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Robert Craven: iEngage- Digital Learning Every Day, All Day

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December 22, 2011 05:24 pm

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The following article comes from Robert Craven. Robert is an educator with a technology obsession. An educator for over 15 years now, Robert quickly realized the impact technology made on both his teaching and student learning; this discovery started him on his endless journey into the integration, development and practice of technology and curricular integration. Robert is an Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Certified Teacher, and was recognized as one of the 5 “Best of ISTE” presenters in 2007, 2009 and 2010. His work involves online learning, mobilelearning, professional development training and much more. Contact Robert on Twitter via @digitalroberto and via e-mail atcravenr@svusd.org or digitalroberto@gmail.com.

Every day is a digital learning day for students. It might not be occurring in schools or classrooms around the nation, but you can guarantee that the second students leave school grounds they’re using technology to learn (most are using it covertly in class, but we’ll talk about that another time). The analogy of schools to airplanes fits so well, “Welcome aboard, today we’ll be learning, please sit up straight, put your tray table up, and turn off all electronic devices. There is one exit row at the back of the classroom, not to be used…” and just as we tune out the instructions on the plane, so too do students tune out their teacher. Yet, as soon as we land and the school day is over students take out their devices and begin learning again.

But the classroom doesn’t need to be an airplane. Instead, what if the classroom took the best parts of a student’s digital life outside school and integrated it with quality instruction such as small groups, collaboration, student directed learning, challenge based learning, and a caring environment? What if you created the digital learning environment? Then you’d be talking about iEngage, our program for mobile learning in Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

The benefits of opening the classroom to an always-on digital learning environment are many. Classroom instruction quickly changes as students dive into a more collaborative environment of research and analysis. Teachers are able to work in small groups with students to challenge learning, provide individualized assistance, guide discussion and most of all support each child. Students are able to excel as the classroom becomes more self-directed allowing them to accomplish the goals set out, but in an order that works for them, using any of the applications or methods to demonstrate their understanding which they feel best showcases the topic.

In the iEngage classrooms, a key finding is that students are constantly engaged. We’re witnessing every student answer every time. Students might Twitter as a character from “Romeo and Juliet”; use Strip Designer to create a comic depicting the government, currency, culture, and religion of Ancient China; use the Showme app to create a screencast demonstrating how to solve a math problem and post that to a class wall using QR codes for others to access; collaborate on a Google Doc to proof read persuasive essays; or answer reading questions in a Haiku Learning discussion form. What we witness in all grade levels is that as student engagement increases, so too does student achievement as measured by test scores, attendance, decreased discipline issues, grades and more.

While we’ll always see the early adaptors, those living at the edge of technology and teaching, integrating digital learning into the classroom if we want to see every student succeed, if we want every learner to reach their potential, then as education leaders we must reach all teachers and empower them to embrace digital learning. Fortunately, the proliferation of mobile phones and tablet computers means more teachers than ever are using these technologies daily in their life outside the classroom. That familiarity combined with the ease of use of these technologies means conditions are perfect for supporting teachers to open the digital learning classroom.

Professional development is key to realizing a true digital learning environment, but it shouldn’t occur as stand alone technology professional development. When mobile technology is introduced to every student in the classroom the instruction and delivery of curriculum is altered so dramatically that digital learning professional development needs to occur within instruction and be infused with technology throughout. With the introduction of Common Core Standards professional development will be occurring in districts around the country posing a unique opportunity to introduce technology into the discussion and begin preparing every teacher to integrate digital learning throughout the school day. Placing the concept of digital learning within the context of Common Core Standards ensures that we expand beyond the 10% of early technology adaptors to all teachers. Working with exceptional educators who understand curriculum, content and instruction, the Common Core Standards become an excellent throughway for combining mobile technologies teachers are using daily with curriculum, and empowering teachers to use it in the class.

Opening the classroom to digital learning engages students more than any other initiative, and the engaged student is a student that’s learning. By supporting teachers with quality curriculum professional development infused with mobile technologies we’ll move from the airline style of teaching and learning to a coffee shop style with students collaborating, self-directed, and working on challenging problems.

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Digital Learning Series

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