Oct 30 2017

How to Increase Confidence About Digital Learning in Schools

Technology can make teachers’ lives easier, but only if they feel capable of using it effectively.

When the first iterations of the computer were being introduced early in the 20th century, no one could’ve predicted that they would spawn devices such as smartphones, the Chromebook or the tablet.

Giant machines — the ENIAC was 1,800 square feet — have transformed into portable devices that many have become dependent on to work, live and socialize.

What happened years ago is what's happening right now with digital learning technologies. People are just starting to understand these technologies and their potential.

In just a few years, digital learning will be integrated into every classroom. Right now, however, we are a generation of pioneers figuring out how to use these new teaching tools.

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Building Up Digital Confidence from Zero Percent

Educator confidence in digital technology often started at zero percent, just like every other time a new piece of technology was released. At first, people were skeptical and even afraid of tech.

This caution makes sense, but it wasn’t that long ago that all teaching was done through textbooks and writing by hand, and overhead projectors and dry-erase boards were the cutting-edge technology found in most classrooms. The internet and devices such as tablets and SMARTboards were only seen in sci-fi movies.

While textbooks are credible and comfortable, this level of comfort in traditional teaching tools is quickly being disrupted as 20th-century learners begin to emerge and take flight in today's workforce.

Teachers surveyed by Education Week scored a 49 out of 100 when it comes to confidence in classroom technology. Many educators are still reluctant to integrate technology into their lessons.

Teachers Need Time and Support for Tech Integration

The biggest issue that arises is that teachers feel there is not enough time for them to prepare to successfully use digital learning tools.

One reason is that administrative resources to help educators understand and implement digital learning technologies hardly exist. And digital technology can be intimidating for newcomers. The Chrome Web Store is filled with dozens of new education apps — an abundance which might only add to the confusion. So how can teachers create more time where none exists?

Well, they can't. Technology can't create longer days or pause time, but what educators and administrators can do is create confident teachers with room to fail. When implementing new tech, teachers will fail. It's inevitable.

A “no mistake” culture creates scared and reluctant teachers, especially in regard to educational technology, and forces teachers to abandon one of the most important goals of education: learning how to grow from failure.

Because educational technology is a new and relatively undiscovered territory, the focus needs to shift from achieving success to achieving failure.

Administrators and educators along with ed tech developers should view their failures as progress. User-friendly apps such as the Chrome extension Stackup help teachers feel comfortable with their simple platform and setup, but more importantly, the developers at Stackup work directly with teachers so that they can continually improve their app to better accommodate the needs of educators.

Districtwide Support Bolsters Teacher Success

School districts need to offer educators the support they need to understand new digital teaching technologies.

Training courses, weekend intensives and pre-made video tutorials are all ways that schools can support their educators at a low cost. But most importantly, teachers need to feel supported from all areas, from administrators and colleagues to tech developers. If teachers feel as though they can make mistakes, then they will be more willing to try new things and use these failures to help refine digital learning.

Peer-to-peer support is a vital technique. Education specialist Valerie Lewis believes educators should be helping each other in their teaching. She suggests that fellow teachers share their research with one another in order to save time on lesson plans.

“At the end of the day, I need to be able to go through and say, ‘Hey, I found these sources. Now I need some time so I can plan,’ and maybe that's where administrators support us,” Lewis says on the EdTech NOW podcast. “That's where my team of same-grade level peers can go through and we can divvy that up and come together and put it together on some type of resource.”

Sharing research is great. We often do it at our school. With new tech, if teachers can't meet together and practice, they won't try to integrate it into their lessons. They need to be in the same room comparing notes and trying apps.

New Tech Should Make a Teacher’s Life Easier

When I think about teachers working together to share digital techniques and new apps, I think of the most powerful reasons we educators are pushing on into the digital frontier.

We want to do the best job we possibly can for our students without creating more work than we need. The mantra “work smarter, not harder” reigns true because, like in any profession, overworked employees often yield disappointing results.

Usually, digital assessment tools are only praised for their instant grading. With tools such as Socrative, Quizlet and Google Forms, teachers can introduce a lesson and assess those skills within the same class period. Students receive instant feedback, giving teachers more student data faster than they could ever grade.

With the burden of grading taken away, teachers can focus more on developing new and innovative ways to track student learning and growth.

Now is the time for educators to get on board with digital learning and embrace all of the benefits it can offer. Through support from colleagues and school districts, confidence in digital learning will grow.

If students see their teachers taking educational risks, then they will feel more empowered to do the same. We show the way to becoming lifelong learners.

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