In late 2013, the FCC announced the unrolling of the ConnectED initiative, a new effort focused on getting classrooms the right hardware and software to transform education for students. For educators, this meant adopting new digital learning programs – like BYOD and 1:1 – to capitalize on the power of technology and shape students for success within (and outside of) the classroom.
There’s no doubting the value behind digital learning tools in classrooms, and with digital learning only continuing to expand in schools, the future for the digital classroom looks bright.
But when it comes to challenges when establishing a digital learning program, a few recent findings from the latest State of Digital Learning report have been surprising for many.
The annual report, which sees itself as a “K-12 State of the Union”, collects information from 9,200 education professionals in an attempt to uncover challenges, trends, and priorities as they relate to educators in the digital classroom. The biggest takeaway: teachers still find there are several difficulties to be addressed when it comes to their school’s digital learning programs.
In this two-part series, we’ll be discussing the four major challenges facing educators and students in digital learning programs. The challenges covered today in part-one include: the strain on teachers’ time and resources and outside access to resources for students and teachers.
1. Strain on Teachers’ Time and Resources
With all of this new tech to keep track of, teachers are busier than they’ve ever been, and that’s not even accounting for all of the material they need to cover. As a student, it can be daunting to fall behind on classwork – especially with how quickly class material is covered. But picture what it’s like for teachers.
It’s always frustrating to feel like you’re only reaching a handful of students, not knowing which individual students need more help and direction. It’s even worse when there’s so much material to fit in during class that topics end up getting skimmed over – or skipped.
The report found that in suburban schools alone, 42% of teachers cite another top obstacle being insufficient time to teach the individual students.
So, what’s the solution here? Many teachers seek the benefits of a learning management system (LMS). A consistent LMS can keep teachers and students on the same page throughout an entire year and encourages development and evolution in the lesson structure. At the end of the day, an LMS is something that helps not only teachers and their students, but parents and administrators, as well.
Some faculty find it easier to simply cover less material in class. This allows them to go more in-depth with fewer topics. For instructors opposed to this tradeoff, there are also ways to create an active learning environment to help them cover more ground in class.
When going this route, active learning requires teachers make adjustments to the structure of the lesson plan and content for class. Although perhaps more involved to plan, this approach does let teachers be more strategic with the resources they provide students outside of class (such as pre-recorded lectures). Ultimately, this gives them and the students more time in class to review course content and actively discuss and share thoughts while learning, rather than just passively listen and take notes.
2. Outside Access to Resources For Students and Teachers
Your school may provide the best resources during school hours, but the truth still stands that many students lack the connectivity at home that their classroom provides. The assumption that all students have a level digital learning environment at their home cannot be made.
To solve this, many schools now choose to provide their students with classroom items such as laptops or tablets to take home – over 50% of schools, in fact. To better understand each student’s ability to use digital resources at home, teachers now take the time to ask what is possible for each student outside of class.
Often, it’s not impossible for students to find a workaround; for example, even students who lack an internet connection could access class material at home using a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet. In this case, however, teachers would need to make sure their class resources are mobile-friendly or else students wouldn’t be able to get their learning done outside of class.
When it comes to learning and personal growth outside of class, students aren’t the only ones who can struggle. For teachers, providing students clear instruction and aid in the digital classroom requires regular teacher professional development (PD) opportunities. But in the last report, both administrators and educators voiced concerns about the effectiveness and relevancy of their school’s current PD approach. Incidentally, the report saw that 60% of schools carry out these PD sessions in the form of periodic in-person workshops for faculty, as opposed to digitally-accessed development courses. Don’t get me wrong: in-person training workshops are beneficial, but digital training content for teachers can be a powerful asset in the flexibility that it allows faculty.
One way to improve PD for staff is through the creation of professional learning communities (PLCs) where educators are given the time to collaborate. According to the report, 83% of teachers saw PLCs as a helpful resource in PD. Another way is through executing PD on the same platform as the teaching is handled; schools that had implemented LMS for teaching found that using the LMS for PD also held benefits for administrators, teachers, and students.
It’s obvious that when integrating technology into the classroom, the underlying goal is to enhance learning to serve the students. For teachers, it’s just a matter of picking the right tactics and methods that work with their students in the digital classroom, as well as getting the right training and PD to continue growing their invaluable skill set in the digital classroom.
Part 2 Preview
The challenges to digital learning programs we’ll be covering (and solving) in part-two of this series include: an overuse of technology and limited access to power in classrooms.
We’ll be taking a look at how schools are prioritizing EdTech tools that will best help them reach their goals. And, we’ll be addressing how products designed for EdTech classrooms – like laptop and Chromebook desk chargers – can easily keep student devices charged during class.