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New role a game-changer for student, teacher digital literacy

By Roberto Baldizon
December 15, 2017
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I’ve been involved in leveraging technology in education on various continents for nearly 20 years. As a strategy leader of change and a consultant, I’ve learned certain “truths” along this journey: 

  • Designing infrastructure for teaching and learning is different from a corporate approach, though not mutually exclusive.Not everyone is at the same level at the same time.
  • Provided with the right tools and support, teachers will rise to a new level. 
  • Though the majority of educators feel they’re “integrating” technology into their teaching, they’re only implementing it. 

Ever since I partnered with a director of studies in the early 2000s in Mexico City to rid a primary school of various computer labs and created the position of technology integrationist, I’ve struggled with fully defining the role. We knew that separating technology and creating a set of classes for it wasn’t the correct approach. We didn’t want to create an environment where the tool was an aside from every-minute learning. 

The technology integrationist’s role was therefore focused on supporting educators by teaching students how to use a tool with the classroom teacher in the room. Eventually, this model evolved into a natural partnership between the technology integrationist and the classroom teacher. However, in many cases, there was little innovation or shift in teaching approaches. Much of what we saw in the early days was automation and repetitive (think keyboarding) tasks being done by students. 

I’m now in charge of innovation and technology at an ambitious start-up school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, called MiSK Schools. The school has adopted a project- and inquiry-based learning approach, is creating a maker-focused culture and is establishing amazing partnerships with innovative organizations around the globe.

Part of my own shift was to rename the technology integrationist role to digital literacy coach (DLC). The person we hired as our DLC was a tech trainer and coach who was able to frame the position in a new way and focus on the “why.” Our DLC learns about teachers’ capacities and interests, and exposes them to the tools that best suit the learning opportunities in the classroom. Her priority is to find ways to get kids to make something rather than to do repetitive tasks, or worse, sit in front of a screen to consume.

Out of all of our DLC’s work, the most influential piece has been the creation of a Framework for Digital Mastery that uses the International Baccalaureate’s Essential Elements to Digital Literacies as a guidepost.

The main tenants are: 

  • It’s not about how to use the tool but why, when and which tool is best to fulfill the need and promote collaborative learning.
  • Teachers don’t teach digital technology. They have to develop digital literacies to model them and to help students enrich their digital aptitude.
  • Students don’t need to be taught how to use a tool. They need guidance, space and time to explore it and learn to transform their own learning with the help of a tool.

Articulating to teachers the why and the how has allowed them to recognize when they’re in implementation mode and when they’re in shifting-teaching-and-transforming mode. 

After 20 years of trying to find the best formula for digital transparency, redefining the role and bringing in an outsider with a fresh pedagogical perspective has taken us to a new level.