Taking the Classroom Digital

E-newsletter Issue #100 | September 13, 2012

The 21st century classroom bears little resemblance to those that centered on a chalkboard and a teacher standing at the front of the room.

The world of work has also changed.

“It’s difficult to find a workplace above the minimum wage where people aren’t using some form of digital technology to do their work,” said Chris Dede, Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “If students have no exposure in school to digital technology when they graduate, they are ill prepared for the workplace and citizenship in the 21st century.”

For that reason, many schools across the country are incorporating technology in the classroom not only for learning, but also for administration. But many experts say it’ll take more than technology to meet the challenges of 21st century education.

“Simply bringing in laptops or interactive white boards or some other technology to the schools, or having an online class, that’s really not enough,” said Chip Slaven, senior advocacy associate for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit education policy and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “There needs to be a really smart and sound instructional strategy behind it and teachers need to be well-trained.”

Slaven said Alliance President Bob Wise, a former governor of West Virginia, is interested in how the effective use of technology can be a part of the solution to the challenges schools—and states—face. Slaven said the three big challenges in education are state budgets, changes in the teaching profession, and changing needs of students and the workforce.

Wise teamed up with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, founder of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, to co-chair Bush’s Digital Learning Council. That council identified policies that would integrate current and future technological innovations into public education.

That council released a report in late 2010 focusing on 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning. John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now!, said these 10 elements make up a roadmap for state policymakers. Digital Learning Now! is a national campaign of the Foundation for Excellence in Education to promote quality, customized public education through technological innovations.

“Our work is really focused on giving states the recommendations, the blueprint and support they need to help create a policy environment to support new models of learning,” Bailey said. “A lot of old outdated regulations and laws unintentionally get in the way of these new models … everything from seat time requirements to caps on charter schools and the number of students in a classroom.”

Here are the 10 elements of high quality digital learning included in the Digital Learning Council’s report.

  1. Student Eligibility: All students are digital learners.

  2. Student Access: All students have access to high quality digital content and online courses.

  3. Personalized Learning: All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved provider.

  4. Advancement: Students progress based on demonstrated competency.

  5. Content: Digital content, instructional materials, and online and blended learning courses are high quality.

  6. Instruction: Digital instruction and teachers are high quality.

  7. Providers: All students have access to multiple high quality providers.

  8. Assessment and Accountability: Student learning is the metric for evaluating the quality of content and instruction.

  9. Funding: Funding creates incentives for performance, options and innovation.

  10. Delivery: Infrastructure supports digital learning.

The Alliance for Excellent Education adopted the 10 elements as part of its overall policy for digital learning.

“If states could meet all 10 of those elements, they would be well on their way to having a really innovative and improved education system,” said Slaven.

While the report was released in December 2010, the Alliance is maintaining its focus on digital learning with a number of projects, including a specific project called the Center for Secondary School Digital Learning and Policy. It looks at the best examples of digital learning and what’s happening in state policy and professional development to move schools in that direction.

The Alliance also sponsored a Digital Learning Day, with special presentations on how teaching and technology could intersect in a high quality way. The next Digital Learning Day is set for Feb. 6, 2013.

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