High school student working on tablet

Digital Learning Transforms the Classroom

15 Feb 2016 by Teresa Meek

Technology has become an important part of the schoolroom, with flipped classrooms, blended learning or online classes becoming commonplace. Some teachers are even creating educational video games to pique student interest. In honor of Digital Learning Day (February 17), let’s take a closer look at technology used to strengthen students’ educational experience.

Changing schools

Many educators believe digital learning can level the playing field for students, allowing those in poor school districts to access opportunities previously unavailable to them.

A poorly performing high school in rural Arkansas created an online learning lab, for instance, where students could try their hands at college-level courses. The school subsequently became one of the highest performing schools in the state. College-bound students were once a minority there, but now most students plan to get a higher education, and many say they want to be doctors or engineers.

Digital learning also frees teachers from drilling kids on rote material and allows them to be creative in designing lesson plans. It lets students work at an independent pace and receive individual attention without taking up valuable class time.

A recent Speak Up National Research Project report found that only 27% of high school principals don’t offer online classes. Nearly a quarter of high school students now wish they could take all their classes online, compared with just 8% in 2013.

Blended learning

When classes aren’t completely online, teachers are using blended learning, combining Internet work with classroom instruction. Teachers beginning at the elementary school level are “flipping the classroom,” giving students online reading or video-based assignments to complete before class so they can use class time for details, examples and in-depth discussion instead of basic instruction.

Kids do Internet-based work at their own pace. Those who are stumped by a question can get online help from their peers or from the teacher. Giving students greater involvement in their own work helps them remember lessons better, some educators believe. The online world also helps self-conscious kids get help without having to raise their hands in class. Some research has shown students to be more motivated in a blended learning environment.

Blended learning doesn’t just mean Internet-based homework. Technology is increasingly a part of classroom instruction. Interactive projectors allow for multiple pens and touch points so students can add input, and these are starting to replace whiteboards. Instead of calling one child to the front of the room to write a solution, the teacher can have groups collaborate, as they do in the career world students will someday inhabit.

State-of-the-art audio-visual systems allow teacher content to be instantaneously shared on student devices. Students can also share their own material with the class. Other systems allow up to four users to share slides, graphics, documents or photos without using a cable.

Some schools are using cloud-based platforms to create “virtual meeting rooms,” where students and teachers can congregate via laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Fun and games

Some teachers are experimenting with game-based learning, using software to create customized video games that allow students to have fun while assimilating skills. Since obstacles are part-and-parcel of the video games that kids already play, the theory is that they will keep trying until they get past them rather than giving up, as they might do with a standard math problem. Games can also be collaborative. Their focal points are stories, which engage the emotions as well as the mind, creating a powerful learning environment.

Games can be used to teach “alternative histories,” such as physics, archeology and other subjects in a richer, more creative environment than standard classroom instruction allows.

Teachers who don’t have time to design their own games have options. Some are using the popular game Minecraft to teach math, social studies and other subjects.

There are many more examples of how great education, combined with effective technology, are positively impacting America’s schools. Find out more about how teachers, school leaders and district teams around the country are implementing digital learning strategies for the 21st century.