Salem Statesman Journal
January 27, 2016
Many grandparents of today's elementary school students remember their first digital device in the classroom: a hand-held calculator made by Texas Instruments in 1967. Over the past five decades, education technology has evolved at light speed, and today, students have access to a number of learning tools literally at their fingertips.
Digital Learning Day, Feb. 17, highlights the digital learning students do every day, whether they attend a traditional brick-and-mortar school or a full-time virtual public school like Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA).
The Alliance for Excellent Education, which sponsor's Digital Learning Day, defines digital learning as any “instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience.”
Even video games have been part of digital learning going back to the mid-1970s. The Oregon Trail, designed to teach children about 19th century pioneer life, and Reader Rabbit, designed to build young children’s reading skills, were wildly popular educational computer games.
Since then, technology has opened up the schoolyard gates and allowed students to access educational materials anytime, anywhere. Think about how much "learning-on-the-go" technology students use in their daily lives, whether it’s reading favorite story books on a Kindle, calling grandparents on Skype, or watching a TED talk on an iPad.
More and more students are using technology for learning, and demand for this type of technology is on the rise.
According to a Harris Poll survey of students nationwide in grades 4-12, 83 percent of participants reported using a laptop to do school work, and 58 percent reported having used a smartphone and/or tablet as well. Seven in 10 elementary students, two-thirds of middle school students and over half of high school students wanted to broaden the use of mobile devices in the classroom and use them more often than they do now. Over 80 percent of participants said tablets in the classroom would let them learn in a way that's best for them and help them do better in class.
Many districts are beginning to implement Bring-Your-Own Device (BYOD) measures at schools, which offer the flexibility to help students personalize their learning experience. These measures are already in place in 14 percent of districts, and 58 percent have plans in the works for BYOD initiatives.
Online learning as a whole continues to grow as more students find success with digital learning. The annual report Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning, which tracks online education across the country, indicates full-time virtual public charter schools served about 275,000 students in 25 states during the 2014-15 school year, including 7,250 students in Oregon through schools like Oregon Connections Academy. Millions more students are taking a wide range of supplemental online courses, and interest in online courses is increasing among students, with 24 percent of high school students saying they wish they could take all their classes online .
We would not have online courses, educational games, tablets or other technological advances without the world of computer programming. A recent poll shows 86 percent of Americans say knowing how to use a computer is "just as important as knowing how to read and write," and 65 percent agreed that "most students would benefit more from learning a computer coding language than a foreign language." Several states have also considered allowing computer coding to satisfy a foreign language requirement just like French or Spanish classes.
And there's an ongoing demand for workers with computer science skills. Between 2010 and 2020, it’s estimated that nearly 800,000 jobs will be created in computer science-related fields. Oregon is one of 27 states which allow computer science classes to count toward graduation requirements, and other states are catching up .
What else might be ahead for the future of digital learning?
Perhaps transforming school buses into mobile wi-fi hubs, so students can start their homework on their way home from school, especially in rural areas? That's underway in Coquille on Oregon’s south coast . The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s new education law, calls for more education technology in classrooms, and encourages a shift away from print textbooks to digital online curriculum for educators.
Though there are some education experts who express concern about too much technology in the classroom, digital learning shows no signs of slowing down. Digital Learning Day reminds us that this is not about technology alone; it's about how that technology is facilitating and improving learning every day.
Matt Bergdall of Portland is a high school assistant principal with Oregon Connections Academy. He can be reached through the school at 503-897-2272, 800-382-6010 or by visiting connectionsacademy.com/oregon-online-school.