Post by Jed Stefanowicz, Digital Learning Coach
As a digital learning coach, my primary goal has always been to support and enhance the instructional capacity of educators. As we begin the 2022-2023 school year, I’ve expanded my goal in context of our continued post-pandemic recovery. My role is most effective as a collaborative partner embedding digital learning practices to help educators reclaim their classrooms, reignite their passions, and reaffirm their purpose.
If we remember to stick to the ABCs- Always Build Capacity (thanks @jeantower), we can do a bit of reflective practice to flip that acronym and find out why. That brings us to CBA- Capacity Builds Agency. Yes, capacity builds agency, and that’s the struggle I see facing many classrooms as we look for restorative practices to “get back to normal.”
Learning loss can be a toxic and triggering phrase, but the loss that the folks inside the school walls care most about is that loss of agency, both student and teacher agency, where leadership, autonomy, resilience, and flexibility are prioritized. My view of agency through the lens of digital learning is the intersection and application of three domains of digital learning: Wellness, Competency, and Creativity.
Wellness describes who students are and will become through a digital citizenship and social-emotional lens. Competency describes what digital skills and behaviors students acquire to become empowered learners. Creativity describes how students acquire knowledge and demonstrate learning through integrated technology. Educators, schools, and districts working to advance digital learning at scale can usually compartmentalize their products, practices, goals and objectives within these three domains. Using the three domains to begin a branched framework, there are components within each domain that leaders can identify as areas for focus, goals, or growth. These sub-components are described in the following sections, and are categorized to help school teams or leaders identify lanes to work toward change, rather than trying to elevate all aspects of digital learning at once.
Wellness in digital learning is more complex and comprehensive than an outdated coverage of digital citizenship. In fact, digital citizenship is often viewed by classroom teachers and families within a framework of internet safety and behavior. Wellness builds upon and expands digital citizenship while encompassing and including families, society, social emotional learning and mental health in a more holistic view of digital literacy. See the links at the end of this post to dig deeper into digital wellness components (physical, cognitive, emotional, community) through Kerry Gallagher’s Connect Safely blog.
Schools looking to broaden their scope of wellness support for their learning community can begin by expanding from a limited digital citizenship perspective to incorporate technology that supports social-emotional learning and engages families and communities.
This domain spans the skills learners acquire and the opportunities we provide to measure their capacity and growth. In a competency approach, learning shifts to the application of concepts in intentional and meaningful modes. Competency in digital learning measures learners’ ability to accomplish tasks and apply authentic skills across content areas, rather than navigating a scope and sequence of technology-based tasks surrounding the operation of products and devices.
Reminding ourselves to keep our instructional focus on student processes rather than vendors’ products, the competency domain addresses capacity building, skill development, and digital literacy as the priorities for effective digital learning, rather than limited technology operation.
If we want to empower a generation of content-creators, we need to prioritize digital design and creativity as critical classroom competencies. We need to update what it means for students to publish their work through methods like digital media, blogs, podcasts, and presentations. Shifting students from consuming to creating is a gradual process that has suffered a backslide returning from the pandemic. It is more important than ever to re engage all learners with effective tech integration.
Future-ready learners require options and opportunities to ignite higher-order thinking. Creativity and flexibility promote engaged learning, collaborative problem-solving, and empowered learning. The creative process requires an approach and an educator who believes that innovation is a culture shift, not a climate act, and that empowered student voice and choice through authentic digital literacy is an essential classroom competency.
When it comes to professional learning, it can be too much to expect every classroom teacher to manage the necessary work of rebuilding students’ connection to school and learning while reclaiming their own. Teachers have identified this past year as their hardest yet, and that leaves little room for professional growth beyond essentials. Conceptualizing digital learning across domains can lighten the load. Focusing individually on digital wellness, competency, or creativity domains reduces the cognitive load on educators and shifts the expectation to more targeted capacity-building efforts.
Considering these three domains of wellness, competency, and creativity is also a way for administrators to focus their assessment on ways in which teachers engage students with technology. Let’s move past ideas for entry level tech-integration. We are integrated, whether through 1:1 devices, LMS platforms, or tech-enhanced lesson plans. Let’s broaden our interpretation of digital learning to have a richer and more meaningful understanding of technology integration that addresses student wellness, competency, and creativity.