Administrators spend a lot of time and funds on implementing education technology in their schools. However, such programs can only be valuable tools if students have the digital skills necessary to use technology effectively. This web seminar, orgininally broadcast on April 18, 2013, featured administrators from the Phillipsburg (N.J.) School District, who described its successful implementation of the EasyTech curriculum from Learning.com. With EasyTech, students at Phillipsburg realized measurable gains in their digital literacy skills, which will be required by the Common Core State Standards and the next generation of online assessments.
According to the Digital Literacy Task Force of the American Library Association, digital literacy is defined as the ability to use information and communication technology to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, which requires both cognitive and technical skills. Students have to know how to use technology, as well as know how to think. “Information and communication technologies” includes databases, internet searches, and smart technologies. Students need to be able to evaluate the information they discover using these technologies; they need to validate the sources they find and vet the information that is appropriate to the task at hand. They need to be able to create content using word processing tools and multimedia tools that reflect the data they gather. Other technologies include collaborative workspaces, like social networks or affinity spaces, where kids or adults with similar interests gather and congregate virtually to share information.
We want to make sure that students use their cognitive skills along with their technical skills. A student described as digitally literate can use these diverse technologies appropriately and effectively to get the information they need, judge the quality of the information, interpret the results, and respect personal privacy. Respecting personal privacy is something we need to focus on more and moreibecause children are becoming so digitally connected. During the weekend, some of these students communicate with each other only virtually. They don’t always understand that what they’re communicating has left the comfort of their living room. We want to teach our students how to use technology appropriately to communicate and collaborate with others so that the collaborative learning model can migrate effectively to the digital space. Today’s students are digital natives. They’ve never lived in a world without the internet. They cannot imagine not being able to stream any type of media they want or find anything they need online. They understand, are very comfortable with, and are not afraid of technology.
However, that does not mean they know how to use education technology tools productively. The Common Core State Standards are designed to reflect real-world situations. The knowledge and the skills students learn and master are designed to prepare them for college and careers. Standard Six of the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing says that students need to be able to use technology to produce and publish writing and interact and collaborate with others. It’s built into the standards that students must use digital tools to research and to work together with others. The next generation of assessments is coming, and these assessments will demand a higher level of digital literacy than ever before to allow students to demonstrate mastery.
It’s not enough that the kids have the content knowledge. They have to be able to demonstrate that knowledge by using digital tools. PARCC and Smarter Balanced require a deeper comfort level with technology than any previous online assessment. By the time students start taking these assessments, they can’t be learning how to use the assessment technology. They have to be digital experts. The assessments require a variety of different response types. For PARCC, students will have to write responses using word processing tools and more. Smarter Balanced really isn’t too different; students will have technology-enhanced items and performance task items as well. How do we teach digital literacy? One way is through project-based learning. Project-based learning relies on authentic learning activities, where discovery is the goal. The areas which students are going to discover and demonstrate their knowledge of should be strongly rooted in real-world application.
Students have to find and vet the information in project-based learning. They have to determine if information is appropriate and if it advances their mission. As students work through the project, they choose the tools to help them discover the answer. Because students are digital natives, these tools are invariably going to be primarily digital. Digital literacy will be furthered through these types of projects. In content areas, we can teach digital literacy by having teachers use and model different technologies, such as interactive whiteboards. Incorporating BYOD, open-ended research products, and digital homework also contribute to an increased level of digital literacy.
We serve 3,700 students in our district, and we are supported in our elementary schools by funds from Title I. These funds help us pay for technology such as EasyTech. EasyTech is an online tool that helps students gain digital literacy skills and prepares them for the CCSS and next generation assessments. We first implemented the EasyTech curriculum for students in grades three through five. Then we integrated projects in our middle school classrooms to enhance the learning with which students were entering sixth grade.
We’ve begun to treat our technology inventory almost like a utility; money needs to be set aside to provide the resources we need in our classrooms. We can’t provide a quality education for our students without that technology. Interactive whiteboards are now in all of our classrooms and all of our teachers have laptops. We also began a technology learning community where teachers come together to share ideas on how they are integrating technology in their classrooms.
We started looking for ways to implement digital learning successfully in the district and eventually chose EasyTech in 2000. In years two and three of EasyTech implementation, we standardized the coursework for each grade level to correlate with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. Initially, the data was a bit inconsistent because the amount of time each student spent on the computer was varied.
For the last three years, we worked with our elementary media specialist to implement a mandatory 20 minutes per class on EasyTech every other week during library time. We found that data became consistent and all students were receiving consistent instruction. Teachers started noticing a difference in projects that were going on in the classroom. Middle school teachers started noticing that students were now coming to middle school with more technology skills. Student achievement is high with EasyTech.
Proficiency in the program has always been between 88 and 92 percent. For the 2012-2013 school year, however, our class averages have increased to between 93 and 95 percent accuracy. More importantly, we’re seeing that the number of lessons each student completes throughout the year has increased. We are going to develop an enrichment course because 75 third through fifth graders have already completed all of their required EasyTech coursework at marking period three, and 60 students are only two lessons away from completion. The great thing about EasyTech is that there is a variety of content with games, discussions, journal entries, assessments, and more.
The resources are there to easily establish enrichment courses so students who are already proficient can move beyond the basic digital literacy skills. Each lesson is tied to the CCSS and the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. I am an administrator of the system and can tell you it is easy to manage on my end.
To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.districtadministration.com/ws041813