DAILY INSIGHT: Sustainable practices for digital age learning

What can we do to make digital age learning sustainable? 
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What can we do to make digital age learning sustainable? 

By Tim Clark, CIO Advisor

Sustainability is defined as the capacity to endure. Most people agree that the natural environment has to be sustained so that we can get long-lasting and renewable benefits from its resources. Similarly, we must develop sustainable practices that continue to support digital age learning within the learning environments of today’s schools. When the initial enthusiasm for shiny new technology devices begins to pale, what will help to keep the spark alive?

Digital Age Learning describes the shift from traditional teacher-directed instruction to student-centered learning with the use of technology tools. Those resources may be provided by the school or through a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative. I have observed the transformation of many typical classrooms in my district through the implementation of BYOT supplemented by the school’s technology devices and infrastructure. However, that transformation has to be sustained so that teachers and students don’t revert into the old habits of standardized, rote instruction—mainly characterized by the activities of lecturing, memorizing, and recalling information.

Based on my collaboration with teachers and students throughout my district, here are some practices for sustaining digital age learning.

Build the Learning Community

I’ve written before about the importance of developing learning communities in schools and classrooms, and one hallmark of an effective community is trust. When students and teachers are working with technology devices and applications, there is always the possibility that someone could make a mistake or a poor choice. Yet, I’ve seen classrooms with clear, consistent expectations and an atmosphere of safety and respect that rarely experience issues related to the inappropriate use of technology. When teachers expect the responsible use of technology, they convey that they believe in each student’s ability to accomplish great things.

Utilize Student Expertise

Because students are accustomed to using their own technology tools for consuming content and communicating with their friends, they have already learned how to troubleshoot many technology issues. Of course, not every student has the same level of interest, ability, or expertise with technology, but they can learn to rely on each other for support. The teacher can also begin to depend on the students for technology assistance. This strategy empowers students to discover new skills for life-long learning.

Focus on Digital Age Skills

Teachers often become frustrated when they focus their instruction on a particular application or device. In fact, as we implemented BYOT, we quickly realized that we needed to talk more about digital age skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), rather than on technology. As teachers begin to incorporate those skills into their content standards, technology becomes purposeful, meaningful, and relevant.

Encourage the Regular Use of Technology

Having special technology times or days means that technology use occurs outside of the norms of learning. However, when it becomes a normal part of teaching and learning, teachers and students are able to discover new uses for the available technology tools. Then technology serves a legitimate function in the process of learning, and its use becomes an enjoyable, necessary process, rather than a big production or event.

Provide Continuous Professional Learning

Teachers and students need time to “play” with the technology tools, but the real paradigm shift for many teachers is learning how to share control and direction of the learning with the students. It is also helpful if teachers can see digital age learning in action by observing each other trying new strategies, using technology, and facilitating learning experiences for students. This support should be on-going and include opportunities for feedback and reflection.

In addition to the above strategies, the buy in and support of the parents and other stakeholders also ensures the sustainability of digital age learning. Technology hardware, applications, and processes will continue to change over time, whether students are using school-owned or student-owned devices, but the supportive practices that truly leverage change are everlasting.


Sustainability. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 26, 2013

Tim Clark is coordinator of instructional technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia. This blog is cross posted on BYOT Network.