4 Signs that Prove it's Time to Update Your Digital Learning Tools
Not too long ago, digital learning tools consisted of a couple of classroom computers and The Oregon Trail on floppy disk. Those halcyon days of the personal computing revolution are long gone, and we are now in the midst of even greater change as the digital revolution continues.
Ways to Know It's Time to Change Your Approach With Digital Learning Tools
1. The Only Computers Students Have Access to Are in a Computer Lab
Static computer labs are just another extension of the "cells and bells" layout of most schools. Sometimes they still serve a purpose - for example, a school may choose to create a computer lab exclusively for the foreign language department, complete with special speaking and listening software and equipment. Otherwise, why limit students (and teachers!) to classroom-based labs and desktop computers?
If you are planning to become a 1:1 technology school or district, computer labs alone won't get you there. Regionally-distributed mobile laptop or netbook carts are an option, as are increasingly popular "bring your own device (BYOD)" policies. The media center can check out tablets and/or host a maker space that provides access to many types of devices. The personal computer was supposed to herald a new age for individuals. Instead, we put thirty of them in a classroom and called it a day. No more. Now more than ever is the time to think outside the brick-and-mortar box of the computer lab to bring technology to all students.
2. Students are Not Allowed to Use Devices for Educational Purposes
You're frustrated. You have a student (multiple students?) who just can't seem to stay off their phones during class time. They seem beholden to any one of a dozen distractions during the average class period - texts, notifications, updates - it never ends with this generation. You wanted your MTV when you got home; they want their electronic dopamine fix and they want it now, right in the middle of A Tale of Two Cities.
Time to update the approach. What if you explicitly discussed and modeled the use of technology at the appropriate time, place, and manner in the classroom? On some days, phones in pouches at the front of the room may be necessary for a distraction-free learning environment. Here are some fun examples. Draconian bans on technology aren't going to work every day in the digital age, however.
Getting smart with technology in the classroom means letting students use tech to teach each other, thus learning from each other (and about themselves). Instead of teaching students to fear technology, teachers should lead the conversation about digital citizenship and encourage students to abide by collaboratively developed classroom guidelines for the appropriate use of edtech. You can't deny the existence of devices, but you really can work with your students to set parameters as to how they are used in the school environment.
3. Your Digital Learning Tools are Only Used to Substitute their Predecessors
The SAMR Model is like a Bloom's Taxonomy or Webb's Depth of Knowledge specific to technology. At the most basic level, substitution, you are essentially making a direct one-for-one replacement of a paper and pencil tool for its digital counterpart. For example, students in an english class might maintain a typed journal in a word processing document as opposed to writing in a notebook, or use presentation software to tell about a subject instead of using that classic, old-school standby: the tri-fold poster board.
If you find yourself stuck at substitution, you can make immediate changes. To use the above presentation example, students could augment it with hyperlinks and/or multimedia. Then, go further: Digital tools can and should be used to modify and redefine the work. For example, the presentation could become a digital mash-up (modification), or re-defined so that it is only possible via technology. Students could create the mash-up asynchronously with classmates via the school's learning management system (LMS), comment on each other's presentations, and share a common synthesized product on a website. Now you're cooking with digital gas!
4. Students, Teachers, and Parents are Not Using the Digital Tools
Your grade book is online, yet students and parents tell you that they don't check it regularly. You maintain a classroom website, yet no one seems to visit it. On that website, you are maintaining a calendar, but it doesn't sync to the tools students and parents like to use, so it largely goes unnoticed. Halfway through the year, you stop updating it and no one seems to notice. This is not positive or productive for anyone involved.
When updating digital tools, talk to students, teachers, and parents about their communication needs. What school-to-home (and hopefully back again!) communication tools do they already use? Which ones do they find to be convenient and useful? It is easy to become overwhelmed by the plethora of apps and methods available. In fact, according to the 2018 Global State of Digital Learning survey, nearly 40% of teachers consider juggling multiple digital tools a top challenge. Engage the community in the conversation and take steps to evaluate the results. Can you find a platform and/or method that increases engagement? Is your learning management system flexible enough to help you meet these goals?
Change or be Left Far Behind
It is no longer enough to simply "have technology," or to be able to send email and update an online grade book. You must use technology to support and enhance your existing high-quality instruction. If you recognize one of the above scenarios as applicable to your classroom or school, it should offer evidence that it is time to update your digital tools. Your students are counting on you to do so.
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