When good digital teaching means good digital learning

PLCs-communitiesEd. note: Innovation In Action is a new monthly column from the International Society of Technology in Education focused on exemplary practices in education.

digital-teachingWe all remember that one dedicated teacher from our early years. While they might not have had access to the same technology we do, they brought the world to us with images, stories, and play-pretend. They likely would’ve been one of the first to Skype with amazing people across the globe, competitively Kahoot, or have us build word clouds to help us learn vocabulary. They were full of life and encouraged us to find our personality.

In short, they were great teachers. Good teaching is the result of the conscious engagement between the teacher and the students, in an environment fostering inquiry, discovery, and creation. Good teaching is what makes digital age environments meaningful to students. Good pedagogy is the key to learning, regardless of the tool.

We know so many amazing teachers who have evolved their practice and are using technology with an unbelievable ease. What makes them so successful? And how can we all become champions of this new teaching style?

Like any learning, transitioning from traditional to digital needs a base of knowledge, a curiosity for discovery, and the flexibility to try new things. To take the first steps toward good digital teaching, one must understand:

  1. The type of learning that they want to take place in the classroom
  2. The students’ interests
  3. The students’ struggles
  4. The level of digital literacy among the students
  5. Where to find digital citizenship resources
  6. Who among their peers (local or online) can become a model, mentor, or even teacher
  7. Where to start

Next page: Moving from teching to teaching

When using the right tools for the right learning activities, teching becomes “TEaCHING.” The students, interacting and enjoying their learning, become drivers of their learning, build self-confidence and demonstrate gains in academics as well as in engagement.

There are countless recipes for digital teaching out there, but here are just a few tips to help educators find their inner digital teaching balance.

  1. Admit you don’t know. It is OK to be a beginner, but more importantly, it is OK to be scared of the new. The good news is that fear immediately goes away when we start understanding. All you have to do is start with something that would suit your needs as well. You can then ask your students to research similar tools and advocate for the best one. And even better, you can ask them to create tutorials for tools or advocate for learning strategies like this one.
  1. Ask a friend. It is always easier to ask a peer how they use a digital tool in their classroom. The comfort level is highest, and the probability that learning will come easier is greatest. There is no better learning that the one that comes from people just like you. The ISTE Commons and the ISTE Professional Learning Networks are collaborative communities that offer educators a place where they can connective with innovative peers to learn.
  1. Go to a conference. When I was preparing my team to implement one of the first mobile digital immersions (later known as one-to-one), I wanted them to have the best learning possible. First, we visited a school that was testing the model. Next, I took a team of 15 to my favorite professional learning conference, the annual conference for the International Society for Technology in Education, where they were asked to volunteer for a couple of hours. They later shared with everyone that the best learning was during their volunteering time because they had to learn things on the fly. As Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it, you don’t really understand it.” Articulating their ideas in a safe learning environment enhanced their professional growth.
  1. Start small. Tweeting, blogging, Pinterest, and Instagramming are all places where you can dip your toes in the water. Choose only one that you think you would enjoy. For example, if you are someone who wants to know everything about everyone, then Twitter is for you! If you love imagery, try Pinterest or Instagram. If you like to write or are an English teacher, start with a blog. Whatever your passion, figure out how it will support our lesson, and what you wish to accomplish from your students’ interaction with the tool.
  1. Practice, practice. Everyone has a favorite feature of every tool they use. If you get help or training for a tool, try to find what you like best about it. Practice on your own. Play with all the features that you can find. Become a digital learner.
  1. Use it for all your activities. Whether at work or home, find ways to incorporate your digital tools into your routine until it is no longer a scary new thing. For example, a ready-to-make video or animation site can win you big points with the family at that upcoming reunion, baptism, birthday, anniversary, or wedding. It is also an awesome tool for any work presentation, lesson introduction, exit ticket, project outcome, etc. It can spur your students’ creativity both in and out of the classroom.
  1. Teach someone who doesn’t know it. Just like you were more comfortable learning it from a friend, others will like it better too! Show off your new skill. Recall the saying, “If you care, you share.” Over the past few years, to support campuses through their digital transition, I relied on great, daring teachers who were willing to step over their discomfort to “just try.”
  1. Give a daily routine a digital twist. Do you have a list of favorite websites that you visit every day? You can Symbaloo all! The great thing about digital organizers is that they save you space, and you can use them to catalog both, professional and personal sites. And while you’re keeping your professional and personal online presence separate, you can build your learning portfolio with the awesome resources that your peers, near and far, share. You can do the same, no learning is too small, and someone out there may be grateful for your knowledge, just like you were.

TEaCHing with technology gives our students the opportunity to reflect on things in their everyday life, without being immersed in it all the time. As you explore formal and informal learning via digital tools, it is important to remember that good teaching means getting both to work together in your classroom in a coordinated way.

Diana Bidulescu, M.Ed. is an ed tech specialist with international experience in multiplatform ecosystems integration, online safety, global collaborative learning, synchronous and asynchronous learning, and multimedia immersion. She is a frequent presenter at education conferences and serves on several ISTE PLNs.