not exist without the use of technology tools, resources, and access. Furthermore, the ideas and products are also student-generated.
Digitized learning encompasses the first two levels of the SAMR Model – Substitution and Augmentation. Compare the Assignments in the above illustration. The Digitized Learning Assignment has the students reading from an online textbook instead of a printed textbook. Rather than writing answers to the chapter questions on paper, the students are writing answers in a document file on a computer. They are told exactly what to create for their end product – a slide show that lists facts of information. Then they are submitting these products within an online dropbox. There are some benefits to this instruction. Namely, all of the student work can be organized online, and they can access the required information and complete the Assignment asynchronously. However, the level of instruction involved requires no creativity or critical thinking.
To prepare students for an ever-increasing digital world, they need to engage in robust digital learning experiences. In the Digital Learning Assignment in the above illustration, the students are reviewing a variety of multimedia content so that they can learn from multiple resources and points of view. They are asked to reflect on that information to develop an opinion and to create a product that defends their opinions based on evidence. This requires a high level of critical thinking. They have to share their product for feedback and to incorporate that feedback into a finished, published version of their project – providing them with a more authentic audience for their endeavors. By focusing on this type of assignment, the digital learning is more likely to reach the Modification or the Redefinition levels of instruction.
Review some of the learning experiences that your are providing for your students that involve technology. Consider what level of the SAMR Model are you addressing with your instructional tasks. One simple way of moving to more truly digital learning experiences, instead of solely digitizing learning, is to provide open-ended assignments that encourage students to make choices. Until they have more practice and experience, students often prefer digitized learning activities because they require less effort, and we have taught them how to succeed by following basic directions. Districts and schools can assist teachers by providing the necessary digital resources, a sustainable digital curriculum, consistent professional learning, and achievable expectations. Likewise, multiple opportunities for on-going feedback, support, and collaboration with a variety of digital tools and content can help your students become effective and creative digital learners.
An ecosystem is a system formed by the interaction of a community of living organisms with each other and their environment. (Dictionary.com, 2014)
When I visit a digital age classroom where students are actively using technology tools for inquiry and creating new products to show their learning, I see a similarity to an ecosystem. The students and teacher interact within the classroom environment in an organic way to construct learning experiences. What are the components of this digital age learning ecosystem? What facilitates a sustainable learning environment that endures over time and through adversity? After reading my suggested attributes of a digital age learning ecosystem, post a reply with your own suggestions that I may have overlooked and should consider for future reflection.
A Sense of Community
Teachers intentionally nurture a community in the digital age learning ecosystem. They know the interests, strengths, and challenges of their students, and they are eager to learn alongside them. Rather than viewing themselves as content experts with the primary purpose of directing instruction, teachers in the digital age learning ecosystem relish the roles of learner and explorer. Digital citizenship is ingrained throughout the practices of the classroom. Because students have typically developed their own norms and practices for how they should co-exist with technology, teachers in the digital age learning ecosystem must encourage appropriate netiquette and the responsible use of technology tools and resources.
Teachers should design lessons or units of study within the digital age learning ecosystem by posing essential, open-ended questions. This strategy provokes deeper thinking and encourages students to develop additional questions for future exploration and possible solution. As teachers frame learning experiences around questions, they promote a stimulating culture of inquiry and innovation.
Captivating Digital Content
Students need access to rich multimedia content, including primary resources and documents in a digital age learning ecosystem. Teachers can model strategies for conducting smart searches for the just right information needed to answer the essential questions of the lesson. That information can be further reviewed for accuracy, authenticity, and relevancy in order to develop the students’ skills with digital literacy. By utilizing a learning object repository, teachers and students can access resources as well as upload and share the content they create within their learning activities.
Assessment for Learning
Teaching rote information to prepare for standardized assessments has dominated classroom practice for the last several years, resulting in teacher-directed learning and high-stakes assignments, grading, and reporting. Conversely, the teacher in the digital age learning ecosystem employs assessment for learning. This practice utilizes more risk-free formative assessments where the teacher continually checks for student understanding so that students are able to freely share their developing ideas and skills. Teachers also use multiple forms of assessment in the process of learning so that students have more ways to experience success. These forms may include participation in discussion, student-produced content, and multimedia presentations.
Multiple Technology Tools
Whether students use their own technology tools that they bring to school in their pockets and backpacks or utilize school-provided technology resources, these devices develop new purposes within the digital age learning ecosystem. They are the means for building connections among teachers, students, and content. Different resources are also useful for different tasks. So, there may be a situation when a smartphone or a tablet is the appropriate tool for taking a photo, responding to a question, or accessing content, but other situations may require the use of a laptop or desktop computer, broadcast equipment, interactive whiteboard, or 3D printer. Learning when and how to use the right tool for a job are essential functions within the digital age learning ecosystem.
Designs for Differentiation and Accessibility
Because each student is unique, teachers in the digital age learning ecosystem realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Students have different strengths and challenges, so their learning experiences should be tailored for those personal differences. Personalizing learning should include support for English language learners and students with academic and physical needs as well as remediation and enrichment opportunities for all students, as needed. Thoughtfully designed accessibility features within the classroom engage all of the learners by reducing factors that may limit success and impede equitable participation.
Supportive Classroom Environment
The classroom environment of the digital age learning ecosystem includes both the physical and online areas that are used and curated by the teacher and students. There are a variety of learning spaces and tools available as needed for the students to use for different learning activities, including nooks for individual innovation and quiet reflection in addition to zones for collaborative work and discussion. The learning environment is vibrant, and furniture and equipment are mobile so that they can be easily rearranged to adjust for multiple learning situations and functions.
Engaging Instructional Strategies
Teachers plan instructional strategies that engage students within the digital age learning ecosystem. With a focus on the skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, the processes involved in learning, rather than just the products, gain new importance. Not only does this focus ensure that students have multiple ways to show evidence of success in the classroom, it also helps them develop the skills necessary for success in their future careers. Digital age teachers consider how they implement these strategies throughout each day and realize that they can facilitate student learning without everyone doing the same thing, at the same time, and in the same way.
Although I described each of the above components of the digital age learning ecosystem separately, they are all integrated parts. With continued support, this learning environment begins to take on a life of its own as the teacher and students feel a sense of ownership and pride over its sustainable success.
“ecosystem.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 06 Jul. 2014. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ecosystem>.
Sustainability is defined as the “capacity to endure” (“Sustainability,” 2013). Most people agree that the natural environment has to be sustained so that we can long-lasting and renewable benefits from its resources. Similarly, we must develop sustainable practices that continue to support digital age learning within the learning environments of today’s schools. When the initial enthusiasm for shiny new technology devices begins to pale, what will help to keep the spark alive?
Digital Age Learning describes the shift from traditional teacher-directed instruction to student-centered learning with the use of technology tools. Those resources may be provided by the school or through a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative. I have observed the transformation of many typical classrooms in my district through the implementation of BYOT supplemented by the school’s technology devices and infrastructure. However, that transformation has to be sustained so that teachers and students don’t revert into the old habits of standardized, rote instruction – mainly characterized by the activities of lecturing, memorizing, and recalling information.
Based on my collaboration with teachers and students throughout my district, here are some practices for sustaining digital age learning.
Build the Learning Community
I’ve written before about the importance of developing learning communities in schools and classrooms, and one hallmark of an effective community is trust. When students and teachers are working with technology devices and applications, there is always the possibility that someone could make a mistake or a poor choice. Yet, I’ve seen classrooms with clear, consistent expectations and an atmosphere of safety and respect that rarely experience issues related to the inappropriate use of technology. When teachers expect the responsible use of technology, they convey that they believe in each student’s ability to accomplish great things.
Utilize Student Expertise
Because students are accustomed to using their own technology tools for consuming content and communicating with their friends, they have already learned how to troubleshoot many technology issues. Of course, not every student has the same level of interest, ability, or expertise with technology, but they can learn to rely on each other for support. The teacher can also begin to depend on the students for technology assistance. This strategy builds empowers students to discover new skills for life-long learning.
Focus on Digital Age Skills
Teachers often become frustrated when they focus their instruction on a particular application or device. In fact, as we implemented BYOT, we quickly realized that we needed to talk more about digital age skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), rather than on technology. As teachers begin to incorporate those skills into their content standards, technology becomes purposeful, meaningful, and relevant.
Encourage the Regular Use of Technology
Having special technology times or days means that technology use occurs outside of the norms of learning. However, when it becomes a normal part of teaching and learning, teachers and students are able to discover new uses for the available technology tools. Then technology serves a legitimate function in the process of learning, and its use becomes an enjoyable, necessary process, rather than a big production or event.
Provide Continuous Professional Learning
Teachers and students need time to “play” with the technology tools, but the real paradigm shift for many teachers is learning how to share control and direction of the learning with the students. It is also helpful if teachers can see digital age learning in action by observing each other trying new strategies, using technology, and facilitating learning experiences for students. This support should be on-going and include opportunities for feedback and reflection.
In addition to the above strategies, the buy in and support of the parents and other stakeholders also ensure the sustainability of digital age learning. Technology hardware, applications, and processes will continue to change over time, whether students are using school-owned or student-owned devices, but the supportive practices that truly leverage change are everlasting.
Sustainability. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 26, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability
As an Instructional Technology Specialist at a Title 1 elementary school, one of my roles is to coach teachers on how to integrate technology into the curriculum. In our current digital age, this is not optional. Classrooms must reform to prepare students to become successful for careers of the future. We are already 13 years into the 21st Century!
So how do we get all teachers on board? The first step is to build community within the school and within each classroom. This is the foundation to getting any program to work – especially something as new as Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). Everyone should be comfortable learning as they go, and knowing that mistakes are okay, as long as knowledge is gained from them!
The next step is to focus on instruction – technology should always come later! Providing professional development on higher order thinking, project and inquiry based learning, differentiated instruction, flexible grouping, driving questions, different levels of technology use, the 4 C’s of digital age learning, etc… is the most important step to ensuring that technology integration is being utilized to enhance instruction and take kids to places they’ve never been before! After educators have solid instructional skills, technology integration will truly be effective.
Providing professional development opportunities for teachers such as using the latest tech tools, doing walk throughs into other classrooms to see BYOT in action, and having people walk through their rooms and provide feedback are essential! Having administration, other teachers, and instructional technology specialists walk through classrooms and give honest feedback and suggestions has been a huge catalyst for change! Let teachers know it is okay to learn from the students. Encourage the students to show what their devices can do, while the teacher focuses on the curriculum. Teachers who focus on the devices and feel like they must know how to use it before allowing it into the classroom will always be swimming upstream. Devices and software change constantly. Teachers must accept that and let that fear go. Educators will be amazed to see how much easier t eaching becomes when control shifts and students are allowed to have choice to be the experts of their own devices.
Technology in the classroom is one of the fastest growing movements that have ever occurred in education. When it is utilized appropriately, children are truly becoming prepared for the real world, and isn’t that the purpose of school? The BYOT train is only going to go faster, so it’s time to jump on, or risk being stuck behind while everyone else has reached new places!