Thursday, June 29, 2017

3 Classroom Tips for Stronger Digital Learning

More and more classrooms are gaining access to digital technology. And that’s a good thing. In a world that is increasingly reliant on digital tools, students need to have opportunities to learn with access to technology. Schools are adding Chromebooks, iPads, and other devices more than ever. Some are simply inviting students to bring their own devices (BYOD). But either way, access to devices is only growing in schools.

But the availability to devices doesn’t automatically result in more learning or better experiences for students or teachers. In fact, the addition of devices presents new challenges for educators to consider. When our school added Chromebooks for every student, we quickly learned we would need to address some new challenges. These obstacles can derail learning in classrooms where the potential pitfalls aren’t addressed or avoided.

If you are an educator who is fortunate enough to have access to digital devices for all your students to use, be ready to take steps to teach the procedures and routines that will help create success for using these tools in learning. It’s important to establish and maintain boundaries. And it’s also important to never make assumptions about what your students may or may not know about using the devices.

1. You can’t assume students are tech savvy just because they are digital natives.

It’s true that students in today’s classrooms are digital natives. They’ve grown up around technology and tend to have some skills that are helpful in navigating the digital world. However, it’s a mistake to think they are proficient in using any tool you might throw at them. For the most part, kids have used technology for social media or entertainment. Using technology for learning, productivity, or creativity might be new to them. So, when you plan for using a new tool in class, plan to spend some time orienting students to how it works.

Or, if you prefer for students learn the tool on their own, provide time for them to experiment with the tool and share out their learning to others in the class. It can be a good idea for students to “teach themselves” a digital tool. New tools and apps are being developed all the time. It’s great practice for students to be able to adapt to new tools and work on the intuitive thinking and problem solving required for “clicking around” and figuring it out. You might want to provide them with a list of tasks they should be able to do with the new tool. And it’s great for the teacher to model what to do when getting stuck. The ability to research solutions via Google or YouTube search can be very helpful.

2. Don’t just teach digital citizenship, embed digital citizenship.
It’s never a good idea to hand students devices without also supporting safe, responsible use. Many schools create their own digital citizenship curriculum or buy one to use with their students. There are also some excellent digital citizenship resources available for free online, from Google or from Common Sense Media for instance. Try to anticipate the problems your students might encounter in using the digital devices in your classroom. Be proactive and have discussions up front with your students about what is appropriate to share, how to judge validity of resources, how to respect content ownership and fair use, and how to report something that is threatening.

While it is important to teach digital citizenship up front, it’s also very important for teachers to monitor student use of technology and use teachable moments to address situations that may arise as students utilize tech. Often the most valuable lessons occur as opportunities arise to discuss relevant issues in authentic context. Digital citizenship should not just be a scheduled lesson. It should be part of everything we do related to the use of technology in the classroom. It’s something educators must model and discuss regularly. Moreover, it’s part of the bigger issue of developing good citizenship in the broadest sense. How are we helping students contribute as positive, productive members of communities online and in physical space?

3. Plan to manage distractions.

One of the most common challenges of implementing devices in the classroom is dealing with the potential distraction technology can present. While technology open up a whole new world of possibilities for learning, it also opens a world of possibilities for diversion away from classroom learning priorities. This prospect is very frightening for many teachers. How will I make sure my students aren’t wasting class time? How can I make sure students are watching content that is not appropriate for school? Will the presence of a screen take away from learning instead of accelerating learning?

Keep in mind distractions are nothing new in the classroom. Keeping students attention has always been a chief concern for teachers. Even in a class without devices, students can find a plethora of things to occupy their attention besides learning. The key to alleviate boredom is to stimulate curiosity and plan engaging lessons. Device distractions are no match for an amazing lesson! At least I think it pays to think like that.

Some schools also choose to purchase classroom monitoring software that allows teachers to view and even take control of student devices. This type of system typically allows teachers to monitor an entire classroom from the teacher’s computer. You may not have this type of software available, and I actually prefer not to utilize it. It’s better for the teacher to be able to move around the room and interact with students rather than being tethered to a computer monitoring students like Big Brother.

Here are some solid tips for managing distractions with no software required.

-Clearly communicate times when students should and should not be on devices.

-Clarify when it is okay to use earbuds and when earbuds should not be used.

-Set up the classroom so you can easily move around and behind students using devices. You need to be able to easily view student screens.

-Require students to only have one browser tab open at a time. This prevents switching tabs when the teacher is not watching to games or media that might be distracting.

-When transitioning from devices to whole group instruction or another activity, wait until you have everyone’s attention before you move on.

-Give specific instructions about which apps or sites should be used during a particular activity. Hold students accountable to use these tools only unless they ask permission to access another site.

These considerations are an essential part of establishing a strong culture of learning in the digital classroom. Other issues will also arise like caring for devices, dealing with tech questions, managing battery life, etc. The most important thing is to work with students to establish classroom expectations and revisit them consistently. It works best when teachers can develop a shared responsibility with students for using devices responsibly and productively. Just like any other classroom behavior, it’s not enough to proclaim a rule and never discuss it again. Students will need reminders and guidance to be successful.

Ultimately, the opportunity to develop digital learning skills is invaluable to students. Students will need to be able to successfully use devices for learning and productivity for the rest of their lives. Although there are challenges with implementing technology in the classroom, with the right approach, teachers can help students become strong digital learners.

Question: What other tips would you share about creating a safe, positive, and productive culture for digital learning? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I can't wait to see what you've got to add. Together we are stronger!

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