The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 7, 2013

Digital Learning Day — Students, educators share enthusiasm for continuing initiative

Technology providing new opportunities to personalize challenges in the classroom

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — An idea that blossomed from West Virginia classrooms, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s second annual Digital Learning Day, continues to garner participation and interest as technology becomes more and more integrated in classrooms across the world, said former Gov. Bob Wise.

Wise explained that Mountainview Elementary School in Monongalia County had a no paper, no pencil challenge, inspiring him to develop Digital Learning Day.

This year’s Digital Town Hall webcast was broadcast to 25,000 teachers and millions of students across the world Wednesday from the Newseum in Washington, D.C. In addition, school districts and classrooms around the country participated in their own Digital Learning Day celebrations.

Wise said schools and districts featured on last year’s broadcast, like McDowell County Schools, have continued to make great strides.

Through Reconnecting McDowell, the district has made vast improvements to school infrastructure and broadband capabilities.

Todd Park, United States Chief Technology Officer, talked about personalization and the availability of technology for students.

He said the National Broadband Plan through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has been working to increase Internet availability in every school in the nation.

He also discussed the U.S. Department of Education’s MyData Initiative, which aims to let every student have access to their own academic data and create a personal learning profile.

“This gives students the chance to interrogate the educational landscape and personalize the experience,” he said.

This type of initiative lets students investigate their strengths or share information with colleges, he explained.

“We are inventing entirely new ways of teaching and learning that we can’t even imagine; Amazon was never a bookstore with a computer in it. Technology is a powerful aid that, in the hands of the right people, can drive new ways of doing things and improve our lives,” Park shared.

The webcast shared personal experiences from school districts across the country.

Some students used video chat to talk with experts or interview people like retired astronauts.

Students in Quakertown Pennsylvania School District, for example, have a more flexible schedule through cyber education, allowing them to take both the classes they need and want without a conflicting schedule.

The Cajon Valley School District in California is using technology to enhance writing classes.

Middle school writing teacher Janet Ilko’s students publish their writings digitally, edit together as a class, and engage each other’s topics through online discussion.

“Students are no longer consumers of digital media. They are creators of digital media,” she said. “Students are taking a lot of responsibility for what they are doing and are motivated by technology. We are giving them a real audience and a real purpose for their writing, instead of just keeping a journal for me or for themselves.”

Hot topics during Wednesday’s webcast were professional development for teachers and 24/7 learning.

Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee Congressman George Miller (D-California) explained that technology is already being used to further teacher professional development as teachers reach out across states to collaborate on projects and seek advice about classroom technology integration.

Wise also noted using computer-based programs allow students to learn at their own pace and “break down the barriers of time.”

“Learning is no longer based on how long students sat in a classroom. One-hundred and eighty days worked when it was passed in 1906, but now students move on when they have mastered the material, not based on their time in a seat,” he explained.

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Also during Digital Learning Day, the Alliance for Excellent Education announced a new initiative to help school districts and educators plan for progress toward digital learning.

Project 24 will provide free support to school districts that are looking to integrate technology in the classroom, including free online professional development course for teachers, access to additional expert help, webinars, profiles of successful districts and interactive chats and blogs.

More information on Project 24 is available at www.all4ed.org/project24.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com