The Future is Now for Digital Learning

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January 22, 2021 Dawn McAvoy By Dawn McAvoy
Student learning from a computer at home

Change is inevitable. And 2020 was quite a year for change in education. Long an alternative offering for many schools, virtual learning was thrust into the forefront for almost every school and the topic of many, many conversations.

We’ve curated highlights from several powerful conversations we had with educators throughout the year. These highlights include best practices, insightful projections for the future, as well as ideas on what might stick after the pandemic wanes. Here are some key takeaways:

Engaging Students and Enlisting Parents as Partners in their Learning

Lisa Rowbotham, the Secondary ELA Supervisor for Passaic Public Schools, who also runs the AVID program for the district, shared her strategies for implementing successful remote learning opportunities to engage students from a distance and how they are providing expansive professional development for their teachers.

She also shared how parents are engaged and involved in their student’s school work like never before in this blog post. They implemented new programs to support parent student communication that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Going back to basics and aggressively advocating for students

Thomas Vacanti, the Online Learning Coordinator for the City School District of Albany in New York, spoke about communication, sharing how his district has handled the monumental task of effectively communicating with students and families this year. In this blog post, we share how his district is going back to basics to find ways to connect with and build relationships with their students.

Thomas also shared a phrase that he coined for his district, “aggressive advocacy,” which he believes is about providing students with all of the tools they need to be successful, while still holding them accountable for their work.  

Flexibility brings new, unexpected opportunities

Kerrie Torres, the assistant Superintendent from Brea Olinda Unified School District, shared her district’s strategies for meeting the unique needs of their students and how she feels they are supporting certain populations of students even better with virtual learning.

In this post, Kerrie shared how having access to digital curriculum and content that’s relevant, rigorous and meets their district’s needs for flexibility has allowed their students and families to take a deep breath and set their own pace for learning.

“I am Willing…”  

We spoke with Kimberly Smith, the founder of the new Center for Inclusive Innovation from Digital Promise, who spoke about the importance of using the phrase “I am willing” and how she believes that will help to shape our future as educators and the future for our students in this post

Have students demonstrate knowledge rather than understanding

Carl Hooker is the former director of innovation and digital learning for the Eanes Independent School District. Carl believes that we have the potential to engage students to learn in unorthodox ways and to inspire them to pursue their dreams – now more than ever. In this post, he shared his common belief: students should drive their own learning.

Through a unique blend of technical expertise, educational experience, and flexibility, districts have the potential to support students where they are to broaden their horizons and change their lives.

Reimagining education  

Sean Slade, the Senior Director of Global Outreach at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), spoke with us about his thoughts on the future of education and how the pandemic has created a new opportunity for change and innovation.

Sean shared that the pandemic has opened up the eyes of policymakers and educational leaders to the need for us to focus on the well-being, safety and security of our students and teachers. He believes that until we get that right, it will be very difficult for us to focus on our student’ cognitive and academic needs. The good news is that as a result of this challenge, we are all reassessing education, and there has been a general community and societal appreciation that well-being is central to everything that we do, which we share in this post.

Making district-wide learning a priority

If there’s one thing that’s evident, it’s that district leaders have overcome all odds to support student success this year. In a conversation with James Butler from Tucson Unified School District, he shared a  snapshot of their commitment to their community and the success of their students. When the pandemic hit, TUSD leadership collaborated to embark on creating not only an ecosystem that would work well in the current learning environment, but also how they could rebuild and reimagine school moving forward, while still enabling students to thrive.

From curriculum, to technology, to operations, and transportation, their departments all worked cohesively to define clear goals for the district. And throughout their planning, they stayed focused on the fact that at the end of the day, somebody's child was depending on them to get this right, and they knew they only had one shot to do just that. In this post, we learn more about how they’ve successfully implemented a district-wide virtual learning program.

The Student Perspective

We also had the pleasure of speaking with high school students about their perspective on the future of education. Nicola Peck, from Chicago, Illinois, shared her concerns, strategies for success and what she believes districts should consider when implementing long-term virtual learning programs in this post.

She imparted words of wisdom on how to adjust to online learning and some of the hurdles she overcame through her own journey. From cultivating self-discipline to unifying district online learning standards, she provides a lot for districts to consider when developing an effective online learning strategy moving forward. If she is any indication of future generations, we are certainly in good hands!

Moving forward together

Hearing from all of these powerful and insightful voices again, it’s hard not to be excited about the potential we have to inspire real and lasting change in education long after the pandemic is a distant memory. We look forward to continuing to learn from and support students, educators and district leaders in their quest to help students thrive – however and wherever students are learning. 

What opportunities are you discovering as a result of this unique time in life and in education?

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