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Carrie Rogers-Whitehead

What are educators saying right now about digital teaching and learning?

Carrie Rogers-WhiteheadSETDASays:  Guest blog post written by Carrie Rogers-Whitehead.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the founder of Digital Respons-Ability, a mission-based company dedicated to educating and empowering students, parents, and teachers to be digital citizens. You can join Carrie and others in the digital citizenship conversation through their free monthly webinars. Carrie is the author of numerous books, including the forthcoming title with ISTE, Deepening Digital Citizenship: A Guide to Systemwide Policy and Practice, written with Dr. Vanessa Monterosa.

What are educators saying right now about digital teaching and learning?

This year, just like the years that preceded it, will be another big year in educational technology. Cybersecurity concerns have increased with high-profile hackings. Remote learning and increased use of edtech has brought more attention to the need for digital citizenship instruction. Schools continue to focus on social-emotional instruction (SEL) as part of curricula and to overcome learning loss. But what do those topics mean to the educators on the ground?

I discussed instruction, SEL, and digital citizenship recently with a group of teachers and administrators. Here is their perspective of what’s happening in the school districts and what they think the future holds.

Instructional Design and Delivery

Sandra Paul is the Director of Information Technology in Union Public Schools in New Jersey. She works a lot on infrastructure and cybersecurity but also is involved in instruction, so she can see both sides. She acknowledges that there is a push and pulls between instructional delivery versus policy/safety and cybersecurity. Paul said, “We are forced to use business enterprise equipment that is not flexible enough for education, but it’s also not stringent enough.” From her experience, there needs to be more training on phishing, and privacy and expanding computer science classes with cybersecurity.

Other school leaders like Paul are dealing with cybersecurity concerns. SETDA has compiled feedback from state leaders and is working to help support school districts in their states.

Gary Lambert is the Director of 21st Century Learning in Beekmantown Central School District in New York. He’s worked to provide more of those types of training Paul mentioned. In his work, he said, “we’ve seen a huge transformation in our district in the last 5-10 years in the embracing of digital teaching and learning.”

Lambert’s district implemented a digital literacy initiative that started with conversations with parents, administrators, and community members. From those groups of school community members, goals and actions were created, and school leaders were asked to be digital leaders. Lambert describes the process as building trust with instructional leaders by “having our administrators use the same tools our teachers used. We had our administrators use Google Classroom…If I’m expecting them to use it in the classroom, I’m going to demonstrate best practices by doing it myself.”

Lambert found the project a success not only because school leaders were involved but through mentorship. “Part of the digital literacy initiative that people agreed to was to be both a mentor and become a mentor. People were afraid that they were going to lose control of their classroom. But what they could see as time went on was that they were gaining more control in different ways.”

Bill Bass works as an Innovation Coordinator in Missouri and is the co-author of the ISTE title: Leading from the Library: Help your School Community Thrive in the Digital Age. He works in the area where, in his words, “technology and instruction meld.” He sees a need for more student input and leadership in the instructional of technology and digital citizenship. In Bass’s district, years ago, they decided that every student would manage their passwords starting in kindergarten. From a cybersecurity perspective, Bass acknowledges, “we knew it was wrong, but it was a strategic decision that we made to get to where we want to be. It’s not about today but who they are five years from now.” They had trust in those students, and Bass said that through the practice of students managing their own passwords, the district laid the groundwork to make a foundation of learning.

“My challenge is not kids, it’s adults,” said Bass. “This is why I so appreciate the partnership I have with our CIO because we recognize it is about educating our kids. We can do everything we want when they’re sitting in front of us, but when they walk out the door is when it actually matters. We don’t see disruptions as learning opportunities, we just see them as disruptions.”

Social Emotional Learning

Joe Montemaro is the Director of Technology in Webster Central School District in New York. He also sees those trust issues Bass mentioned but also sees an opportunity through teaching social-emotional learning (SEL).

“I think we have an opportunity with SEL to reteach kids some skills that they lost during the pandemic: the face-to-face value of people, citizenship and maybe have a doorway to integrate this world into it because they were in the technical world and we can dovetail that together. If we can do that well, I think we can have a robust place for K-12.”

Montemaro saw the pandemic accelerating the need for SEL and integrating technology. “Those teachers who were frontrunners in technology and then the pandemic hit, and they’ve been pushed into the future. Now we have this opportunity to transform it, but they’re also seeing the effects of the masking and relationships lost. There could be the opportunity to transform it.”

Future of Digital Citizenship

Debra Jacoby teaches computer science and digital citizenship to elementary students in Florida, “When we’re talking to the students, we really have to give them the tools of what you mean when something’s appropriate…even classroom teachers will say ‘this came up on the screen and that’s a huge part, teaching people to problem solve and what’s not OK.” Jacoby sees a need for more teaching teachers in instructional technology. “I’m in my 40s, but my younger teachers say they’re struggling and don’t get the technology.”

When asked about her predictions for the future of digital citizenship, Jacoby said, “A huge area of digital citizenship is around algorithms and big data, I anticipate the next regime that digital citizenship is more about AI and ethics.”

Joe Montemaro has been utilizing digital citizenship practices for 15 years, from his work as a principal to an edtech director. He sees digital citizenship as a big issue, but it can be hard to scale and make cohesive. Part of that difficulty is crafting policies and the time it takes.

“The policies are so behind with the tech companies, and we’re playing catch up. We are so far behind that issue that the privacy pieces have taken a large portion of our jobs. It’s almost an overwhelming piece of legislation that needs to happen. It needs to be paid more attention to and not put on individual school districts. The manpower and the time that it takes to protect kids’ safety is overwhelming to a district, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface.”

Like Jacoby, Montemaro sees a generational gap “with the phones and the devices in the homes and the generational gap between what the parents know and what the kids don’t. Technology is overwhelming and what we did in the pandemic just made it a tsunami, we don’t have the rules in place. The rules are coming later.”

Despite these challenges—staffing, lack of instruction, policy issues, and the fast pace of change, these educators shared their hopes for the future.

Sandra Paul said, “I think as we continue educating parents, the support staff, and all stakeholders within the realm of our small little communities, I’m hoping that we will use the technology for something positive… something that’s impactful that will change our communities for the better where there’s a sense that’s honoring each other as humans and as citizens of the 21st century.”

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