Two decades ago, educators predicted technology as key in schools of the future and listed potential instructional shifts in education. While some predictions, such as no longer needing teachers or classrooms, have not materialized, certainly we are in an age of digital learning. The use of technology is considered integral to 21st Century competencies. There is no doubt that our students are digital natives. They have grown up with the Internet, computers and handheld mobile devices. For them, technology in the classroom is natural. I believe the effective use of technology in our schools can be a valuable tool for instruction by providing authentic learning experiences; we must use technology effectively. Technology can address the need for differentiated instruction, provide equity through accessibility, promote collaboration, allow teachers to enhance learning experiences and expands the instructional world beyond the classroom.
There is so much more to instructional technology than providing Internet access and putting a computer or tablet in the hands of students and teachers. The district had to consider the infrastructure, the hardware, the software and the professional development needed in order to successfully integrate digital learning. The vision at Freeport Public Schools is for high-quality instructional technologies to support students and teachers in daily, effective use of technology with the Next Generation Learning Standards to achieve high outcomes for all students.
Three years ago, through the Smart Schools Bond Act, we were able to begin our 1:1 Chromebook initiative. Staff began the initiative with intensive training to become adept at digital learning. To date, instructional staff, administrators and students in fifth through twelfth grades have a Chromebook. Elementary classrooms have sets of Chromebooks or iPads and classrooms have interactive displays throughout the district. Although both students and staff are excited by the Chromebooks, the more important aspect is the enhanced learning experiences for the students that technology offers. Instructional use of the Chromebooks includes web-based research, digital presentations, video creation, online assessments, electronic submissions of assignments, participation in blogs and the ability to collaborate with peers and teachers. Staff and students have access to a myriad of software programs, apps and digital books to support instruction. These programs cover all subject areas with opportunities for interventions and enrichment as well. Our students are driving their own learning through research, coding, collaborative projects, blogging and more.
Trends in digital learning include Virtual and Augmented Reality, intelligent assistants, gamification, personalized learning and interactive video-based learning. Freeport Schools has been integrating many of these trends. Personalized learning occurs through differentiated instruction to meet individual needs, with specific, tailored feedback. Online assessments are embedded within assignments to provide real-time response. Gamification, or game-based learning, turns assessments and skill-building activities into interactive competitions that engage and motivate students. Through interactive video-based learning, teachers embed comments and assessments into existing videos that monitor student progress.
Our students have already been using technology for virtual reality (VR) experiences through virtual reality field trips using Google Cardboard and virtual field trips from Nearpod. With the use of a 360° camera, our students will soon be able to create their own VR field trips. Our students have begun to have experiences with Augmented Reality, such as using iPods to “locate” planets and learn about them. It allows students to scan objects to get more information.
The future of digital learning is exciting and we are proud to be building upon these opportunities and learning experiences for our students. We look forward to continuing to enhance our use of technology and digital learning as we prepare our students to excel in a rapidly advancing world.