Transforming the learning experience – Criteria to assess digital resources.

In ‘new learning’ classrooms, teachers have embraced technology, have questioned the norms of teacher-student interaction and source content that suits need from multiple resources. The trend is to use technology to free student learning from narrow views of what Education is about and to free teachers where possible from some of the marking, progress reporting and assessment so that they can spend more time facilitating learning. Here are a few things that technology can be used to improve:

1. Instructional content
Content is what traditional print textbooks deliver – and in most cases deliver well. Content is generally written by teachers and experts for a specific year level in a curriculum. The idea is to provide access to all the knowledge necessary to take the examinations that the curriculum was written to address. This plays to the one-size-fits-all style of Education – where all students learn the same things, from the same source, at the same pace and at the same time. Not all students learn this way, meaning some are under-extended and prone to boredom and others get left behind.

Great teaching has always involved content beyond the textbook. Technology has increased the variety of sources that can be brought into the classroom and made access instant and paperless. Great teachers would always use multiple resources, but the introduction of technology into the classroom has perhaps increased the pressure on all teachers to add variety to their lessons.

HOTmaths – selection of resources for Pythagoras’ theorem

2. Learning varieties
Students do not learn the same things at the same time, for the same reasons and at the same pace. Even if a textbook provides access to all the knowledge required to meet curriculum requirements, it is done in a linear fashion, starting from the front of the book and building knowledge on top of knowledge until we reach the end of the book.

Digital resources allow multiple access points to modular content allowing students to learn in visual, aural and kinesthetic ways at speeds that suit them. Content is linked across year levels allowing students to revise necessary content as needed either at the teacher’s direction or independently. Brighter students can skip repetitive practice of concepts they have already grasped and move on to more challenging material. Learning can be personalized, varied and most importantly, fun.

HOTmaths – access to multiple resources at varied levels through the dictionary

3. Interactivity
Since modern schooling was introduced during the industrial revolution – for those industrializing countries anyway – classroom interaction has evolved from a ‘lockstep’ teacher to student interaction to include student–student interaction, group work, and more. Technology has helped broaden the interaction available through social networks, interactive widgets that allow student-computer interaction, and teacher-student feedback (in both directions) via Learning Management Systems.

HOTmaths – students learn through interactive games and compete for high scores

4. Diagnostics and progress reporting
Increasingly, technology specifically designed for schools includes tools for diagnosing what a student is already capable of and what she needs to learn. In a traditional school a student is expected to learn year 7 content in year 7. When the year ends, a line is drawn and the student moves to year 8, perhaps with a new teacher, a new textbook or new classmates. For a teacher with a curriculum to get through, it is difficult to devote time helping those that didn’t learn a portion of what they were supposed to in year 7. And so those left behind fall further behind.

Included in some digital resources these days are ways of checking which students have understood and can apply what lessons. Testing and marking students’ understanding of a concept is automated so that teachers can get instant feedback on how each student is doing, where they are in their learning, what remedial work is needed and have the option of using this data to produce individual and class progress reports for department heads, parent reports or to give feedback to students.

HOTmaths – class reports show individual student progress in lessons and levels and can be drilled into for detail

5. Assessment
Regardless of how we might feel about standardized testing, we live in a results oriented world. Teachers are expected to prepare students for examinations, testing what they have learned and practicing test-taking conditions and techniques. Some traditional textbooks come with practice exams or additional testing resources.

Some digital resources offer test generating facilities that teachers can use to create practice tests and timed conditions. Tests can be customized with ease to focus on specific areas needing practice for whole classes, groups and even individuals.

HOTmaths – teachers can generate custom tests from any content on the site and assign to classes, groups or individuals

Some so called digital resources available online are essentially enhanced versions of flat print textbooks. They are linear rather than modular and revision of a prior year’s content would require a further purchase or download. They are visually more exciting than a print book but do not offer personalized learning or social learning but, by incorporating weblinks, can offer extension of content beyond the textbook.

Unlike some of the digital resources available to schools, HOTmaths is built on a Learning Management System that delivers class and individual reports of progress as well as customizable, automated tests with results. Interactive widgets and games enhance the engagement process and investigations encourage students to apply maths in real world situations.

Schools and teachers considering digital content for their classrooms should consider all options against a set of criteria that includes quality of content, variety of learning styles, degree of interactivity, depth of reporting and availability of assessment tools.

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