In recent years, online learning, blended learning, and digital technology have been used to increase educational opportunities for students in a variety of situations. While there are concerns surrounding this type of learning, when education technology is developed and implemented in a thoughtful way, it benefits both students and teachers. The Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC), the first on its kind, will celebrate the policymakers, researchers, and practitioners that are innovating digital learning.
Jon Fila, the Curriculum Coordinator-Innovation Coach and English/Language Arts Instructor for Northern Star Online, an online school that offers public high school classes, joined us to discuss the upcoming conference as well as the importance of digital technology in education today.
Today’s Modern Educator (TME): What will your sessions at DLAC cover?
Jon Fila (JF): My sessions will cover the creation and adoption of Open Educational Resources (OER) and the Digital Divide, why accessibility is so important in the context of Learning Management Systems and curriculum. In some ways, both sessions are about making learning more accessible to a wider audience by reducing barriers to access, whether those are due to copyright restrictions, or because of a disability.
TME: Does digital citizenship and security play a role in online education? How does this fit into your curriculum?
JF: Teaching students about cyberbullying, netiquette, and how the brain responds when using devices are all ways we can promote a healthy use of technology. At Intermediate District 287, we maintain a cyber safety module, and we include related materials in some of our core courses. There is a common misconception that students come by using technology naturally. It’s just not the case.
What children have that gives the appearance of competence with technology is fearlessness. They’re not afraid to try things or click on something to see what happens. Without some direction, this can be reckless and lead to negative consequences. We try to harness that interest and spirit of exploration and direct it in healthy ways. We don’t want student social media posts ruining future opportunities; we don’t want predators getting access to vulnerable populations, and we seek ways to connect our students with the world using technology in positive ways.
TME: How does digital learning benefit both students and teachers?
JF: There are so many important reasons why digital learning benefits both students and teachers. I prefer to use the term “learning” instead of digital learning. We don’t really refer to textbooks as paper-based or pencil-based learning. At one time, those things were just as disruptive. We’re on a continuum and when we have more efficient tools and resources then those can be brought into the classroom. Our guiding philosophy when adopting new tools at Intermediate District 287 is to determine if it will make us more efficient or if it will help students learn better. If the answer to those questions is yes, then it’s time to get to work figuring out ways to make it happen. We want to eliminate barriers related to time, place, and pace.
Having materials in a digital format allows for greater transparency and sharing; they allow for students to make mistakes as they practice, engage with the world, and try out their ideas. Students can learn more and faster when there are features like progress indicators; immediate feedback; opportunities for reflection. Teachers can use analytics from Learning Management Systems to target improvements that will make what they do even more effective.
Finding ways to make these digital resources accessible creates more supports for all learners. Every student can benefit from streamlined navigation; consistency in display; step-based directions; chunking content; purposeful use of color/images. Making content available in this way by default also ensures that we are being more supportive of our students with disabilities or who receive Special Education services.
Having all of this at the ready allows teachers to take on the role of guide and support and not as the source of all information. They can spend their time on providing meaningful feedback and building relationships.
Teachers can share versions of what they are doing and build off what others have done. This is much more efficient than what happened in the classroom 20 years ago. Being able to see and share curriculum with others is another form of Professional Development that is not limited to time and place.
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