Thursday, February 25, 2010

Enhancing Learning with Digital Practices

Whenever I am asked to speak about what we do in Technology classes, I always say we try to engage students in authentic work that is enhanced by the technology. The listeners always nod approval, but I doubt they have a clue what I’m talking about. On Wednesday I got to hear students articulate how having access to digital tools has enhanced their learning as they engage in a challenging, yet innovative high school curriculum.

On Wednesday I attended the three-hour workshop at NAIS given by Howard Levin and students and faculty from the Urban School in San Francisco. The Urban School is a 9-12 school that has had a 1-to-1 laptop program for 12 years. This was the third time I've heard Howard speak about his school - the first time his focus was the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a laptop program, the second was about his incredible work collecting oral histories with students. ( This workshop opened the doors of the school (without going on site) and gave us a sense of how students and teachers engage in "digital practices" that enhance the learning and build relationships between students and faculty. Howard explained that he is discouraging the work “technology” and encouraging the term “digital practices” to describe the integration of digital tools in the curriculum.

What made this presentation powerful was the students who stood up to describe the ways in which having ubiquitous access to digital tools has enhanced their learning and enriched their school experience. Teachers introduced a project and then the students stepped up to describe how the digital practices were a significant aid to their learning. There was an example of students deconstructing a challenging poem by sharing their initial reactions in an open conversation online that collected responses and clarified meaning for them before they discussed it in class. In science they created short films using stop motion to demonstrate understanding of important concepts. For history, a student shared the process she went through as she used primary sources to research life in medieval times and then created a newspaper that demonstrated her understanding of life in that period. Another student spoke eloquently about how important it has been to have access to notes and lectures online after class because her learning disability makes it challenging to absorb everything in one session.

Each student (and I only share a few examples here) made it clear that the laptops and the digital practices have given them more access to learning, ownership of the process, and the opportunity to find creative ways to demonstrate their understanding. If you ever wondered how ubiquitous access to technology can change a student’s experience, the work the Urban School is doing makes it clear that courageous teachers, willing to imagine what is possible, enable students to learn ways that best suit their learning style and inspire them to get deeply involved in the learning process.

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