This Digital Learning Day, I reflect on my experiences as a new teacher, discovering the potential of digital learning in the classroom.
I’m standing at the front of the classroom. The lights are off, the projector screen is pulled down, and 30 expectant little faces are looking up at me. I explain what our mini-lesson will be about, instruct my students to turn to their partner, and share any prior knowledge on this topic. I call them back to attention, and they share out a few examples of what they know.
The stage set, I lean over and click play on my laptop to start a short video. Nothing happens. I click again. Undeterred, I refresh the page. I hear a few rustles from the carpet. I close other tabs. I chant an internal, “Please please please work….” but the video will not cooperate. Did I get logged out of my account? Did our license expire? Is it the Internet connection? The collective classroom environment transforms from excited to disappointed.
At the same time, my students don’t seem all that surprised. After all, this is not the first time this scenario has played out. I start to say, “Sorry class. I think it’s…” and in unison, they chorus, “…the internet!” Although they don’t quite understand what it means, they know it’s what I say when videos don’t work. I assure them I’ll have it working by the time they get back from lunch.
This was in 2014 when digital learning was still a growing trend and the daily challenges ranged from frozen screens and lost passwords to content filtering, and more. Even back then, I was not alone in finding my footing – according to a 2016 Digital Educational Survey, almost half of classrooms were using a digital device every day. From educational videos, differentiated online programs, research projects, content specific games, and eBooks, there seemed to be endless potential to enhance what a teacher could accomplish within their four walls– and beyond.
Today that “potential” is being realized like never before – 98% of America’s public schools have next-generation fiber infrastructure, and 96% have enough Internet connectivity to make digital learning available in their classrooms.
Thankfully, the challenges did little to contain my excitement for the possibilities. I could see the impact of technology in my classroom. Students who typically got flustered with sight words were showing genuine eagerness to practice. Those who used to claim, “There isn’t anything I want to read in the library,” could suddenly access thousands of differentiated eBooks on hundreds of topics.
There was also a ripple effect in our broader school community. I was able to collaborate more effectively with fellow teachers to use online translation for homework assignments. I could tailor worksheets and assessments for all levels of students and use online tools to identify those in need of corrective instruction. Parents even started asking me if they could get access to programs at home.
On this Digital Learning Day, I look back with a smile at the growing pains as well as the growth in student engagement and outcomes. I smile at my own development as a professional and an instructor. My appreciation for digital learning took time. It wasn’t until I looked back that I realized how much additional access and opportunity were a product of technology. It not only enhanced the good things that were already happening in my classroom but also opened up windows of new ideas and possibilities.