While gathered around the dinner table, my family often has discussions that require more information. Inevitably, one of us will pick up a cell phone and search the wealth of information on the internet.
That type of access is a wonderful thing, but for the learning community, it also has its challenges. Students are no longer interested in sitting in class while a teacher shows them what to do. They want to be involved in their learning, and they are accustomed to having information at their fingertips. This is actually good news. It means students no longer have to look in textbooks, watch movies or — this is the challenging part — trust their teachers to learn about their world. They can find the answers to many of their questions online, and blended learning opportunities create environments that extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom.
Standard 3 of the ISTE Standards for Coaches focuses on the digital learning environment. While it’s critical that today’s teachers and administrators select and evaluate digital tools and resources that create technology-rich learning environments, it’s the job of a technology coach to help them build teaching practices that are compatible with the school’s vision, curriculum and infrastructure. Coaches also guide the development of policies, guidelines, and system-level management of resources and equipment to support digital tools.
Digital tools give students some pretty exciting and new ways to learn. In Laramie County School District 1 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where I worked as instructional technology program administrator, second grade students learn about Grand Teton National Park using video conferencing. When I was there, a forest ranger came to the school and helped the students communicate directly with rangers who were on site at the park. The rangers used their iPads to connect with the students remotely and show them where they were, what the weather was like, tracks left behind by wildlife and the outdoors at Grand Teton. The experience ended with the students taking the forest ranger’s oath to protect the environment. The students didn’t have to look at a book or watch a video. Instead they could engage in a conversation with the people who knew most, ask real-time questions and receive instant answers from the rangers.
We no longer look at the classroom as a place where knowledge is “given.” We expect learning environments to foster thinking and experiences that facilitate learning. The teacher is the facilitator, and the learning is done by all. That is why we ask teachers to redesign the learning spaces in completely new ways.
But they don’t have to do it by themselves. Coaches are there to help teachers identify the vast assortment of digital tools available and create a vision for using them in their content areas to enhance learning. Because student conduct, material management and classroom management are changing too, technology coaches are working to help the school community adjust to our changing digital society.
Today’s students are working in small groups in their classrooms, and they are communicating and collaborating with students in other classes around the globe. The students of today think beyond the walls of their environment. The world is their playground, and they are searching, networking and questioning the interactions around them. Students in a digital learning environment are using technology not for the sake of technology, but to enhance their learning, communication and experiences.
Kara Gann holds a M.Ed. in administration and is the strategic integration director for Atomic Learning. She was a member of the ISTE Board of Directors (2008-12) and its Executive Committee. Gann has received a Presidential Volunteer Service award as well as ISTE’s Making IT Happen award.
This article is an updated version of a column that was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology.
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