The Fourth ‘R

Hope for digital technology skills in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jeff Fernandez

CREDIT Grovo LearningMany K-12 school classrooms across the country have fallen behind the technology curve, creating an early skills gap chain reaction that puts students behind even before they think about their eventual career and the technology skills they’ll need.

What happened? Technology is continuing to advance at light speed, making it an ongoing battle for educators to keep pace with the right tools they can and should incorporate into the classroom. Teachers must be focused on the educational picture as a whole and the challenges that come along with it – evolving lesson plans, revised teaching methodologies,

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But teachers can nudge school leaders to take a closer look at bringing their district into the digital realm.

mapping to the new common core standards, constantly-updated testing requirements, and much more. So while many teachers embrace the new technology that has emerged within the past decade or two, it’s not always as easy as outsiders would think to seamlessly update whole curricula to use these tools. In addition, as teachers may not know all of the tools at their disposal, district leaders face an overwhelming prospect of a mass professional development project if they wish to implement new technology standards across the board.

Today’s students, on the other hand, are so accustomed to using all sorts of devices and technologies from a very young age. They have quickly learned to live in the digital realm, because they know no other way of life. They are net “denizens” and are savvy at navigating across different technologies. Yet, they still have room for learnings: they can benefit from better understanding for the best uses and implementations of these tools.

Consequently, schools are facing a widening digital skills gap. This gap involves the lack of real 21st century digital skills that are essential to living and working in today’s digital world. They span across a variety of mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops), an array of platforms for communications (including social media), research, project collaboration and management, and others. Moreover, this lack of skills can rob today’s students of a more enriched learning experience that combines traditional learning with digitally enhanced educational initiatives.

Despite this chasm, we can level the uneven playing field and bridge this gap.

Adding a fourth “R”

The long-held three-Rs of core learning — “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” — are ever-present. But we need to also ensure that we add a fourth — “readiness” — that will allow students to learn and master the digital skills they will need for tomorrow as they head off to college and the demanding workforce. Likewise, educational leaders and innovators must make a concerted effort to upgrade the tech skills in their classrooms so that the teachers can ensure students are ready to interact and engage in a more robust learning experience.

There are no difficult either/or choices to be made. Traditional and digital learning can (and does) peacefully co-exist.  The transition to including digital learning skills and techniques for teachers won’t be accomplished overnight. Teachers and other educators should be encouraged to learn and upgrade their digital skills in short, “microlearning” sessions that cater to busy schedules. These can be accessed via smartphones, tablets or laptops. Other professional development initiatives can support this type of program.

Where to start?

Teachers can begin the first steps of their digital skills evolution by:

— Having a candid discussion with key school administrators about their desire for upgrading their tech skills and what the next steps could/should be. Influential teachers are often the inspiration behind new technology initiatives within school districts.

— At the same time, teachers should poll their students to find out what 21st century learning would look like from students’ perspectives. What digital/online learning would students like to be able to incorporate into their classrooms, and why? If they could, how would students blend traditional and digital learning? What do they wish they would be allowed to do differently in the classroom in terms of digital learning? These individual or collective responses could prove to be very enlightening and fuel changes.

— Assemble other teachers and educators across your school district (and within other local or regional districts) to find out what ideas for digital learning others may have. Such a collective think can lead to finding out how others are navigating the digital educational environment and what you want on your school’s wish list.

What do teachers need to learn?

There are eight broad but core digital skills that are part of the foundation for today’s’ digital world. Teachers need not feel overwhelmed. Since learning should be a lifelong and continuous effort, each can be learned on the go and as desired. Bite-sized training modules (companies like ours offer on-demand access to short, easily-digestible video lessons) allow for better absorption and retention, and newly learned skills can be quickly deployed.

Across all potential applications and digital devices, here is a trio of must-have digital applications for teachers to learn and become proficient in:

  • Google Apps for Education — includes Classroom, which lets teachers quickly and easily craft and organize pupil assignments, give feedback to students and easily communicate with multiple classes.
  • Basic Email — an all-important way to communicate and collaborate with others (other teachers, administrators, district leaders and students) in the digital realm. Gmail is wildly popular, but each school has its own email system and specific extended functionality.
  • Office 365 — (for education) Allows for multiple applications, functionality and resources to be shared between teachers and students.

Obviously, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But teachers can nudge school leaders to take a closer look at bringing their district into the digital realm — for teachers and students to revel in.

Jeff Fernandez is the Cofounder and CEO of Grovo Learning, Inc. a company that teaches Internet and modern professional skills with 60- and 90-second videos. The videos follow their proprietary microlearning methodology and cover more than 140 Internet tools, cloud services, and professional topics.

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