I am not a digital native by any means. I am 52 years old and have been teaching for 27 years. I am the teacher people assume is scared to touch a computer for fear of contracting a virus. I am the teacher they assume has dust gathering on the classroom computers like moss on a stone.I am the teacher they assume says playfully, “I have to get my grandson, nephew, niece, to open my email.” I am the teacher people assume still uses the overhead. I am none of these, and young or old, no teacher should be. This is the 21st century and our students are 21st century digital learners!
About ten years ago, I took a course in instructional technology and fell in love. There is absolutely no way I could go back to teaching the way I used to. I realize I am fortunate. I teach in a school with laptops, (even though I would love Ipads), we have two computer labs, and approximately 4-5 classroom computers in each room. But, we didn’t always have these resources, and I still found a way, to not only educate, but to engage my students, digitally.
What is digital learning? Here is the definition from the Digital Learning Day webpage: “Digital learning is any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience. Digital learning encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practice, including using online and formative assessment, increasing focus and quality of teaching resources and time, online content and courses, applications of technology in the classroom and school building, adaptive software for students with special needs, learning platforms, participating in professional communities of practice, providing access to high level and challenging content and instruction, and many other advancements technology provides to teaching and learning. In particular, blended learning is any time a student learns, at least in part, at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and, at least in part, through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.”
That’s a mouthful! Here is what digital learning means to me. It means allowing students to take control of their learning using technology as a guide. It means creating comic strips to depict a situation where the Bill of Rights is being violated. Having discussions about shared books with students across the world on Edmodo. Completing research projects with Qwiki and then posting them to a worldwide audience using Kidblog. Reading a story and creating a word poster about it using Wordle or Tagxedo. Implementing QR codes as a classroom tool. Sharing a Black History project using an avatar from Voki. Using your IWB (I have a Smartboard) to make your lessons interactive. Skyping with a marine biologist in another state to bring a story to life. It means so many things, but most of all, it means using technology as a tool to engage and challenge our 21st century learners!
Looking at the list above could make digital learning a scary prospect. Time is not something that a teacher has a lot of, either at work or home. But you don’t have to do everything at once. It took me a while, and every day I still learn something new. Take baby steps, try one new thing a month. Let the students show you, or give you suggestions, on what you can do with the myriad of tech resources that are available. Grow your PLN!(Professional Learning Network). Join Twitter, and then drop in on some of the Teacher Chats that are available. It’s amazing how much you can learn from your peers!
Dip your toe into the 21st century, it may be cold at first, but it warms up very quickly. You’ll find that technology is a tool that not only engages and challenges the student, but the teacher as well!
“If we teach today’s students as we did yesterday’s, we are robbing them of tomorrow.”
— John Dewey