Teaching with Digital Learning Tools - Digital Promise

Teaching with Digital Learning Tools

Plan for powerful digital learning by ensuring teachers have effective pedagogical tools and resources.

Leveraging technology for teaching and learning has the ability to transform the educational landscape. Digital learning can provide students with the opportunity to take charge of their learning, encourage deep thinking, and promote collaboration. 

Content within this portion of the playbook speaks to teaching students generally. While these strategies will support all students, for information specifically on teaching neurodiverse learners—including students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans—in digital learning environments, please see the Equity and Accessibility Considerations for Digital Learning portion of the playbook

The following are examples of topics to consider for supporting teaching and learning with digital learning tools: 

  • Learning Content Management: Do we have a digital classroom/learning management system to manage our content and resources? Who is using it now and what do we need to do to ramp up for all teachers and content areas?
  • Existing Digital Resources: What are we currently using? Who has licenses? Is teacher training required and/or has it taken place?
  • New Digital Resources: Do we have gaps by grade level or content area? How do we know which online resources are best for each student, grade, and subject? What evidence is needed to support decision making and selection?
  • Technology Access: Will students have access to digital learning technologies after school and outside of the school building?
    •  If so, do students have access to reliable internet at home to complete online assignments?
    •  If not, how will digital learning be hybrid with analog homework for students who do not have access to their own technology at home?
  • Collaboration: How will teachers collaborate to support students? How will students collaborate with each other?
Identifying Tools and Resources

The leadership team, in collaboration with teacher leaders, should audit their current digital learning tools and resources to identify software and apps needed to meet the needs of every student learning digitally. Some categories to consider are: 

  • Video conferencing software (e.g., Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams) for synchronous online interactions between teacher and students 
    • When promoting video conferencing, ensure that teachers have clear guidance on privacy settings, navigating disruptions to video conferences, and appropriate use of video conferencing software. 
  • Learning management system, or LMS, (e.g., Schoology, Canvas, Google Classroom, Edmodo) to organize instructional materials and resources for students
  • Instructional applications and software aligning to the district or school’s pedagogical and curricular goals 
  • Single sign-on technology (e.g., Clever, OneLogin, ClassLink) to manage log-ins and make accessing digital tools easier for students and families

Other considerations for identifying and utilizing digital tools include: 

  • Developing systems that provide students with access to teachers and support 
  • Creating district-wide instructional content that can be utilized by teachers across schools to decrease individual content creation
  • Compiling a searchable and sortable database of all technology resources and tools available to teachers 
Assessment and Grading

Digital learning provides an opportunity to reconsider and adjust the grading and assignment requirements for schools, especially when digital learning is implemented in emergency situations. The leadership team might consider promoting competency-based learning, an assessment strategy focused on the mastery of concepts rather than time spent learning. This creates flexibility for students to learn and complete assignments at a pace that suits them supported by powerful digital technologies. 

Competency-based learning is best supported with projects and performance-based assessments instead of traditional tests and homework assignments. This type of learning demonstrates skill mastery while providing students with choice, flexibility, and some agency over their work. But, it requires developing agency in students and partnering with students to create a way to demonstrate their competency that is motivating to them. Doing so can also promote more personalized learning and autonomy over the schedule and location at which learning takes place. 

For teachers, assessments provide data on student achievement that can be utilized in decision-making around future learning goals and instruction. Assessing student learning in a digital learning landscape could differ from assessing learning in more traditional settings, but is especially important within digital learning settings. Digital learning tools provide opportunities for authentic and meaningful assessment above and beyond what is possible within a traditional classroom. Non-traditional assessment types enabled by digital learning should be considered to provide flexibility and personalization for each student, especially when paired with competency-based learning. For example, schools can use adaptive software that determines students’ correct level and provides lessons and assessments that correspond to that level, and technology-facilitated project-based learning that gives students the opportunity to work on real world, authentic products based on driving questions.  

When grading and assessing in digital learning environments, consider the following: 

  • The assessment and grading process that best supports district, school, and teacher learning goals and the curricular and pedagogical strategies used
    • Potential grading strategies include: 
      • Traditional numeric or letter grades; 
      • Pass/fail or rubric-based; 
      • Standards-based; or, 
      • Competency-based.
  • Summative and formative assessment methods that can be implemented both at school and at home
  • Align summative and formative assessment to performance and curricular goals
  • Determine if adaptive software is appropriate for giving appropriately leveled feedback and support to students 
  • Provide teachers with tools and information to complete frequent formative assessments
Developing a Positive School and Classroom Community Online

Schools serve as a community space that supports students’ social development and emotional well-being. If digital learning includes a face-to-face component, the work of developing a classroom community will mirror community development in traditional learning environments. For classes that take place online, time should be devoted to building relationships with and community between students within the digital space. This could require different procedures than teachers generally use and should be considered during professional learning opportunities. 

Social and emotional support is not limited to students; considerations should also be made for how leaders can support teachers and how relationships between teachers, students, and families can be cultivated within digital learning, especially in completely online environments. 

Tips for supporting teachers:

  • Check in on teacher well-being and needs through weekly check-ins or drop-in office hours.
  • Create professional spaces for teachers to interact and network with other teachers.
  • Establish boundaries and expectations for schedules and availability during digital learning. Allow for flexibility in schedules, but also provide guidelines about expectations for digital communication and response times, and encourage limited or no digital communication outside of school hours. 

Tips for supporting students:

  • Provide students with access to school counselors and nurses.
  • Designate time for creating relationships and community online and in person.
  • Offer times and platforms for teachers and students to connect personally and informally, whether one-on-one or in small groups.
  • Designate at least one school member who will cultivate and maintain a close relationship with each student.
  • Develop shared experiences during the school day, such as shared school lunches, read alouds, or brain breaks.
  • Create spaces for students to share themselves and their identities with their peers. Online, these spaces could be a class website, a shared posting board such as Padlet or Google Jamboard, or discussion post. 
  • Establish consistent routines for students in order to facilitate learning, decrease stress, and develop students’ self-regulation while providing flexibility for those students who need it. 
  • Include breaks in the routine that help students to get away from computer screens. 
  • Plan both formal and informal connections between students and their peers throughout the year. This can include small group work and building formal partnerships, but teachers can also provide optional engagement activities without content learning goals to focus on social and emotional learning. 
  • Create systems for students to share their questions, comments, and concerns with regards to instruction and social and emotional well-being. 
  • Provide opportunities for students to connect with other classrooms locally and across the globe.
  • If you are teaching online, consider: 
    • Connecting with students before the school year begins. This could include asking students to create a shared board with their favorite things or a short, personalized video message. 
    • Planning activities that will help students to connect with their classmates (e.g., discussion boards or small group conversations based around interest, online icebreaker games).
    • Developing rules and norms for learning as a class. 

Guiding Questions

  • Have you identified timing and scheduling expectations for student learning? How will the accuracy of timing and scheduling be assessed and adjusted?
  • Is there a digital classroom/learning management system to manage content and resources? Who is using it now and what is needed to ramp up for all teachers and content areas?
  • What digital learning tools and resources (curriculum, applications, software, etc.) are currently used within the school or district? Which of the resources are successful and should be scaled? What, if any, new tools or resources need to be identified and purchased? 
  • How will students receive the logins, scaffolding, and curriculum they need to engage in digital learning? 
  • How will students be assessed and graded? Have these expectations been communicated with teachers, students, and families? 
  • Has the digital learning leadership team developed or updated policies regarding student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions online? (Consider questions like, can teachers be alone on a video call with students? Can two students be alone on a video call together? Can a small group of students be alone on a video call with each other? Can teachers text students or families about assignments and work?) 
  • Have you developed a plan for building community between students in the classroom and with families? 
  • How will you provide students and families with resources connecting them to social-emotional health and well-being? 
  • How are learners included in the process of developing expectations and protocols for digital learning to promote ownership and responsibility? 
  • What resources are available to support the emotional well-being of teachers? 
  • Are the teaching and learning expectations equitable for students with varying home situations?
Tools and Resources

Resources for Digital Learning

Tools for Digital Learning

Grading and Assignments During Digital Learning

Developing a Positive School and Classroom Community Online

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