Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Managing Digital Learning Environments, pt 1

image from pixabay.com
What's wrong with the picture at right? There are no devices or gadgets in it. That's not realistic in today's classroom, yet many still operate there classrooms as if the picture at right was still an accurate representation of schools today. This needs to change. 

Listen to Episode 28: Managing Digital Learning Environments, part 1: 

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There is the odd perspective among many that adding an unfamiliar element to a classroom or school requires adding extra structures and rules to manage the new elements. Not only is that untrue, it is also unsustainable. In this era of dwindling resources and increasing needs, we in schools must be flexible, adaptable, and creative.
Technology tools are constantly evolving and are becoming increasingly omnipresent in our students’ lives. Banning devices from classrooms is not appropriately preparing students for their futures - it is enslaving them to teachers’ past comfort zones. But incorporating devices into instructional activities is actually an opportunity for an educator to use his or her professionalism and creativity to create a more responsive learning environment for their students. 

The first step to managing any learning environment, digital or otherwise, is to clearly state your expectations for appropriate behavior, including the use of digital resources, when students are in your classroom beginning on Day 1.  So, take a moment to establish what your expectations for student use of digital resources re going to be. How will you communicate those expectations clearly to the students?  When and how will you model those to your students, and how will you practice your expectations with them so every student understands exactly what your expectations look like and sound like? How will you reteach the expectations if, or most likely when, your expectations are not met? 

Now, some might call these expectations “Rules.” I’m not a fan of that term - after all, “rules were made to be broken,” is very true among kids in schools. I prefer the term “Expectations.” Expectations are things to be achieved, things to live up to. Expectations are also easier to state in positive terms, things students can and should do. Rules, instead, are often listed as things that students should not do. It is often easy to incorporate technology tools into a well-crafted list of behavioral expectations. Lists of rules are often very finite because they focus on not repeating some undesirable behavior that probably created an unpleasant situation once or twice in the past. Adding new technology tools into such an environment may create the perception that more rules need to be created, resulting in exhaustive lists of Do-Not-Dos. Again, this is both incorrect and unsustainable, given the rate that technology tools change and become increasingly available to our students.  

This is only one part of the Classroom Management Trinity. Good classroom management systems don’t stop at a short list of broad behavioral expectations. Teachers also need to have a reward or incentive system in place alongside the consequences that are appropriate to the expectation & student interest. Have the students help you develop these incentives - if they have a hand in creating them, they will be more likely to work for them. Then make sure you are enforcing and rewarding these fairly and consistently throughout your time with the students. 

Now it is true that digital learning environments may require some unique changes in teacher behaviors. For example, when the school provides and manages the student devices, train yourself to avoid using terms like, “Open up your Chromebooks,” or “Use your Chromebooks to…” do whatever. Those are the property of the school or school district, not the student. They are not “theirs.” Also, please try to avoid allowing kids to “Play games” when they are done with the assignment. Time spent in in your classroom with you, the professional educator, is far too valuable to waste it by playing games. Always have a curriculum-related extension activity available, whether it uses technology or not, for the “I’m-done-what-do-I-do-now” crowd. Better yet, allow them to explore the next unit of study.

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