The Power of a Digital Platform

Isn’t it funny that we will see in public restrooms signs about reducing our carbon footprint by using electric hand dryers versus paper towels but institutions like schools still use excessive amounts of paper over digital formats?? Think about it…what is the busiest room on your campus? Probably the copy room with its fortress-like stacks of paper reams that deplete faster than anyone realizes. What’s a tell-tale sign that the day ahead may be rough? The line in the copy room or the “broken” sign on the copier machine!

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Though I believe some activities require good, old-fashioned paper copies, a little bit of thought and effort can greatly reduce the amount of paper used – whether it is for administrative tasks or teaching!

Think about PD. How many times have you sat through a presentation in the library (or wherever your staff meets) and have received stacks of handouts with agendas, notes, etc on them. Instead, administrators could post the agenda on the screen or board behind them like most teachers are asked to do in their classrooms and provide a digital copy of the handouts at the close of the meeting. On our campus, we have an iTunes U course set up for just this purpose. Instead of sorting through countless emails or perusing stacks of paper you “file” in that special place, we can go directly to our campus iTunes U course, select the tab that applies (i.e. staff meeting, T-TESS Information, SDCE, etc) and find all relevant materials provided there. Digitizing these files (which were created in a digital platform to begin with) is simple to do. Pairing these files with an annotation app that allows staff to sign and return may also be an easy way to file the records admin needs back.

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When involved in a PLC, how many times have you searched all over for files you used last year? Instead of going through filing cabinets (with again copies that are now outdated and must be modified digitally and reproduced), teachers can house their documents in a shared location and all have access to digital copies to use as needed.

One of the courses I teach has a few new teachers on board this year. Instead of overwhelming them with tons of copies or giving them a little bit at a time, I simply share the Google Drive folder for our course and give them access to all the materials housed in there. I’ve even gone so far as to put my overly organized tendencies to good use and provide a source document (Google Doc that is a live, easily modified piece) that tells the other teachers the names of files in the folder, the context for how they are used, etc. As fellow collaborators create new lessons, those files are easily added to the shared folder and all stakeholders have what they need to do their jobs well.

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I hate the idea of reinventing the wheel every year. By organizing digital files (on a cloud-based platform where they can be accessed from home, work, or anywhere), it allows me to work smarter, not harder. As time allows, I simply modify lessons from what did or didn’t work the year before. And nobody wants to be “that” teacher who is constantly asking for help or lesson ideas, but when you are new to a course, you can use all the help you can get. In my opinion, that’s what education is all about, helping whomever – students or colleagues – learn!

Speaking of that goal, I think creating digital classrooms are crucial to learning. I don’t want to be a gatekeeper, slowly doling out knowledge on a timeline that works solely for me. I want instead to meet the needs of my students as they may arise. To anticipate the different types of learners you have in any given classroom, you need to provide a variety of approaches to your lessons. Here’s the thing though – I don’t have to deliver each of those distinct processes of learning. Instead, I utilize a digital platform to make available a multitude of resources. Though I want to believe everything I say is listened to with attentive ears, the reality is more like the teacher on Charlie Brown uttering inaudible speech that hardly anyone fully takes in. To combat this, I use digital resources instead of paper copies of lessons, worksheets, rubrics, etc. I can simultaneously give instructions, have the students follow along, show the information on the project screen in real time, highlight, circle, etc. what I’m talking about and make my notes live for them to keep within a matter of moments. Any given lesson then includes the auditory directions, an opportunity for students to interact with the work as we annotate on digital copies all together and then additional resources to look over if the student gets home and forgets what he/she should be doing for homework. Sometimes rolled into the same lesson are additional videos (of myself going through the instructions or a sample of someone else introducing the work – because varied viewpoints work). Instantly, students can also see samples of work from others (years past) as an illustrated example of what they need to accomplish (for those visual learners).

And for me, the answer is also extending my classroom beyond the time parameters set in the school day. Have a question? Send me an email or post a comment on the assignment page. Want to see how you did? Check out the graded feedback in real time with a digital submission platform, instead of waiting for the next class period when you pass out papers that many throw right in the trash after seeing the grade.

Regardless of what your norm looks like right now, you need to embrace a mindshift, even if it is instituted through small steps (think SAMR model with the foundation level being substitution). Why is this tough? Because it asks individuals to change the way they have been doing their jobs for years (if not longer for some). Did good, old-fashioned paper and pencil work for you when you were in school? Absolutely! Does it mean that those are the only tools that 21st Century learners should be utilizing in an environment meant to prepare them for next steps in an ever-changing, emerging digital environment? I think not.

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