How Digital Learning is Transforming Education

February 17, 2016

Takeaways

Digital Learning Day explores all the ways that digital content is effecting how students learn.

Yesterday was a snow day. But you wouldn’t have known it based on my email traffic. Except for a few 20 minute breaks to shovel/de-ice, it really wasn’t all that different from a regular day. Digital tools meant I could access key documents, join a videoconference to edit a paper in real time, and even get to work finishing this post.

Advancements in education technology create similar opportunities for learning to happen anywhere at any time for students. Decreasing device costs, increased broadband/Wifi access, and a wave of investment in new software have dramatically increased students’ opportunities to leverage the power of educational technology.

Wednesday February 17th is Digital Learning Day, an event that started in 2012 to shine a spotlight on schools and programs doing amazing things with educational technology. Organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education, this year’s event will focus on equity in all aspects of digital learning. Webcasts and events will showcase innovative programs, leaders, and teachers. In addition, many educators have self-organized events in schools and communities across the country.

Innovative educators are using digital content that meets each student exactly where they are, analytics that help identify problems and interventions quickly, and tools to create and collaborate with people across the room or across the world. As exciting as innovative software and devices are, transformational change for all students occurs when those tools are deployed in smart ways by teachers and leaders.

Great examples include:

  • Guthrie Common School District in Texas is one of the country’s least densely populated counties. The Superintendent recognized that technology made it possible to offer Spanish courses students in the region needed but districts struggled to offer. Guthrie leveraged content from Rosetta Stone and personalized support from the district’s teachers to create Spanish courses that are now available statewide through the Texas Virtual Schools Network (TxVSN).
  • The CityBridge Foundation in Washington, DC supported a number of new and transformational school designs being created by the district and charter schools across the city. The Breakthrough Schools DC initiative helped educators develop school models that are personalized so students take a lead role in setting learning goals and advance through material as they master it. Technology is leveraged by teachers to support and track each student’s progress.
  • The Coachella Valley Unified School District recognized that students in their rural community, where 80% of students are low income, spent long periods of time on the bus and many lacked access to the internet at home. When the district increased the use of technology in schools, they knew that wasn’t enough to ensure equity for students. So the district equipped buses with Wifi so students can stay connected during long bus rides and even parks buses in many communities to provide internet access at students’ homes.

As school systems develop and launch their own digital learning initiatives, the business community can provide support in a number of ways.

  • The Future Ready Schools initiative is a national effort to support school systems interested in expanding digital learning opportunities. The business community can support this effort at a national, statewide, or local level to help leaders develop and implement digital learning plans that are aligned with best practices.
  • Many regions have harbormasters, like the CityBridge Foundation in DC, that support local school systems in developing and launching new school models that personalize learning for students in part through high-quality digital learning. These efforts ensure that the focus is on how technology can support student learning goals and great teaching.

The business community can also engage in the policy process related to digital learning at the local or state level to ensure their voice is heard. Issue areas include:

  • Course Access policies increase access to advanced, elective, and career and technical courses that individual schools may not be able to offer on their own. This state level policy ensures that students can access innovative programs to prepare for STEM degrees, stay on track for graduation, and work towards industry recognized credentials while still enrolled in their local schools.
  • Education Superhighway has compiled a State of the States to highlight where states stand on identifying and closing connectivity gaps to ensure all schools have broadband access. States and districts can leverage the E-Rate program that recently expanded funding and increased the priority for Wifi connectivity.
  • The Learning Accelerator provides a wide range of resources for district or state level leaders interested in expanded high-quality digital and blended learning efforts. The business community’s support can catalyze efforts to pilot or expand these new school models and even re-shape procurement to take advantage of possible economies of scale. This can be seen in New Jersey’s efforts to aggregate demand for broadband connectivity across districts. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Neil Campbell is the Director of Next Generation Reforms at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The Foundation and it’s Digital Learning Now initiative seek to advance state policies that create high quality digital learning environments to equip all students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in this 21st-century economy.