As students in 39 states participate in the first-ever Digital Learning Day on February 1, EDC’s Barbara Treacy will be celebrating alongside them.
“It’s really a day when teachers, administrators, and educational technology organizations are rallying to celebrate what they are doing with digital learning,” she says.
Events showcasing innovative and promising uses of digital learning will be occurring in classrooms and on computer screens across the country. The Alliance for Excellent Education, the day’s sponsor, will be convening an online conversation about the importance of digital learning by hosting a National Town Hall meeting featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The day even has its own Twitter hashtag: #DLDay.
Treacy will be lending her own voice to the conversation, moderating a webcast titled “Effective Teaching and Professional Learning Opportunities.” She sees Digital Learning Day as an opportunity to engage people from across the country in meaningful discussions about the changing roles and identities of educators.
Treacy believes that the real power of digital learning, from tablet devices to Web 2.0 tools, is not in the items themselves, but in their ability to forge meaningful connections between people.
“I see digital tools as enabling teachers, students, parents—really everyone—to extend the learning process beyond the school walls. And that’s a bit different, to me, than just integrating technology into the classroom,” she says. “These new tools will allow us to have far more authentic projects that are connecting schools to the world of work and to local communities.”
Treacy has been an advocate of technology integration since well before Google, Facebook, and iPads were even mentioned in conversations about learning and teaching. One of the first people to grasp the role that online communities could play in teacher professional development, she has turned this small idea into a successful nationwide program: EDC’s EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO), which works with educators in over 30 states. In fact, ETLO is using Digital Learning Day to invite educators from across the country to join a conversation about the changing role of the teacher.
Now decades into the electronic revolution, Treacy and other educators are still asking questions about what the classroom will look like in the future. Will tablets replace textbooks? And how much learning will occur online, in virtual spaces beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom?
Research has begun to answer some of these questions. A recent study by Project Tomorrow found that in 2010, 30 percent of high school students took an online class for school. This is a significant increase from 10 percent in 2008. And according to a 2009 Institute of Education Sciences study of teachers’ use of educational technology, 97 percent of teachers have at least one computer in the classroom.
Treacy offers some words of caution, though, saying that integrating tablets and other new technologies into learning “is hardly a smooth process.” While new technologies are often praised for their simplicity and ease of use, meshing digital tools with long-established teaching and learning practices (not to mention the existing technology infrastructure in many schools) can be messy. She puts it bluntly: “It’s not all easy, it’s not all fun, and everything doesn’t always work. And it takes a lot of professional development to actually make a difference using these tools.”
Perhaps inspired by the rapid development of new technology tools, thousands of other educators are now sharing Treacy’s interest in technology integration.
Treacy is bullish on the future of digital learning, even if the roadmap is unclear. “Clearly there is momentum,” she says. “There is so much opportunity for technology, when implemented thoughtfully, to support innovative teaching and learning.”
Originally published on February 1, 2012