April 9, 2012

A Collaborative Guide to Best Digital Learning Practices for K-12

Categories: Digital Learning, Educational Practice
picture taken through a window of teacher helping student with work

Below you will find a collaboratively written document produced in Bangkok, Thailand, at the March 28-31 teacher’s meeting of EARCOS, the East Asia Regional Council of Schools.  EARCOS is an organization of 130 primary and secondary schools that primarily use English as the language of instruction.  These include AP and IB schools and a number of other private schools.  We produced the document below on a public Google doc at a workshop, which I structured on the model of an “innovation challenge” of the kind that web developers use to bring together communities to complete a project.  We hope this guide will be useful to any teacher confronting the challenges of introducing new technologies into the K-12 classroom in meaningful, inventive, productive, creative, and connected ways.


The Ethics and Responsibilities of the 21st Century Classroom:  A Collaborative Guide to Best Digital Learning Practices for K-12 Teachers and Administrators

PREAMBLE:  Tools aren’t teachers, they aren’t students, and they aren’t magic.

We need to know the limits and possibilities of our twenty-first century tools and the role of teachers and administrators in ethically and responsibly using digital media to enhance and foster learning.

To teach responsibly in a digital age, we have to respect what our tools can do to help us learn together — and what tools alone cannot do.  We need to be prepared to adapt them to our specific needs as teachers and learners.  We need tools that are as open as possible, that are designed to encourage students to participate and not simply consume.  And we need to support teachers who are also learning how to use new tools for the most innovative, imaginative, interactive teaching.

To that end, we offer several preliminary, general principles designed to spark conversations among administrators, teachers, parents, and students.  Our goal is to generate dialogue about practical ways to support deep thinking about ways to improve ethical, responsible, connected learning practices in the 21st century classroom:

We need support for teacher training, including scheduled time for teacher collaboration and idea-sharing, in order for tools to be part of real learning in the most productive, creative way.  Administrators and school leaders need to understand that adding technology to learning requires thoughtfulness, preparation, and support.  Teachers need on-going training to ensure that they know how to use digital technology effectively.

When teachers are expected to introduce a new technology into the classroom, schools should build in teacher-development time for its deployment.  There should be set-aside staff time where teachers can join together to experiment, share ideas, and share resources to develop the technology in practical and creative ways.  This method helps ensure the success of the technology, the teachers, and the students.

We need administrators to take the lead with digital technology, not simply requiring teachers and students to use it but actually modeling the effective use of technology.  So often administrators have little or no idea of how to use the tools they are trying to promote.  This makes for a very unclear message and often undercuts the implementation of new and innovative programs.

We need to ensure that students have the personal resources to support the tools they are being taught.  Students need to have access outside of the classroom to the tools they are using in school, regardless of socioeconomic status.  We need to level the playing field to ensure their success.

We need collaborative policy making.  Teachers, administrators, parents, and even students need to be involved in designing consistent and enforced school-wide policies regarding responsible behavior when using computers.  Involve the entire school community.  Students and parents need to be active participants in this process.  Schools need buy in from all the stakeholders.

We need the right platforms for collaboration to ensure that technology is part of the content of learning.  How much is technology a classroom teacher’s responsibility vs the responsibility of the technology department?  Integrative technology is important.  We need to ensure that the standards for technology are incorporated into Core and Encore classrooms, both as part of the content and as a way to develop the content.

We need to encourage high quality student input and output.  How can we use technologies wisely and creatively with ELL (English Language Learners) to achieve success, so that the technology supports student learning in the best ways?

We need to address technology accessibility inequalities.  Different societies and groups offer different kinds of challenges to collaborative work, including from poverty (on the one hand), income inequality and opportunity and censorship (on the other).

We need to create institutional, local, regional, and international platforms to encourage the networking and collaboration of international school students, educators, and administrators that foster:

  • Collaboration for students, student-centered learning
  • Sharing of ideas
  • Editing and revising ideas (Wikipedia model)
  • Blogging to share feedback and best practices
  • Open forums for the discussion of ethical issues/implications

We need a school-wide initiative to adopt or be adopted by a partner school in a local community in order to share technology, and also experiences between international schools and locally-based community schools.  This model goes beyond traditional service learning components to embrace peer-to-peer education, information sharing, tool sharing and building, and collaboration as a sustainable component of service learning and community engagement.

We need to create an Innovation Challenge Course.  We need to adapt the method used in this 90-minute innovative challenge to our schools, where students are offered the possibilities of exploring content together on a collaborative tool such as a Google Doc so they are learning the tool, learning best collaborative and peer-learning practices, even while they are also mastering content by teaching, editing, correcting, and offering feedback on one another’s contributions. They should also be assessing their effectiveness, working as peer-teachers together.

We need to create more study groups with digital tools as the mechanisms for allowing students to learn from one another together.  Studies have shown that the single, best determinant of success at school is to work in groups (Article 1, Article 2, Article 3).  If this is the case, then steps should be taken to make sure that students can easily form these groups, perhaps using digital tools to form and maintain study groups.  Like with most things, there are good and bad study groups.  Here is a blog post suggesting the positive things about study groups.

We need to create a community among teachers using best practices and research to show the benefits of innovation and creative, collaborative partnerships in education.



To foster the end of building a community of teachers and administrators using the best practices and research on digital media and learning, we invite YOU to add your own ideas and concerns to this public, participatory document

Editor’s note: Cathy delivered the keynote address (and led three workshops) at this year’s EARCOS based on her book Now You See It.  This post is the second in a series; you can read part one here.

Banner image credit: Wonderlane http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/37531816/in/pool-1489130@N22/