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DIGITAL LEARNING DAY: Alliance’s Annual Celebration of Great Teaching and Effective Use of Technology Spotlights Four Innovative School Districts, Offers Lessons on Digital Learning Implementation

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“Digital Learning Day is as much about great teaching as it is about technology,” said Alliance President Bob Wise.

On March 13, the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a very successful fourth annual Digital Learning Day from the 2015 Teaching & Learning Conference, which brought thousands of teachers and administrators to Washington, DC. Created by the Alliance, Digital Learning Day is a nationwide celebration that highlights great teaching and demonstrates how technology can improve students’ education outcomes.

“Digital Learning Day is as much about great teaching as it is about technology,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “It’s about how technology can empower and support teachers, personalize learning for students, and ensure that all students have the great teaching—and great tools—they need to succeed in today’s hyper-connected world.”

The headline event was Digital Learning Day Live!, which was moderated by NBC Chief Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis, and featured school leaders and teachers from four innovative schools and districts. (Access archived video from Digital Learning Day Live! by clicking on the video below or visiting http://www.digitallearningday.org/domain/36.)

Concurrently with Digital Learning Day Live!, tens of thousands of teachers, librarians, and administrators in all fifty states and the District of Columbia also celebrated and showcased their best uses of technology for learning through more than 1,800 local events in their own schools and classrooms.

Digital Learning Day Live! celebrated the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) December decision to increase funding for the federal E-rate program by $1.5 billion annually to improve internet connections, expand high-speed Wi-Fi access to millions of students, and connect 99 percent of all students to broadband within five years. The vote came ten months after Digital Learning Day 2014, when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler first announced plans to expand the nearly twenty-year-old E-rate program.

Wise called the E-rate expansion a “huge step forward for ensuring that all students and teachers have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities,” but he noted that equal access was only the first step. “Ensuring equal opportunity and equitable outcomes requires technology to be implemented strategically and meaningfully in schools,” Wise said.

To that end, the Alliance highlighted how four districts—Baltimore County Public Schools, Houston Independent School District (ISD), Saint Paul Schools (AR), and Vista Unified School District (CA)—are using technology as part of a larger plan to improve teaching and learning. The districts represented a cross section of urban, suburban, and rural areas but shared innovative ideas and promising practices for digital learning implementation.

Representing Saint Paul Schools were Daisy Dyer Duerr, K–12 principal of Saint Paul Schools, and Lendy Eaton, a math teacher at Saint Paul High School, who described how Saint Paul Schools uses a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) program to build trust among teachers and students while personalizing learning based on individual student needs. Prior to its digital transformation in the 2012–13 school year, Saint Paul High School was in its second year of mandated school improvement for failing to meet adequate yearly progress in both literacy and math. It is now designated a “Top 10 Percent Performing School” in Arkansas. (For a short overview of Saint Paul High School’s efforts, click the video below or visit https://youtu.be/0Tyt1BA1XD0.)

Vista Unified School District Superintendent Devin Vodicka shared how his district’s communitywide outreach program helped it create twenty-first-century learning environments through the deployment of digital devices such as laptops, tablets, and other internet-connected devices. Vista USD is on track to pair every student with a digital device within three years. It has also worked to improve network infrastructure to accommodate multiple wireless connections from every student simultaneously, including those in outdoor environments surrounding the school.

Vista USD is now shifting attention to enabling more families to obtain connectivity at home and has sold more than 5,000 refurbished computers to low-income families last year through the help of community partners. Through its efforts, the district has seen increased school attendance, decreased suspension and expulsion rates, more students taking Advanced Placement courses, and an overall improvement in college and career readiness. (For a short overview of Vista USD’s digital learning efforts, click on the video below or visit https://youtu.be/yTUNdeZIbzg.)

As the seventh largest school district in the United States, Houston ISD serves 215,000 students, more than 80 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. Annie Wolfe, Houston ISD officer of secondary curriculum and development, described how the district sent teachers and leaders to Mooresville Graded School District (NC) to observe Mooresville’s one-to-one initiative, which pairs every student with a laptop from fourth grade on, and learn how to implement a similar program at Houston ISD. She explained how Houston ISD’s “PowerUp” program enables teachers to use technology more effectively to facilitate instruction, as well as the district’s decision to prioritize professional development and provide teachers with time to work together. (To learn more about Houston ISD’s efforts to train its teachers on technology use, click the video below or visit https://youtu.be/60K4YRC_-iI.)

Representing Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) were Superintendent S. Dallas Dance and Courtney Warlick, a third-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School. The pair discussed the district’s efforts to use technology to transform teaching and learning to create student-centered learning environments that provide all students with access to rigorous content and anytime, anywhere learning. The segment also focused on the district’s one-to-one initiative, which aims to provide all students with a personal digital learning device by 2018. As a result of their learning-centered environments and technology initiatives, BCPS has seen significant improvement among students in its lowest-performing schools. (For a short video of Baltimore County’s digital transformation and its accelerated math program, click the video below or visit https://youtu.be/V-Cg3qZPMIo.)

To ensure that districts are following the examples provided by the featured districts and are taking the necessary steps before they purchase new technology, the Alliance unveiled the Future Ready Interactive Planning Dashboard. The dashboard is a free online tool to help school districts assess their needs and make data-informed decisions on how to effectively use technology to engage students, empower teachers, and improve learning outcomes. (For more information on the dashboard, see “Alliance for Excellent Education’s New Tool Helps School Districts Determine Readiness for Technology“).

Directly following Digital Learning Day Live!, the Alliance screened the world premiere of PBS NewsHour Education Correspondent and filmmaker John Merrow’s new PBS documentary film, “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom.” The film’s message was a strong one: computers cannot replace teachers; the combination of strong teaching and modern technology can transform schools into vibrant places where students have more control over their own learning and move at their own pace.

“John Merrow’s new PBS documentary film fit perfectly with the message of Digital Learning Day,” said Wise. “It highlighted a blended approach that pairs classroom teachers with digital content and tools in an effort to personalize learning and improve student outcomes. It also encourages school and district leaders to develop a plan for how they will use technology before they make a technology purchase.”

To learn more about Digital Learning Day and to access archived video, toolkits, and sample digital lessons for teachers, visit www.DigitalLearningDay.org.

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