Digital course materials a game-changer but still require good teachers
There was a time when the term “digital course material” seemed cutting edge. Early adopters were working to create courses for their students using the then-limited systems that often times could be anything but user friendly. A student would go to the course and download different items, and more than likely, it was a bad PDF scan of a text where half the pages were flipped upside down or barely legible. Later, this may have also included the teacher’s presentation slides.
Those days, digital course material had a very narrow meaning and was limited to the world of higher education and maybe high school. Things are different now. With more resources available in “digital” form than ever, the phrase “digital course material” takes on a much broader definition.
In classrooms around the country, the idea of digital course materials continues to grow and may include tech books, websites, VR glasses, live streaming of events, digital multimedia portfolios, and a wide range of other items. The list grows daily as educators explore, create and enhance their digital world.
At North Lakeland School District, digital course materials are being used in every classroom and by all ages.
In our kindergarten, students are recording themselves and documenting their education using the Seesaw app on a tablet. Kindergarten students are active participants in their education and creators of their own digital course materials. They record themselves reading, engage in math talk, and comment on science items. They then share these items with their teacher, who can share with parents. Teachers, students and parents can comment on the student’s work, creating a powerful feedback loop.
In second grade, students are using Chromebooks to access Discovery Education’s Science techbook to explore topics. This resource offers a plethora of curated resources for the students to explore and interact with while diving deep into the topic. Students can read a passage followed by a video and then answer relevant questions, all in one easy-to-access place.
The world is much more accessible to the students at North Lakeland. In the different social studies classes, students are using mystery Skypes to interact with classrooms in other parts of the country. VR glasses are opening exploration of areas that students would only be able to see in pictures or film. Now, students can look around and be immersed in the world they are exploring — at the bottom of the ocean one minute and the top of Mt. Everest the next.
English language arts classrooms are transformed by the growing amount of digital materials available. Students are given choices on e-books focused around certain guiding topics and leveled to their ability instead of classroom sets of old books with aged bindings. Homogenized grammar sentences posted on the board have now been transformed into relevant passages specific to the students’ interests with the help of a product like NoRedInk.
The amazing things described above are only the start of the wide range of digital course materials being integrated into classrooms at North Lakeland School, but this wasn’t always the case.
North Lakeland is a small district located in the middle of the forest in Northern Wisconsin. The district covers 277 square miles with fewer than one student per square mile. The challenge we face as a small, rural district is the ability to find, vet and apply digital resources in the classroom. We have very talented teachers, but the task of finding quality digital course materials in the ocean of the digital world to enhance the lessons, units and interventions offered in the classroom can be a daunting task.
Recognizing this challenge, the district made the decision to seek outside help to provide each teacher with professional development that would help increase their digital application skills in the classroom. The district ended up choosing Discovery Education’s Digital Leader Corps due to its commitment to partnering with districts and providing an individualized, professional development plan and coaching opportunities for each teacher.
It has been over this last year that I have really watched the North Lakeland staff blossom and become digital explorers, finding resources that enhance the great teaching they were already doing in their classrooms.
Using the wide range of digital course material to engage all students, independent of their background, has been a game changer for the district. Students are excited to use the resources in class, they are engaged in the curriculum, and, in many cases, they are taking ownership in what they are learning. At North Lakeland, the idea of digital course material has expanded to include any digital resource that enhances a course of study and includes all grades.
Through all of this, we can never lose sight of the fact that all of these digital resources, no matter how innovative they are, can never replace good teaching. Students still need to be provided with rigorous and relevant classrooms that are anchored in strong relationships with kids. Digital resources are just tools to enhance good teaching.
Education has come along way in providing relevant, useful, and engaging digital course material to students of all ages. The world of education is starting to fully embrace the power of digital tools in the classroom. This is showcased at North Lakeland School District and many other districts across the country.
Brent Jelinski is superintendent of North Lakeland School District in Manitowish Waters, WI.