5 Most Important Components of Your Digital Age Learning Environment
Now two decades in, we are increasingly realizing the power and promise of the so-called 21st century learning environment. Here are five components of the digital age learning environment that you can't live without.
1. Access for All
The digital divide is real. Although it may seem as if desktops, tablets, and mobile devices are omnipresent both at school and at home, a gap still persists based on socioeconomic status. Additionally, although families in rural America have made gains overall, so has everyone else, and rural Americans are still less likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to have broadband at home or own a smartphone.
To combat this issue, which continues to severely impact students in the United States, schools and teachers can find ways to help students access technology and complete their work at school, loan devices to students and families, and train staff to recognize and accommodate for student and family needs.
2. A Great Learning Management System
Beyond access, arguably the most important component of your digital age learning environment is a great learning management system (LMS). Your LMS is more than just a content platform. Your LMS "…can become the go-tool tool for online teaching, resource management, scheduling, communication, and other everyday activities." In other words, a great learning management system is the hub around which all classroom activity can revolve, streamlining and enhancing student learning.
In a non-digital age classroom, you might have make-up work on a side table, a separate area to turn in homework, objectives written on the front whiteboard, a paper syllabus, handouts, and assignments, textbooks, hard copy supplemental materials, and traditional teaching methods. With a great learning management system, everything from syllabi to assignments, resource banks to app integration, is incorporated into the LMS.
Teaching methods change, as well. In a digital age environment, you can use the power of your LMS to have students create and share evidence of learning that is not possible in an analog environment. For example, students can create and participate in each other's web quests, create digital mash-ups, and provide instant feedback to the teacher (and each other) using response tools. Your LMS should make it easier to do all of these things and bring your 21st century classroom to life.
3. Professional Development and Teacher/Student Expertise
We are in the midst of the greatest, most rapid changes in human history. The printing press, industrialization, electricity, the automobile, manned flight - they all pale in comparison to the technology revolution and what is to come. This is amazing, amazingly complex, and for some, amazingly scary.
Teachers need professional development that is job-embedded, active, collaborative, incorporates coaching and opportunities for meaningful feedback and reflection, and is ongoing. In other words, don't just teach teachers about a tool or a theoretical way in which it might impact their teaching. Allow them to use various digital tools in the classroom, supported by coaching and feedback in real time over the course of the school year (and beyond).
Despite being labeled as "technology natives," students also need to be taught how to use specific tools and to maximize their digital experiences. Now more than ever, students need teachers who will help them understand how to create and edit a mash-up. They need guidance on how to use presentation programs like PowerPoint or Prezi as they were intended - as visual mediums - instead of killing their audiences with large blocks of text. Adult expertise is critical for students to grow in their use of educational technology, despite the stereotype that they were born ready.
4. Positive Relationships and Good Communication
Despite all the bells and whistles of the digital age, success in the classroom often still comes down to the fundamentals of positive relationships and good communication.
Beyond building relationships with students by getting to know them as people, relationships mean setting clear expectations and checking in frequently with students during lessons to ensure that content is comprehended and students feel supported in the learning process. Efficacious professional relationships between teachers and students make it a joy to learn and demonstrate new technology tasks, avoiding digital drudgery.
Clear and open channels of communication are equally important. The digital learning environment presents opportunities for several new methods of communication, from live chat to social media to various reminder apps and tools. As a class, if you define what that looks like early in the year and are responsive to your students, your digital learning environment will be a welcoming and effective one for everybody.
5. Digital Citizenship Expectations
Educational philosopher John Dewey "believed the individual realized himself in social democratic activity." Digital citizenship must form a cornerstone of a healthy and productive digital learning environment. In addition to safe behavior online, digital citizenship should encourage students to actively use technology to benefit the school community and the community at large, and to make intelligent decisions with regard to the credibility and reliability of online information.
Just imagine if, instead of simply handing out a syllabus at the beginning of the year, your class were to create a set of shared expectations for learning and behavior, including digital citizenship expectations. Your students will amaze you with their sense of ownership and commitment to the classroom culture.
The learning environment of tomorrow is here, and it is digital. Students must be prepared for college and career in a manner reflective of this reality. By focusing attention on the above essentials, you will create a digital learning environment that provides access for all students, respects their needs, and develops them as caring, compassionate, contributing citizens in the digital age.
Do you have any additional components to a digital age learning environment? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology