Today is Digital Learning Day, an initiative brought to you by the Alliance for Excellent Education and an effort to explore and advance Digital Equity. If you’re an educator and you haven’t had this day on your calendar, it is probably because you have lessons to plan, papers to grade and a community of students to serve. You are hereby forgiven. Still, it is not too late to follow the hashtag #dlday or maybe even watch an archived webinar.
Even if Digital Learning Day snuck up on you, it offers an opportunity to pause and reflect about how equity and educational technology connect. As mobile devices walk into classrooms in the backpacks and pockets of students, or wheel into classrooms in metal carts, it is vital that educators inquire about how digital tools and innovative practices lead to more equitable teaching and learning. If your current teaching has surfaced promising practices, you might add to this important national conversation by sharing how your students use digital tools in your setting and how your practices advance equity in learning. Maybe blog and tag your post #dlday. Or, take a picture and tweet to #dlday.
In the remainder of this post, I’ll share a snapshot of sorts about a project I'm engaged in.
In my work in the Aurora Public Schools Educational Technology (Ed Tech) Department, we’ve formed a research practice partnership with the University of Colorado at Denver (UCD) and two interested schools in order to explore the connections between what we’re learning about equity and what we’re learning about educational technology.
The two participating schools are engaged by our district as both "Equity Focus Schools" and "Ed Tech Focus Schools," so they have dual commitments to professional learning that might feel disparate for teachers and school leaders. In an effort to better connect these two concepts, we’re going to co-design professional learning opportunities in February to test in the months of March and April. In this semester-long research partnership with Dr. Remi Holden from UCD, we will study the professional learning of the school leaders, teacher cohorts and the Ed Tech instructional coaches. Like any worthy design effort, this one begins with empathic interviews of the humans involved. Dr. Holden is conducting interviews one-on-one and also recording small focus group discussions. We plan to use the data we collect from these interviews in order to frame design opportunities for professional learning. Here is an example of how the interviews surface opportunities for inquiry and design at the intersection of educational technology and equity:
In a focus group meeting we conducted with teachers and school leaders at an elementary school we support, we prompted teachers to share their best experiences teaching with technology this year. A fourth grade teacher shared the following reflection, and a dilemma he’s puzzling over. Also in this transcript excerpt are the principal’s responses, as well as my own.
4th grade teacher: One, an interaction I had with technology and a student, I have a student who, he struggles with writing in a lot of different ways. He writes letters backwards. He has a hard time forming letters. And one of the other students showed him on the Chromebook how to talk into the [gestures computer mic], and so he wrote a little piece on sharks by not writing. He turned on the microphone on the Chromebook, went to the back table, and I watched him. And he was talking into it. And made a little paragraph, information paragraph, on sharks. And, you know, I struggle with that. Here’s a kid who struggles with writing to the point where he doesn’t like writing at all, but when you let him think those thoughts in his mind instead of just writing them down or typing them, he can say them and then the technology actually helps show people what he knows and how he’s thinking. Um. So I, I thought that was a real positive thing for him and I sent it to his mom. He wanted me to send it to his mom, so she could see that he was doing some writing in school because she knows he struggles with it. And he was able to do that. He was able to produce something he would’ve struggled for days to produce in a writer’s notebook or even typing.
Joe: You said were sort of like wrestling with that, you were not sure what to make of it.
4th grade teacher: Well, you know, there’s so much…
Principal: I can understand that.
4th grade teacher: There’s so much. Do I not make him write? Which he needs to write in the world. Or do I, am I looking for his thinking?
Principal: I think we’re looking for his thinking, but then there’s also that piece that I can see where you’re having that struggle because I struggle with that too. Because at some point he’s going to have to show that writing piece. When you get on the PARCC assessments there’s a writing piece that he needs to actually, type into, and type his thinking. But the thing, how you can use that, he can think that through and, you know, say it in there, I don’t know how it comes out grammatically, or how it comes out with punctuation or those kinds of things. That’s something that he can go back and print and rework, I guess, so he’s able to think through, practice it, say it, and then write it up. Maybe.
The excerpted transcript above is powerful because the teacher explains how a classroom breakthrough of sorts- a student struggling to write suddenly produces an informative paragraph about sharks when he learns how to use the speech to text feature in Google Docs- demands a little instructional decision making. I think about the fertile potential for both teacher learning and organizational learning that arise from this kind of breakthrough:
How can the teacher build on this student’s success, and on the pride he felt at having produced some writing?
How might the teacher connect this work to classroom practice that leads to the production of more written work composed in pencil, and on the keyboard?
How can this happy accident translate to a routine in literacy class that develops a struggling writer into an agentive, prolific writer?
This classroom breakthrough is the kind of experience we will co-design professional learning experiences about. The teacher’s and the principal’s articulation of a dilemma suggest some professional learning design opportunities where we can inquire about the digital tools and equitable teaching and learning. The following questions hopefully illustrate how we can bridge from an interview transcript to design work.
How can we create a “classroom routine” prototype based on this breakthrough? How can we test its effectiveness for writers? How about for struggling writers?
How might we quickly learn who is doing this in other settings in order to iterate on their work and experiment in our settings?
As our project progresses, our audio recordings will turn into transcripts, which will surface learning design opportunities like the one above. Moving forward, we’ll share our designs and our discoveries in an effort to name and notice practices at the intersection of educational technology and equity.
Happy Digital Learning Day!