Digital Learning Instructional Partnerships

Podcast Episode 6: Digital Learning Interview with Amy Soma and Louis Lauer

Initiating, developing, and sustaining instructional partnerships for digital learning is a win-win-win proposition for future ready learning. School librarians can be leaders in developing shared digital learning values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations.

Collaborating educators have knowledge of students’ home and school access to digital resources and technology tools. This may be particularly important for school librarians who are well-aware of students’ school-based access but may lack knowledge of students’ home and community access. However, access alone is not enough to ensure that students are able to maximize the promised benefits digital information, devices, and tools.

In a 2016 survey, Victoria Rideout and Vikki Katz found that “the quality of families’ Internet connections, and the kinds and capabilities of devices they can access, have considerable consequences for parents and children” (7). Through collaboration, educators must deepen their knowledge and understanding of students’ opportunities to learn digitally. They must create a school- and community-based context in which digital learning can achieve its promise.

Shared Values
While access to technology resources is a prerequisite for digital learning, shared values are just as important. Educators who have similar teaching experiences working with students in their neighborhood schools are perfectly positioned to think, plan, and teach together to meet students’ needs. During collaborative planning, astute school librarians will be mindful of how their colleagues’ values and their own align and when those values are misaligned. During the coplanning process, collaborators may nudge each other to expand students’ choice and voice when it comes to digital tools.

When educators read and share research and practitioner articles focused on technology tools integration, they can collectively strategize the most effective approaches to engaging students in digital learning. Wrestling with questions such as the ones that follow posed by Dr. Maryanne Wolf can lead instructional partners or whole school teaching teams to think and rethink how to successfully frame digital learning.

“Will the early-developing cognitive components of the reading circuit be altered by digital media before, while, and after children learn to read? In particular, what will happen to the development of their attention, memory, and background knowledge—processes known to be affected in adults by multitasking, rapidity, and distraction?” (Wolf 2018, 107).

“What are the specific developmental relationships among continuous partial attention, working memory, and the formation and the deployment of deep-reading processes in children?” (Wolf 2018, 117).

Shared Vocabulary
When educators have shared vocabulary for instruction in any content area or for use in any process, such as inquiry learning, students benefit. The glossary in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership is an important aspect of the book. While all readers may not agree 100% with my definitions, they offer a starting place for discussion and clarification.

The International Literacy Association (ILA) offers an online literacy glossary. “New literacies” is one important term related to digital learning that educators may discuss and tweak.

New literacies. A term used to signal a shift from literacy to literacies, especially in relation to how people view texts as being situated in different contexts that in turn support different kinds of reading and writing. New, not in the sense of a replacement metaphor, but new in the sense that social, economic, cultural, intellectual, and institutional changes are continually at work. This term is preferred over 21st-century literacies. (See also 21st-century literacy(ies)) [Rev., 10/2018]

Collaborating for digital learning does require an understanding of how students view, read, learn with, and write digital texts.  For me, ILA’s definition is especially useful because it notes the term “new” relates to  contexts for literacy learning rather than a replacement for traditional literacies.

Shared Contexts
Students and adults today have become habituated to ever faster access to information and multitasking. We also communicate more frequently in briefer units of thought; Twitter and email are examples. “90% of youth say they are multitasking when they are reading online; only 1% multitask when reading in print” (Wolf 2018, 114).

Faster access to information does not necessarily result in faster knowledge acquisition. Modeling slower and deeper engagement with texts helps students see the benefits of taking time. In addition, relevant learning experiences can help students remain engaged, develop intrinsic motivation, and persist when learning is challenging. With two or more coteachers monitoring student learning, educators can more easily identify students who have lost their momentum or lost their way and need guidance to get back on track.

Instructional Practices
What school librarians have traditionally termed information literacy are what Dr. Wolf calls “pragmatic tools” for online reading. School librarians are adept and experienced at teaching students how to select and use search engines and databases. We help students be deliberate when choosing search terms and evaluating search results. We model and give them repeated opportunities to practice determining perspective and bias and to dig deep in order to recognize misinformation, propaganda, and lies. Taking these strategies to media sources, further expands students’ ability to be astute users of data, ideas, and information.

Separating truth from fiction takes time for both youth and adults. Applying information and media literacy strategies and approaching texts with alternately open and skeptical minds will require practice. The International Society for Technology in Education has published a number of resources to support school librarians in teaching information/media literacy, most recently Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News (LaGarde and Hudgins 2018).

The Challenge
School librarians must focus on access first and address the gaps. The future ready librarian also “invests strategically in digital resources,” “cultivates community partnerships,” and “leads beyond the library” (Future Ready Librarians).  School librarians can take a leadership role in writing grants to obtain funding for technologies that address equity of access. Building digital age capacity through forming partnerships with public librarians and other community-based organizations is important in order to provide digital networks that are essential to students’ success. School librarians must join with others in advocating for students’ access to tools and devices in their homes and communities as well as in their schools.

Through leadership, we can help our schools develop shared values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations for student learning with digital information and tools in order to address this challenge: “technology increasingly provides easy access to answers, but if we focus only on the answers and not on the thinking, questioning, and solving, we deny students powerful learning experiences. Perhaps even more significant, we fail to develop the new literacies that will empower them to solve complex problems and be lifelong learners” (Martin 2018, 22).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How would you describe the technology environment, including equity of access, in your school, district, or community?
  2. In what kinds of conversations have you engaged with colleagues related to shared values, practices, and challenges with technology tools use and integration?

Works Cited

Future Ready Librarians Framework: Empowering Leadership for School Librarians through Innovative Professional Practice. https://tinyurl.com/frlflyer

LaGarde, Jennifer, and Darren Hudgins. 2018. Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.

Martin, Katie. 2018. “Learning in a Changing World: What It Means to be a Literacy Learning—and Teacher—in the 21st Century.” Literacy Today 36 (3): 21-23.

Rideout, Victoria, and Vikki S. Katz. 2016. “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families.” Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. ERIC ED574416.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

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