Federal Opinion

Digital Learning: It’s for All Students and Teachers

By John Wilson — February 02, 2012 3 min read
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“No more pencils, no more books, but lots of engaging teacher looks...” That’s the ditty that was running through my head as I sat at a town hall meeting for the first Digital Learning Day. I was there to represent the Pearson Foundation, one of the sponsors. The Alliance for Excellent Education, led by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, has championed this event to showcase great exemplars of digital learning as well as the challenges and opportunities that come with assuring that all children have equal access to the new tools for learning.

You may ask, “What is digital learning?” We were told that “digital learning is any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience.” I love that definition because it’s simple, and it offers clarity for those politicians who would abuse teachers by proclaiming they can be replaced by technology. Not going to happen! Technology is a tool used by teachers, and without great teachers skilled in application, technology is useless for high quality education. I listened carefully to award-winning teacher Kristin Kipp from Colorado talk about her experiences as an online teacher in a virtual school. She clearly explained that technology connected her students to high-quality content, connected the students to each other, and, what is most important, connected the students to their teacher. It made me want to change the name of technology to “teachnology.” A teacher in today’s classroom is empowered by technology, and technology works for students when good teachers use it.

It was also great to see the Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) working hand in hand. Education Secretary Arne Duncan proclaimed that every student in America should have a digital textbook within five years. A new report called the “Digital Textbook Playbook” was presented to Secretary Duncan and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Can you imagine the significance of that for schools? There would be no more 50 pound backpacks or huge lockers. Instead we would be able to have smaller lockers, more storage space, 24/7 learning, rich content from multiple sources, up to date content in real time, reduced costs for taxpayers, independent studies for the academically talented who get bored in too many classrooms, and new and improved personalized learning. You likely can add to this list, and I hope you will in your comments.

Chairman Genachowski discussed the problem of connectivity. It is embarrassing for this country that one third of Americans do not have access to broadband. He told of a highly motivated student who used to park in the library parking lot after hours so that he could have access to Wi-Fi in order to do his assignments. On a positive note, he told us about a program called “Connect to Compete” where providers have agreed to give students who receive free or reduced-price lunches internet access for $9.95 a month. Both Secretary Duncan and Chairman Genachowski made the case that digital learning will prepare students for a new economy and foster innovation.

We are at a critical point in moving to digital learning and teaching in a 21st century way. It requires conversation with teachers and their unions. It must be accompanied by high quality professional development. Politicians cannot pit teachers against technology, especially in funding priorities. Yes, I am talking about Idaho. That state’s elected leaders would do us all a favor by starting over and doing it right. Digital learning is good for our students and that is the best reason for embracing it and championing it. One teacher said her role is now collaborator with her students. That’s a good model for all the adult partners supporting digital learning.

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