Following up on #digitalfirst schools

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On July 22, 2012 an op-ed piece that I authored appeared in the York Daily Record/Sunday News. The title of my article was “Schools must embrace a digital-first mindset”. In short, my research into digital disruption of various industries led me to make a connection between changes that our local newspaper had undergone and changes that, it seemed, our local schools were going to have to make sooner or later in order to remain relevant in the Internet Age. As I put it:

“…pieces at a time, I have been building on the idea that schools and newspapers alike can discover a new sense of purpose and greater success through technological innovation.”

I learned a few lessons that could be applied in schools that wanted to be pioneers in the digital era.

Going #digitalfirst doesn’t mean going completely digital. What it does mean is embracing technology to improve communication, collaboration, creation, and critical thinking. All of those things can happen in a traditional classroom…and they can all happen in digital environments too. But since we spend most of our time outside of the classroom, let’s make sure that those digital environments are available to learners 24x7x365, right?

Our local school district is now using Google Apps for Education. That’s progress.

Going #digitalfirst means schools can truly own their public information processes. Sure, it’s good to make sure the newspapers, TV, and radio stations are aware of what’s going on. But technology allows schools to open lines of communication with their geographical and virtual communities. Schools can broadcast relevant, interesting information at all hours of the day or night. Student journalists can create their own news cycles and work with teachers and staff to make sure that parents and community members get a better look into day-to-day school operations and events. Transparency can be improved.

Our local school district now has approximately 32 “official” Twitter accounts – one for the whole district, one for each school, one for district administration, and then individual accounts for athletics, activities, and even specific classes and teachers. That’s progress.

Going #digitalfirst means teachers and administrators can connect with other educators for professional development. Social media tools like Twitter and Google+ allow for hashtag chats, Hangouts, and sharing/collaborating without any time/space limitations. People are blogging about what is working and what isn’t working. People are talking.

I’ve given several sessions to teachers, administrators, and office staff about using Twitter and Google+ for professional development…and people are doing it. Almost 30 of our teachers and staff attended a Google Summit last school year and they got connected. That’s progress.

Yesterday and today we began handing a Google Chromebook to every child in our high school. And while #digitalfirst isn’t about the device, having a device will certainly help to provide learners with opportunities to collaborate, communicate, create, and engage in critical thinking. That’s progress.

The last paragraph of my article focused on patience. It’s easy to preach patience, but extremely difficult to practice it. The last three years have been full of moments where I felt like I was beating my head against the metaphorical wall. Going #digitalfirst doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes in the rush to change we have to be reminded to take time to plan and develop clear policies and frameworks for use. It’s really easy to skip over the planning process and jump straight into implementation but, as we’ve come to find out, you can make your life a whole lot easier by devoting a significant amount of time to crafting an effective and captivating vision for what #digitalfirst will mean for students, teachers, staff, parents, and the community at large. As we learn our lessons, I hope we share them with our communities and keep working toward that “new and exciting era of learning”.

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