Integrating technology into a high school classroom isn't a one-step process. "You can't just slap a netbook [computer] on top of a textbook and say, 'Great, now we have technology," says Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy organization.
Wise says that digital learning starts with teachers, whose performance is enhanced by technology—not the other way around. That's also the idea of Digital Learning Day, which the Alliance is spearheading.
The first annual Digital Learning Day falls on February 1 and will celebrate innovative K-12 instructors who successfully bring technology into the classroom by assigning online course content, using adaptive software for students with special needs, and utilizing online student assessments and other digital tools. Educators, as well as parents, students, librarians, and community leaders, can learn about classroom innovations and get new ideas by chiming in during the virtual National Town Hall meeting held on Digital Learning Day.
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"The whole intention of Digital Learning Day is to really celebrate teachers and good instructional learning practices," says Sarah Hall, director of the Alliance's Center for Secondary School Digital Learning and Policy.
And good teaching, especially the kind that involves working with evolving technologies, sometimes requires good advice. Hall and Wise shared the following ideas for effectively using technology in the classroom—not just on Digital Learning Day, but anytime.
1. Plan ahead: There has to be a comprehensive strategy in place to implement technology into the school system, Wise says, and the teachers have to be involved in the planning stages.
"When a school says, 'OK, we want to use technology better,' you have to develop your goals and what learning outcomes you're trying to reach," Wise says. School leaders and teachers must then think about the "three T's," he adds, which ask how teaching can be improved, what technology will be used, and how time will be used more efficiently.
2. Try something new: The Digital Learning Day website includes a number of teacher "toolkits" with lesson ideas and devices for enhancing lessons with technology. One tool mentioned is the website Animoto, which allows students to create and upload videos, such as oral book reports. There are also lists of ideas for digital learning, which have been submitted by other teachers.
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One idea that has seen great results, say Wise and Hall, is the "flipped classroom." With this setup, they explain, the lectures and homework are reversed. Students will listen to a webcast or recording of the teacher's lecture at home, and then they will come to class and work on projects and problem-solving activities related to the lecture with the teachers.
With this system, says Wise, "The teacher is able to engage with each student and immediately determine what their needs are."
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3. Become an educational designer: As technology evolves, so must the teachers. "For the last 100 years, teachers have essentially been the sage on the stage," Wise says. "They're the only access point of knowledge."
But now, Wise says, teachers are more like designers, who get to choose and develop what kinds of content their students access and which technologies they use. Wise says that with new content technologies, too, teachers can quickly see assessment results of their students.
"They have tools so that instead of seeing 25 students sitting in front of them looking the same," Wise says, "they now know that this student needs this particular assistance, and this student needs that something else."