How Digital Tools Improve Teaching and Learning from A Principal's Reflections by Eric Sheninger

Adapted from an article I co-authored, Real-World Ready: Leveraging Digital Tools

Digital tools are transforming essential elements of the education space. Understanding how they are impacting teaching and learning will help guide your consideration of which tools are useful and how to best implement them. 

Currently, online tools....

  1. Increase collaboration: Just as social media has given rise to new definitions of community, digital tools are transforming community and the give-and-take between students and teachers. Platforms for web-based discussion threads and creation of course or class wikis alter the types of student involvements in project-based and writing-specific assignments. A piece of student writing can become a diverse and substantive document when it is the basis for a step-by-step exchange of ideas and questions between teacher, peers, authors, and mentors. When digital tools are integrated in a pedagogically sound fashion they also promote and enhance other essential skills sets such as communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and digital responsibility/citizenship.
  2. Innovate assessment: As formats and contexts for assignments evolve, the methods of assessment has had to keep pace. The openness of the online environment and the integration of such things as game attributes, shape all kinds of assessment, especially formative assessment, which measures learning progress (not only endpoints in learning). 
  3. Enable learning about information and research: Research projects will always require substantive research, accurate and relevant synthesis, and defined audience-oriented approaches. However, in an information-saturated world, students are drawing on tools that help them analyze and understand multiple representations from a range of disciplines and subjects, such as texts, data, and photographs.
  4. Transform time-frames around learning: In many instances, digital tools offer an asynchronous (not simultaneous) environment for response and inquiry not present in brick-and mortar environments. Written and video discussions online can enable diverse views, opportunities for collaboration, and time to think and plan before responding in ways that in-class discussions do not provide. This is true for both online classrooms as well as “blended” classrooms, those integrating online and digital tools into a traditional learning setting.
  5. Ownership of learning: According to John Dewey, the type of activities that stimulate real involvement "give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results".  There are thousands of free digital tools available that promote the art of doing.  Students can now pick the best ones in order to create an artifact that demonstrates conceptual mastery through the construction of new knowledge as well as the acquisition and application of essential skill sets.  The process of choice increases engagement, authenticity, and ultimately more value in the learning process. Unleash the power of digital tools and empower students to take ownership of their learning.
By no means is this list exhaustive. With that being said, what would you add? How do you see digital tools transforming teaching and learning?

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