By Henry Blue and Win Smith
In our last post on digital instruction we outlined the types of tools that are being used as part of the movement to incorporate technology and digital resources into the classroom. What these applications have done isn’t to fundamentally change the way teachers teach, but rather to streamline time-consuming processes. Instead of forcing changes in teaching practices, the digital instruction revolution gives teachers the time and simple-adoption tools to experiment with innovative pedagogical practices.
Direct insight into student progress, while still in its early evolution, represents one of the most influential advancements brought on by digital instruction. Visibility into student engagement at home and longitudinal tracking of standards mastery helps teachers make swift and targeted interventions into both class and individual students’ learning. While good teachers have always had some insight into student progress, good data only makes those teachers better by enabling them to address critical gaps before the all important summative assessments.
Peer collaboration had typically been relegated to (sometimes painful) faculty workshop and professional development days or the rare team-teaching situation. Historically, while teachers might have been in adjacent classrooms, as regards collaboration on instructional practices and curriculum, they may as well have been in different schools. However, with the onset of cloud-based tools, teachers can now collaborate more effectively- whether on-campus or off- via document creation tools such as Google Drive, peer-to-peer professional development networks such as An Estuary and various edchat groups on Twitter, and collaborative curricular repositories such as SmartBinder Teams.
Innovative instructional practices can thrive in classrooms where teachers have both direct insight into student progress and engagement and the support of peer collaboration, and, as such, it’s no coincidence that more innovative classroom approaches have gained significant adoption and progress recently. The Flipped Classroom movement, in which teachers deliver lessons to students at home, has allowed educators to design and implement creative and interactive activities and exercises in the classroom. Among those in-class approaches are Project Based Learning, which helps students build real-world teamwork, task delegation, and collaboration skills; Classroom Makerspaces via The Maker Movement, which emphasizes creative work that yields tangible outputs and is championed by such organizations as Digital Harbor Foundation; and Student Centered Learning, that encourages students to take their own routes to find answers and accomplish goals.
The Time to Adopt is Now
The digital instruction movement is here and is something to be embraced by all teachers, regardless of any negative experiences brought on by previously burdensome software systems. At its core, the movement is focused on bringing educators time-saving and efficiency-boosting tools that provide more time and freedom to help good teachers do what they do best: teach in increasingly innovative ways.
Henry Blue and Win Smith are the co-founders of Alchemy Learning, a Baltimore-based edtech company that specializes in curricular and learning management tools. Blue previously taught middle school history and English at the Boys’ Latin School of MD and holds a B.A. from Davidson College, an M.A. from the University of Virginia, and a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Technology from UMBC. Smith was previously a member of the software investment team at ABS Capital. Prior to ABS Capital he worked at Hawkpoint Ventures in London and holds a B.A. from Davidson College and an M.B.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.