Over the last 10 years, the education landscape has undergone an epic transformation. In classrooms around the world, the printed word, a fixture in classrooms as far back as ancient Greece, is giving way to dynamic digital content as the core instructional resource.
This transition is offering students access to powerful and engaging tools that not only mirror their interaction with technology outside the classroom, but also the way humans have learned best through the centuries: with moving visuals, sound, and dynamic change. For the teacher, this transition has helped make it easier than ever to apply what we know as best instructional practice to teaching and learning.
"When students have their own individual logins, teachers can view, assign, and distribute content in ways that make them wonder how they ever taught otherwise"
As I travel around the world either in my role as Discovery Education Senior Director of Global Initiatives or in my capacity as a member of the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Board of Directors, I’ve learned many lessons about digital teaching and learning from the school leaders, ministry of education officials, and classroom teachers I have encountered. However, the greatest lesson I’ve learned, and the one that has the greatest ramifications for those of us in the business of partnering with educators to create digital learning environments, is that educators want to transform teaching and learning for their students, but that this change can be hard, and they need help and support to begin the process.
So, how do educators begin the process ofcreating digital learning environments in their school system? Well, here is a series of steps I’ve seen successful school systems around the world employ to transform their classroom—and their classroom practice.
The first step is for school leaders to presenta clearvision forhow their effort to build dynamic digital classrooms will help the school system achieve its academic goals. This vision must be shared with critical stakeholders throughout the community and doing so will create the unity of purpose that will propel the initiative forward. This step is more important than many leaders realize. Consensus does not come by osmosis.
Next, school administrators must have aplan in place to provide job-embedded professional development to district educators that will help them incorporate new technologies and digital content into classroom instruction. This step will support teachers as they evolve their instruction to meet new goals and standards, and will ease transitions in school culture, such as the shift from textbooks to digital content as a core instructional resource.
When those things have been accomplished, it is time to create a content strategy. A comprehensive strategy offering teachers, high-quality, standards-based digital content that is embedded in district pacing guides as well as scope, and sequence documents is essential to the effort to transforming classrooms.
The digital content school leaders choose is critical, as all digital content is not created equal.For example, PDF files of a current hardcopy textbook may be technically digital, but they will not engage today’s students, who are adept at multitasking with interactive content and social media. Here are some basic characteristics to look for when considering digital content for your students:
• Dynamic updates: If content lives in the digital age, it should be capable of dynamic updates. This means that when data, facts, or new discoveries emerge in the real world, your content reflects those changes almost immediately. In addition, the content chosen should be cloud-based and accessible on any device via the internet wherever and whenever learning is taking place.
• Digital tools: Digital content should be interoperable withthe extended digital tools, such as cameras, microphones, built-in whiteboards, protractors, or calculators, now found on most devices. It is an additional bonus when the sharing and collaboration functions common to social media that can be controlled and monitored by teachers or school administratorsare built into these resources.
• Student content creation: The digital content you choose should encourage students to edit, manipulate, and create their new content in ways previously unimaginable. Giving students the opportunity to become makers will heighten classroom engagement.
• Account-based resources: When students have their own individual logins, teachers can view, assign, and distribute content in ways that make them wonder how they ever taught otherwise. Likewise, with individual logins, students can create their own digital portfolios.
• Not device-dependent: Digital content should be accessible on any device – the school laptop, the home PC, a tablet, or on a student’s smartphone. It should be accessible anywhere outside the classroom where learning is taking place. If students can get movie information, instant messages, and pictures on their phone or tablet, they should be able to get homework on it, too.
• Personalization: At Discovery Education, we create digital resources that allow the same content to be accessible in multiple languages and are flexible enough to let students explore any number of different learning paths. In addition, each of our services includes diverse assets that will engage any student, regardless of learning style.
With stakeholders knowing and understanding the vision for building digital learning environments, and a professional development and content strategy in place, it is time for school leaders to consider how they will deliver content to students. At this point in the planning process, the entire spectrum of access issues becomes important. Is the school system’s wireless infrastructure adequate? Is Internet security adequate? What types of devices will students use? Should your district go 1:1? 1:3? Or 2:1 (as some districts have done)? Should your district go BYOD? The educational goals of your schools’ learning initiative should dictate these technology decisions.
Finally, it is critical to implement an evaluation and continuous improvement plan be implemented. This plan should include a rigorous process that celebrates successes while addressing deficiencies, and should be designed and implemented to ensure continuous improvement.
Because it is a certainty that one size never fits all, it is inevitable that school leaders will adapt these steps to creating transformed classrooms based on their context. However, this roadmap will help you create the learning environments that will help everyone—from those who serve educators right on down to the students—succeed.