Shifting the Paradigm: Making Digital Learning the Norm

digitalBy Dr Helen Dixon

As an educator, making the transition to digital can be an exciting but challenging (even frustrating) experience. Just because you host your slides on a Digital Learning Environment doesn’t mean you are providing a digital learning experience. Will your students absorb information more effectively just because they have read it on screen rather than on paper? As yet, there is a lack of conclusive evidence on whether online reading accommodates more in-depth comprehension of material. Digitising your learning resources will not necessarily improve the learner’s experience.

What digital learning has presented us with is an opportunity to ‘rethink’ how we convey information and assess students’ knowledge and skills. Rather than distributing old content in a new way, we need to adapt their teaching methods to align more closely to the needs of today’s students and their future employers. The challenge is to go further than simply making our materials available online. What is required is a paradigm shift where our attitudes and practices are transformed for the digital society. It’s not simply about using technology but rather about embedding digital literacies throughout the curriculum.

For some educators, this may seem like a daunting prospect, but the key is to remember that this transformation will be a gradual, continually evolving process as technologies develop. You don’t need to be an expert in every application – you just need to be willing to learn along with your students. By adopting a systemic approach that prioritises realistic objectives, you can implement digital learning in a manner that is going to create genuine value for your students and yourself, rather than as a checkbox exercise. By taking the following factors into consideration, you can begin the process of rethinking your teaching and ‘go digital’ successfully.

Communication

How can you use technology to disseminate your course content in a more absorbable manner? Often there are better ways to transfer knowledge than text-based resources – audio-visual materials, in particular, can help to bring a topic to life. You can easily transform an uninspiring table of data or list of statistics by creating an eye-catching infographic using Piktochart or infogr.am. Try using a video to demonstrate a process or create an animation using a site like GoAnimate to explain a key concept. The effort to produce video content that can be viewed by students repeatedly will be justified when you don’t have to reiterate the same information several times in class!

Of course, teaching involves a lot more than delivering course materials and online technologies can help to make all your communications more efficient. Discussion boards make it easy for tutors to post updates or clarify any instructions. Social media can be used to share useful resources and post reminders. You could even create a class webpage or blog to reflect on the progress of your class.

Interaction

As well as expediting communications with learners, technology opens up new avenues for interaction. Discussion boards and social media work best when used for dialogue rather than broadcast and can give quieter students a voice. Simple online polls like Poll Everywhere can allow you to quickly assess students’ understanding or offer them a choice in what topics they will cover. Tools like Nearpod and Socrative allow you to make your lessons interactive by facilitating online activities and providing live feedback. Or you could try using Kahoot to apply gamification techniques which can encourage participation.

There are a myriad of exciting educational technologies available but they cannot guarantee interaction. In order to successfully embed technology, it is necessary to create digital resources that are going to aid the acquisition of knowledge and motivate students to become more engaged in their learning.

Collaboration

Teamwork is always an important part of education and technology can facilitate collaboration by providing students with an online space where they can share ideas or work together on a project. Wikis make it easy for students to contribute to a group document or they can use sites like Padlet to share ideas and resources. Google Docs and Office 365 allow students to collaborate on a variety of documents such as presentations or reports. Prezi is an alternative presentation tool that students can use to coproduce dynamic presentations that will inspire their creativity and encourage them to think beyond bullet points!

Assessment and Feedback

The electronic management of assessment (EMA) is becoming increasingly popular in education with many establishments using online testing software and/or e-Portfolios. As well as streamlining the submission, grading and verification of assessments, technology can allow us to quickly provide specific feedback which incorporates links to useful resources that can aid students’ development. Alternatively, audio or video feedback using tools like Jing can present students with a more personalised and supportive experience. Peer evaluation can also be facilitated using blogs or vlogs where students are encouraged to provide each other with constructive feedback.

Experimentation and Evaluation

With so many tools to choose from, you will need to be prepared to experiment. Set yourself a challenge to try a new technology every week, month or term – whatever time-frame is feasible. If an application or resource isn’t working for you or your students, give it up and try something different. Build up a Personal Learning Network (PLN) on social media – networking with other educators on Twitter or discussion forums is a great way to find out about new tools and get ideas for how to use them.

Continual evaluation of your efforts is essential in order to ascertain if your adoption of digital learning is achieving the desired results. Most Digital Learning Environments allow you to track students participation and completion of activities but soliciting feedback directly from students will be the most informative way of gauging their expectations and experiences. Short online surveys are a great way of gaining insight into students’ reaction to the content and activities you have provided online. If you don’t have an institutional survey tool, Typeform and SurveyMonkey are two popular options.

With the widespread use of technology and social media in society, where communications are increasingly fragmented and non-linear, catering for the needs of learners has probably never been more challenging. However, technology has provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to transform education and create flexible and personalised learning experiences for students. Ultimately, the term digital learning may soon disappear as it becomes the norm within all learning activities.

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