As a specialist in the newly formed Department of Digital Learning, I hear about the Instructional Digital Conversion on a daily basis. While I realize a lot of hard work lies ahead, I am genuinely excited about bringing our students the tools they need to be successful in the digital age.
Although I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the challenges and celebrate the successes that will come along during this journey, my greater anticipation of what the instructional digital conversion can do for our students comes from my perspective as a parent.
My wife and I have two daughters who have recently started their school careers in Baltimore County Public Schools. My eldest daughter, Morgan, a second grader, uses the technology we have in our home almost every day. A few months ago, I helped her set up her own email account. She loves the independence of having her own account to send and receive messages from relatives. Morgan also enjoys being creative, and when she grabs my iPad, it is often to create digital stories using an app called Toontastic.
Casey, my kindergartener, follows the lead of her big sister. Though not ready for a traditional email account, I did help her set up an account using an app called Maily, which allows younger children to email in a more visual environment with drawings, pictures, and small blocks of text. Casey also loves to interact in a virtual world called Club Penguin, which is geared toward kids.
At times it seems my children are just “playing” on our devices, but when I take a step back, I see the skills my children are developing with the help of technology. Morgan is improving as a writer through the practice she gets from emailing her relatives. She not only enjoys writing but is also discovering how to use humor and find her voice as a writer. My wife laughed when this gem appeared in her inbox last month:
Additionally, Toontastic has provided Morgan with a creative outlet for making the stories in her imagination come to life. For Casey, interacting in the virtual world of Club Penguin provides her with opportunities with problem solving and decision-making challenges that does not occur when passively watching television.
I know I may just sound like a proud dad bragging how about his kids, but this is why I am excited for the instructional digital conversion. Though my wife and I obviously set some limits for our children’s technology use, these authentic learning experiences are occurring with little adult guidance. Imagine taking this innate desire my children have demonstrated to use these tools to learn and be creative and infusing it in their education. Now apply this thinking to all BCPS students. Imagine how much more all students can get out of their education when access to digital devices and resources overlays curriculum and instruction.
Naysayers will often mention too much screen time, limited face-to-face interaction, decrease in physical activity, and a myriad of other reasons on why giving students their own digital device is problematic. However, much of this skepticism comes from a misunderstanding about what a 1-to-1 environment means. Giving students their own devices does not supplant the experiences schools need to provide. Students will still paint in art class, run around in physical education, have class discussions, and interact with their teachers. In fact, the foundation of the instructional digital conversion, the 1-to-1 initiative, should help students further engage in content and enhance their learning. Imagine students using their digital devices to . . .
- explore different abstract artists before working on their own abstract inspired painting.
- track and graph their heart rates after various exercises in PE class and then analyzing the data with classmates during math.
- continue a class debate in an online discussion forum from home after the discussion gets cut off by the bell at the end of a government class.
- interact with digital content tailored to their individual needs, thus giving the teacher more time to meet with students individually and in small groups.
As a parent and an educator, it is very exciting to see the opportunities for learning that will open up for all students as BCPS goes through the instructional digital conversion.