On Feb. 6, over 25,000 teachers and millions of students in all 50 states participated in the second annual Digital Learning Day, a national campaign promoting digital learning and shining a spotlight on successful classroom technology initiatives. Though the event lasted one day, educators are encouraged to engage with technology year round, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy organization that hosted the event.
The event was a celebration of “the ability to leverage technology to do things like create more engaging learning experiences, and personalize learning to the needs of the student,” said Todd Park, U.S. chief technology officer for the White House, during the Digital Learning Day Town Hall broadcast. “Particularly in high-priority areas like STEM [where there are growing job opportunities], it allows for authentic simulation and program experience to really improve the experience.”
Though technology is not a magic fix, he acknowledged, “if you put the right technology into the hands of savvy people, and make data accessible, you can do a lot of things you can’t do otherwise around personalization, engaging experiences, and extending expertise.”
One District’s Plan
Lake Tahoe (Calif.) Unified School District is committed to increasing digital learning. With 3,800 students, 42 percent are Hispanic, over 60 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and almost half the student body does not have internet access at home, according to Superintendent James Tarwater.
With a need to improve test scores and bridge the digital divide, three years ago, the Lake Tahoe district bought 650 Acer netbooks from AT&T that students can use in and out of school to access school work and the internet. Students in grades 1 through 12 now use the netbooks as part of a special education bundle. Further, the district only buys e-books, which cost less than traditional textbooks. “[These efforts] provide a vehicle for all students to bridge or enrich what they need to perform at the highest level,” Tarwater says, pointing to a digital program that walks students through writing prompts and identifies areas that need improvement.
The program has especially impacted English language learners, who represent 29 percent of the student population. Since integrating netbooks, Adequate Yearly Progress scores have increased by nearly 7 percent among non-native ELLs in high school. And 82 percent of Hispanic students are graduating, up by 5 percent since implementing the program, Tarwater says, and compared to 72 percent statewide.
Joe Pfeil, Lake Tahoe’s technology curriculum coordinator, credits this jump to digital textbooks for subjects like social students and language arts, which allow students to highlight sections, look up definitions, and hear the text read aloud. “What I’m noticing is they seem much more motivated and really into the software,” Pfeil says. “Homework and class assignment completion have drastically increased.”
To learn more, visit www.digitallearningday.org.