educationtechnologyinsights

Education is a Wheel

By Dr. Karen Beerer, Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning, Discovery Education

Dr. Karen Beerer, Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning, Discovery Education

There is a very interesting belief held by some Indian religious traditions that says time is a wheel—always spinning, always repeating.  In my opinion, K-12 education is also like a wheel.  Educational strategies are implemented, then disappear, only to return in a new iteration. Sometimes, the strategies educators revive are, well, bad, and perhaps should never have been tried in the first place.  However, far more often, innovative educators revive a strategy, innovate on it, and viola--it is better than ever!

One example of this is the open classroom of the 1970s.  In speaking with colleagues that taught in open classrooms back then, I heard that they were often simply not prepared with the understanding and knowhow to drive and manage the collaboration open classrooms made possible.  So, instead of creating vibrant, exciting learning environments, many of the 70s open classrooms were the same traditional model of instruction without the four walls.  But, today, thanks to innovative educators prepared by sustained professional learning to navigate the unique challenges of the open classroom concept, I’ve seen a number of school systems successfully adopt this strategy in their school districts with additional concepts like multi-age or maker space types of models.

"As the wheel that is K-12 education continues to spin, old technologies like print materials are revived and improved and are ready to help continue to meet the needs of students everywhere"

Another idea that was once considered passé that has now returned in a new, more successful iteration is the hardcopy text.  Just a few short years ago, the demise of hardcopy text and the rise of the digital classroom was trumpeted in both education and popular media.In fact, some K-12 school districts actually did successfully transition completely away from hardcopy texts as an instructional resource.  These school systems made tremendous investments to transition to all-digital learning environments.  They built the necessary IT infrastructure, bought the appropriate hardware and digital content, engaged their communities in the digital transition, and provided professional learning that improved educators’ capacity for all-digital teaching and learning.

But, as we educators know, what’s right in one school system may not be right for the district next door.  So, as edtech companies were doubling down on all-digital solutions, Discovery Education has followed the turning of the K-12 wheel to hardcopy. However, as the wheel has turned, it has gotten rounder because we have learned more.  We know more about best practices.  We know more about how our students learn.   Therefore, we know more about how to blend digital and print to make learning for our students more engaging, more accessible and finally, more equitable.

As a “Digital First” company, Discovery Education’s goal is to empower educators in every school system to build modern learning environments that support the success of all learners.  From some of our partner districts, we’ve heard that adding a print component to our digital curriculum would help their teachers reach this goal.  So, with that in mind, our team created a print worktext that is now available to educators using the Discovery Education Science Techbook.

Unlike other companies, Discovery Education’s position as a Digital First company inverts the long-standing print/digital paradigm.  Instead of digital supplementing a textbook, our print component actually drives the use of digital resources in the classroom. For example, in our print resources, QR codes are embedded throughout, providing a strong bond to our digital curriculum, which in turn helps teachers create even richer multimodal learning experiences. “Digital First” also means our hardcopy drives the use of virtual, interactive and hands-on labs with engaging, connections to content created by trusted partners such as Major League Baseball, NASA, and theWorld Wildlife Fund.  Finally, the new incarnation of print we’ve created uses what we know works--like formative assessments--and blends them with what we know works with digital-like specific and immediate feedback on those assessment items.

The combination of print text and digital resources also supports school systems making the digital transition by providing educators high degree of flexibility in regard to teaching styles.  As school systems transition from traditional classroom environments to digital teaching and learning in blended classrooms or completely 1:1 environment, a mixed platform of digital and print resources can be utilized to support teachers as they make those journeys. 

Anyone who has stepped into a school classroom in the last 15 years understands the tremendous changes our education system is undergoing.  All corners of the American K-12 education system—from food service to classroom instruction to student transportation-is being reshaped by many creative new ideas and technologies that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  But as the wheel that is K-12 education continues to spin, old technologies like print materials are revived and improved and are ready to help continue to meet the needs of students everywhere.

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