Training is key to schools’ digital media use

Educators need professional development to help them use digital media in their classrooms.
Educators need professional development to help them use digital media in their classrooms.

Educators need to embrace Web 2.0 technologies in schools, but they should be given adequate professional development to ensure they learn the proper ways to engage their students through digital media, said experts at a Sept. 21 Capitol Hill briefing.

That was the general consensus of the panel members, which included representatives from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Common Sense Media, the National Writing Project, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as well as school teachers, administrators, and students.

Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. programs for the MacArthur Foundation–which is in the middle of a five-year, $50 million effort to study the impact of digital media on youth culture and learning–said learning is becoming increasingly participatory.

“Digital media are not only changing how young people are accessing and sharing new knowledge, they are extending the classroom to more informal and unconventional spaces, such as libraries, museums, and even online communities,” she said. “Our support for the field of digital media and learning is designed to help these institutions take advantage of the learning opportunities presented by digital media and to help build an infrastructure for successful teaching and learning in the 21st century.”

Sharon J. Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project, stressed the importance of professional development in allowing teachers to reinvent their teaching practices.

“The National Writing Project strongly supports policies that require school districts to make significant investments in professional development and the time and space for teachers and administrators to work together to plan for improvements” in educational experiences for young people, she said.

Washington outlined what she said high-quality professional development should look like in the digital world: It needs to be content rich and discipline specific; educators need time to participate in new media as learners themselves; teachers should come together to share what they’ve learned; and teachers should incorporate new media in their classes.

If educators are provided with high-quality professional development, they might be less wary of allowing their students to use digital media in school, panelists said.

Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of CoSN, discussed findings from a recent survey about the learning potential of Web 2.0 technologies in schools. He said 75 percent of district administrators believe Web 2.0 holds great potential for teaching and learning. Yet a majority of the school districts surveyed still ban social networking and chat rooms, Krueger added.

“We don’t necessarily think that administrators fully grasp all of the potential” of Web 2.0 tools for education, he said.

James P. Steyer, founder and chief executive officer of Common Sense Media, said parents are a bit apprehensive about digital media as well.

“There’s plenty of good news about what kids are doing with digital media, from volunteering with charities and posting their own creative work to joining online study groups and supporting causes,” he said.

“But our surveys and focus groups this year revealed that parents don’t have a clear idea of what their kids are doing with digital media. We need digital literacy programs to teach the rules of the road and to empower parents and teachers to embrace digital tools, as well as address the potential negatives.”


MacArthur Foundation

Consortium for School Networking

Common Sense Media

The National Writing Project

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