What Digital Instruction Means for Teachers

“What Digital Instruction Means for Teachers” is a two-part series examining the effects of and opportunities within the digital instruction movement in education.  Part one examines the areas of instruction that are being supported by web-based tools.

By Henry Blue & Win Smith

Fresh off the heels of Digital Learning Day 2014 and on the precipice of Edsurge’s 2nd Edtech for Schools Summit in Baltimore, it’s more evident than ever that K-12 teachers are rapidly embracing digital, web-based tools similar to those that have transformed and enhanced the work of professionals in many other industries.

While K-12 education has been late to adopt such tools due to inequity of student access to technology, the digital revolution is finally sweeping through classrooms. Internet access through personal devices and computers have become increasingly prolific in American households- to the point where there are 5.7 connected devices per home.  Additionally, the number of educational resources available online has exploded and, for instance, there are now over 700,000 accredited educational videos on YouTube Edu.

Importantly, the digital instruction movement is not to be confused with the e-learning and distance learning movements in which student learning occurs exclusively online.  Instead, the digital instruction movement is defined by the influx of web-based tools and resources that can fit seamlessly within a classroom teachers’ daily workflow to help save time and promote pedagogical innovation.

Time Saving Tools and Practices

In each industry it has touched, the digital revolution has helped simplify and automate previously burdensome processes for professionals: GitHub provides software developers an easier way to manage collaborative coding. Square has helped small merchants and store owners process customer payments and even tipping.  SoundCloud is a tool that enables musicians to record, promote and share their work.

Similarly, teachers are quickly finding time-saving tools that help streamline some of the previously tedious processes that surround instruction and student learning:

Classroom and behavioral management has become an increasingly high profile hot-button topic in education (see: 300 reported student-inflicted injury cases by Baltimore City teachers in 2013).  Tools such as Class Dojo are now bringing student visibility to disciplinary process, gamifying behavior, and eliminating burdensome data entry into student information systems.

Curriculum management has perhaps been disrupted more than any other instructional area through the explosion of digital and open educational resources that are threatening the privileged status of the traditional textbook as a primary source of student knowledge. The need to harness this decentralization of content was the initial thesis behind Alchemy Learning, and we built Alchemy SmartBinder to help teachers organize digital materials into lessons, deliver them to students, and capitalize on the opportunity to gain real-time insight into student learning and engagement.

Assessment practices are now becoming streamlined and digital via web-based quiz and testing tools that automate grading (even at the state and near-national level).  Some of these, like MasteryConnect, also offer crowd-sourced question banks and an appified assessment builder.   Socrative has automated in-class exit tickets with hand-held devices and web-apps that allow students to submit answers on-the-fly. Three Ring is a mobile application that allows teachers to capture and sort student work in the classroom.

Grading calculations and reporting have been the bane of many a teacher at the end of a quarter or semester.  Fortunately, web-based tools, such as Engrade, which began as a gradebook and expanded offerings (and was recently purchased by McGraw Hill), allow teachers to update and calculate their grades in real-time (…saving the language arts and humanities-oriented teachers of the world the unwelcome mathematical calculations!).

Next week we will go beyond the tools that save teachers time to explore innovative shifts in pedagogy that are emerging as a result of digital instruction tools.

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.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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