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There’s More to Edtech than Simply Digitizing the Same Old Lessons

Moving beyond a passive “sit-and-get” mindset to embrace a “think-and-do” approach to learning

Scanning your old vacation photographs and setting them to music is one way to share your parasailing adventure with friends. But, it’s arguably different from live-streaming your dramatic ascent from a head-mounted GoPro camera. The point is, simply digitizing an image doesn’t suddenly transform it into live-action video. You still have the same subpar vacation photos; the only difference is you can view and store them on a computer instead of in a dusty photo album.

If you’re moving toward technology to help personalize learning, you might want to keep this digital photo album analogy in mind. Authors Michael Fullan and Katelyn Donnelly put it more directly in their 2013 report, Alive in the Swamp: Assessing Digital Innovations in Education. They revealed that some of today’s “technology-enabled innovations” do little more than enable teachers to engage in “the same age-old practices but in a digital format.”

Last month, DreamBox senior curriculum designer Kelly Urlacher and Eugene schools district administrator Madeline Ahearn presented an engaging and well-attended edwebinar on blended learning called The Next Generation of Differentiation: The Path to More Powerful Personalization. The 60-minute session, now available to view on demand, provides in-the-trenches insights about personalization in the age of digital learning, and how one Oregon district is leveraging truly innovative technology to drive better engagement and improve outcomes for math students.

We all know that technology can and should be part of a well-rounded learning experience, and there are plenty of digital solutions out there. But, not all are created equal. Edwebinar presenter Kelly Urlacher cited the aforementioned Fullan and Donnelly report in her discussion of what it means to provide digital learning opportunities for students that do more than simply upload stale lessons to a computer.

Urlacher framed the definition of technology-enabled personalized learning as a move from the passive “sit-and-get” mindset of traditional learning to a more interactive, modern approach that embraces a “think-and-do” strategy.

“Sit and get” refers to the old-school learning paradigm of mass instruction that favors a teach/practice/test model in which students “sit” and “get” someone else’s ideas. They quite literally sit in their seats, and get their information from a lecture. In fairness, a number of obstacles conspire to keep things “old-school” and make differentiation difficult for teachers. These obstacles include seat time policies, pacing calendars, standardized testing schedules, age-based classrooms, and weak competency–based tools. But, innovative and interactive technology can help teachers rise above “sit and get” to achieve new levels of personalization in the classroom.

When done right, digital learning solutions empower students to “think and do”—to guide their own learning through exploration and conceptual understanding. As a result, students develop critical thinking skills, tap into their own creativity, and explore their own personalized learning pathways. And, they achieve better outcomes.

To find out how Eugene School District 4J in Oregon successfully implemented a think-and-do strategy on their path to personalization, tune in to the on-demand edwebinar now.