Excited and Concerned about the Shift to Personal Digital Learning

Based on a sample of about a hundred educators from 16 southern states, the shift to personal digital learning creates new opportunity and new concerns.   In several settings, we discussed factors accelerating the shift:

  • Inexpensive mobile devices, learning apps
  • The shift to online assessments led by two state consortia
  • Advocacy efforts like Digital Learning Now
  • The ‘new normal’ need to do more with less

Educators were most excited about:

  1. Mobile learning apps for students (including preschoolers)
  2. Flipped classroom and playlist homework
  3. Better student engagement and motivation
  4. Potential for extended learning time
  5. More feedback to students
  6. Customized learning: improving ability to vary level, mode, time, rate and social context
  7. The potential to serve special need students in better ways
  8. Allowing students that can to move faster
  9. Teaching in teams with more collaboration
  10. More options for students
  11. More location flexibility and no more snow days

Concerns included:

  1. Teacher preparation is completely inadequate
  2. Ongoing professional development: need more and better
  3. Providing student access:
  4. Policies and practices for bring-your-own-device
  5. Social etiquette online: boundaries and behaviors
  6. Administrative fear over lawsuits and new ways to get fired
  7. Worsening conditions of poverty
  8. Expanding role of private enterprise
  9. Class sizes increasing, both physical and virtual
  10. Budget impacts
  11. Everything: the volume of change headed for a school near you

The last comment is insightful—schools stressed from budget cuts will be asked to make massive shifts in the next few years—new standards, new tests, new strategies, new structures, new devices, and new demands.  It’s a lot to deal with.
It’s time for states to put a stake in the ground on assessment and instructional materials and give districts a timeline they can plan against.  Chunking the work into three or four phases will help.  For example, here’s four projects districts should be working on this year:

  • Move all AP and upper division STEM online
  • Add credit recovery with full supports
  • Pilot blended middle school math
  • Pilot elementary learning labs and mobile learning

If we build productive partnerships, our students will benefits we’re excited about and we’ll mitigate many of the concerns.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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