How to Manage a Digital Classroom
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, July/August 2015 Issue
By Anita Townsend
In a traditional model of teaching, the teacher is the source of knowledge. Learning is based on one-dimensional materials that are directly connected to curriculum content and skills. Today’s resources however, are digital, interactive, and visually rich; a stark contrast to rather lengthy text description of topics and themes. Students are now at the centre of their learning and use today’s technology and resources in ways very different from traditional learning materials. They access multiple sources, customize material to suit their needs, mix various media to create new learning, and then share it with unlimited peers through their social networking sites.
And as we transition from traditional teaching and learning approaches to digital and interactive ones, we need to carefully plan and prepare the learning environment. As good teachers have done for decades, good planning provides learning environments that enable students to successfully optimize their potential for success. Having a management plan is essential when using digital learning tools. This plan should cover components such as, classroom organization, instructional strategies, technology availability, and time. The following are some suggestions on planning your digital classroom.
Classroom Organization and Management
- All of your students do not need access to devices all the time. Plan and be specific about what you want the students to use the technology for. What learning goals does the technology support? What is the best technology for specific learning tasks?
- When you have a limited number of computers or hand-held devices available for group activities and students have to share, consider assigning specific roles to group members. If everyone has a specific job to do it is much easier for students to focus on the learning goal.
- Arrange classroom seating so that it is easy for you to move around the room and get to students quickly.
- Actively monitor student use of the technology. Walk around the classroom; be aware of which websites students are accessing and how they are working together.
- Provide students with clear guidelines on school policies and procedures in working with technology in the classroom. Every school should have an Acceptable User Policy on what constitutes proper behaviour when using technology. It is important to establish norms for student behaviour, in your classroom within the context of the project. Have students participate in the development of the acceptable use and etiquette guidelines in your class.
- Establish at the beginning of the unit how and where you want students to organize their data related to the project such as naming files, storing, and sharing files.
- Establish a backup plan for those days when the technology or the Internet connection is not available.
- Ensure the websites and learning platforms you recommend to students are secure. Review which web sites your students are recommending to each other.
- Provide students with a rubric or organizer which clearly defines project expectations and also provides direct communication with parents about the project.
- Post anchor charts that provide technology tips or software instructions or put them in a binder near the computers. An evolving list of tips can be generated by the students as they work through the unit.
- Review the learning material provided from manuals or teacher’s guides, and map the curriculum to several disciplines, including as many expectations as possible to cover and evaluate in the teaching of the unit.
- The content and the lesson plans are a comprehensive resource, which should enable you to cover a selection of expectations from two or more curriculum areas.
- Use the material to design and implement student learning that extends the curriculum content where and when possible.
- Students are motivated and benefit from working collaboratively with their peers in a team or pairs. This type of learning requires new skills in cooperative work. Students need to learn how to get along, share and learn from each other. Forming teams needs planning. It may be necessary for teachers to consider computer skills and the specific assignment when pairing students.
- Digital learning materials are most effective when integrated into the typical instructional day as opposed to being used just during scheduled lab times.
- As with any other educational resource, the use of the material should be mediated by teachers. Teachers’ responsibilities are not relinquished; instead, the teacher becomes a coach and mentor, using the majority of teaching time to provide instruction rather than large group lessons.
- Make connections with the content in the online unit to information from other websites that are relevant and timely.
- Provide specific and descriptive feedback to students as they progress through the online material, just as you would with traditional material. Integrate assessment tasks, which provide for formative and summative assessments of the tasks in the unit.
- Using interactive online materials will enable learning to become much more student-centred. Leave room in your planning for student inquiry and creativity.
- Facilitate and encourage students’ use of primary resources by using online polling, interviews, and accessing photo galleries.
- Take full advantage of student expertise. Students often know more than teachers do about a technology, and teaching someone else what they know is a great way to reinforce their own learning and foster a supportive classroom community.
- Even though students will do much of their work independently or in groups, they will still need to learn the skills necessary to follow schedules and maintain deadlines.
- Provide opportunities for students to connect with other students and to connect with experts around the world and then collaborate.
Just as students today share their expertise and knowledge readily with each other online, it is beneficial for teachers to form online support groups as well as the traditional face-to-face connections. Expanding your learning about technology integration can be done anytime, anywhere, by joining an online educator community. Gone are the days when the only place to learn new teaching approaches was a workshop presented to a room full of people.
Different sources of technology will provide different types of access and various levels of uniformity. Good teachers never relied on one teaching resource or one teaching method, likewise today’s teachers will never use a single technology in a single way.
Anita Townsend is an Educational Consultant and Former Principal at SCDSB.