Due to a variety of demographic, political, economic, and technological forces, the last few years have brought a tremendous amount of change to the education environment in which we all operate. While change has become the new normal, it has become clear that the nationwide shift to using high-quality digital content as the primary classroom resource for teaching and learning is a trend that is here to stay.
But how does a school leader begin the process of making the transition from using static textbooks as a primary instructional resource to using the latest high-quality digital content as the core resource for teaching and learning? At Discovery Education, where I currently serve as the Senior Director of Global Learning Initiatives, we believe there are a number of critical steps, that, if followed, will support the successful creation of future-ready classrooms.
The first step in this transition is to present a clear, unified vision for how your effort to build dynamic digital classrooms will help your school system achieve its academic goals. This vision must be shared with critical stakeholders throughout your community, such as fellow administrators, teachers, parents, students, business leaders and others, it will create the unity of purpose that will propel your initiative forward. Without a shared vision, even the strongest of efforts will fail to meet expectations.
Next, you must have a plan in place to provide customized, 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 the evolve their instruction to meet new goals and standards, and will help ease transitions in school culture, such as the shift from textbooks to digital content as a core instructional resource.
Once a vision and a professional development plan are in place, it is time to create a content strategy. A comprehensive strategy offering teachers high-quality, standards-based digital content, such as the Discovery Education Techbook series, that is embedded in district pacing, scope, and sequence documents is essential to the effort to create future-ready classrooms.
While change has become the new normal, it has become clear that the nationwide shift to using high-quality digital content as the primary classroom resource for teaching and learning is a trend that is here to stay.
The digital content you choose is critical, as all digital content is not created equal. For example, online PDF files of a current hardcopy textbook may be 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.
• Student content creation. When content lived solely in books, it was inappropriate for students to cut it out, draw on it, or otherwise manipulate the content. When content moved to film and video, it was difficult for students to edit and get the portions they wanted. The digital content you choose should encourage students to edit, manipulate, and create their new content in ways previously unimaginable.
• Not device-dependent. Digital content should be accessible on any device – the school laptop, the home PC, the tablet grandparents gave their grandchild for a birthday, or on a student’s smartphone. It should be accessible in the public library, or anywhere outside the classroom 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. The digital resources you choose should allow the same content to be accessible in multiple languages and it should be flexible enough to let students explore any number of different learning paths. Finally, it should be diverse enough to 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 to consider how you will deliver your digital content to students. At this point in the planning process, the entire spectrum of access issues becomes important. Is your school system’s wireless infrastructure adequate? Is the Internet security adequate? What types of devices should students use? Should your district go 1:1? Should your district go BYOD? The educational goals of your schools’ learning initiative should dictate these technology decisions.
Finally, it is critical that an evaluation and continuous improvement plan be implemented. That plan should include a rigorous process that celebrates successes while addressing deficiencies, and should be designed and implemented to ensure continuous improvement.
17 years into the 21st Century, we now have the tools, technology, and content to create the dynamic learning environments we know will prepare students for college and the careers of tomorrow. By following these critical steps, you will help position your school system to create the future-ready classrooms, TODAY!