Why Digital?

Why digital? An avid user of technology in my classroom, this year I have set myself the following challenge. Every time I ask my students to open their beautiful touch screen tablets in our classrooms, I ask myself, “why digital?” What opportunity is this digital experience providing for learning that couldn’t have been done more simply, quicker and cheaply with a bit of paper and pen? The interesting thing is that three years ago, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to ask that question. In my enthusiastic adoption of all things digital (which arose from my own real experiences of ICT successes), I felt that there was something regressive and oh so 20th century about not using tech tools when I could.

Rather than reducing the opportunities for ICT learning in my classroom, this simple shift in thinking has moved my teaching to a place where digital tools are used more powerfully to deepen student learning.  And I am using digital tools with my students now more than ever, but in more expansive ways that have helped my students layer and reflect upon their learning, track their own learning and find real and authentic purposes for the amazing thinking and learning that they have achieved. The mental act of asking “why digital?” as I’m ruminating on the next learning journey of my students, is not a block to ICT, but a much needed challenge, to ensure that the amazing tech tools that are now at our disposal are used for greater depths of authentic student learning.

ICT education has matured to the point that teachers now feel comfortable asking themselves “Why digital?”. My personal “why digital?” shift, reflects a wider change in the ways that I have noticed teachers and educational researchers talk about the role of ICT tools in learning. The SAMR model of thinking about digital learning tools (developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura), encourages teachers to continually strive to use tech tools to create learning experiences that allow for greater depth of learning and engagement with authentic learning experiences for students. 21CLD works on a practical level to support teachers to redesign existing lessons using digital tools to help build 21st century learning skills. Michael Fullen’s work with the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning project, is conducting on the ground research into how teachers use digital tools to leverage deep learning for the kids in their classrooms. At a recent conference for Microsoft Innovative Educators, I listened to the discussion around a table of talented, digitally capable teachers and was floored by the deep and reflective thinking as well as rigour that these teachers had applied to their lesson design.

“Why digital?” This forum is designed around that challenging question. My collection will include examples of the amazing work of students and teachers that demonstrate what digital tools have to offer, when you take the time to think deeply about taking student learning to the next level.