What’s So Hard About the Digital Classroom?

Our lives are digital. The interwebs have changed everything, which sounds like the tagline for a really cheesy film. But in all seriousness, it’s amazing how we are using the applications and tools out there. The podcast “Spark” from CBC recently talked to people who are vision impaired about how the Amazon Echo is making a huge difference to accessibility and speed for them. I was up at a friend’s cottage and watched him set up dimmer switches for lights for his fire pit that can be controlled by an app on his smartphone (that was cool).

So what’s happening in our schools and classrooms? I’m considering how educators are using digital tools across our district. We are entering the fifth year of a 1:1 pilot in seven elementary schools and also in all of our secondary schools. In addition, the vast majority of teachers and all administrators have one to one access to a device. While change is exciting, and we have seen teachers, principals and vice principals embrace digital tech in many ways, there are still many barriers. Educators struggle to figure out how to use tools for more than handing assignments in through Dropbox and Google Drive, simple substitution with worksheets or games or posting the weekly memo on School Sites.

I’ve seen staff meetings where everyone brings a device, and I’ve seen others where almost no one does. I’ve talked to grade 9 and 10 students whose teacher expects the device at every class and uses it, and others where they don’t bother bringing it because the teacher never asks.

I’m left scratching my head. When people post all kinds of updates on social media, send e-transfer funds zipping around and book their vacations through online sites, what’s so hard about using the tools for workflow and to learn? I know we have amazing resources in our district to teach and help, but these seem to go largely untapped.

Please comment or engage in this conversation on Twitter. I’d love to know more about perspectives out there.



7 Responses to “What’s So Hard About the Digital Classroom?”

  1. Sue, what a great and important post. I wonder if a piece of the challenge is the additional distractions with these digital tools. How do we merge low-tech and high-tech tools to best suit our different learners? Thinking about Self-Reg, how do these tools connect?

    Right now, I’m working at a camp program where students have amazing access to digital tools. I know that great things can happen, and in many ways they are, but some students still see these tools for their gaming or video potential only. Trying to link them with the learning potential can be challenging. Even as adults, when do we use digital tools for entertainment versus learning? Could this be part of the challenge?


    1. I agree that the entertainment vs. learning thing is a challenge for all of us. I love playing mindless games on my phone! It does take discipline to use the tool for something different. But, educators are highly educated, smart problem solvers. That’s what really puzzles me about the uptake.

      1. Could the problem be that not everyone sees the educational value in these tools? People will often put time towards problem solving when they believe that it’s worth this time. Curious to hear what others think about this.


        1. Thanks for following up on this comment, Aviva. I get it, education is a small c conservative environment that generally doesn’t like change. “Value” is a subjective construct and it’s quite easy to not see value in things as a result. Willingness to try new things is more of a mindset and it takes a lot of effort, as you know. Of course, nothing worthwhile comes without effort.

          I’m mostly interested in how many educators have embraced the digital life at home, but not at school. That’s fascinating. I just read a post by Steve Wheeler: Digital is Default. You might be interested.

          1. So funny, as I just saw your tweet about this post, as I then went to read your reply. I’m going to read the post now. Thanks for always giving me things to think about!


  2. Yasmin Smith Avatar
    Yasmin Smith

    I think we are going to look back at the past few decades and realize we messed up our kids because of our fascination with digital technology. It’s a new medium and we simply don’t know the long term effects: both good and bad. I’ve seen some great kids struggle to focus on their electronic homework and not succumb to online distractions, but its being called “digital heroin” for a reason. If we as adults are struggling, why do we not realize that children with developing brains will have an even harder time? God help the children with ADHD: electronics are their kryptonite and now the school board is their pusher. I think evidence is pointing to a correlation with student mental health issues and technology use. I am praying the pendulum will swing back towards a middle group with realizing that technology is a powerful but often destructive tool, before an entire generation of teenagers is ruined.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. So often we humans forget about balance and considering implications. I’m a digital person and an analogue person, and I make those conscious decisions daily. You’re right, we do need to teach our kids the same – and what tool is right for the task, whatever the task might be.

      I wonder, are you speaking about teenages from personal experiences? I’d love to hear your story if so.

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