Curriculum Design: Three Practical Ideas to Implement Today

As an educator, I have used several forms of curriculum design, from traditional textbooks, government-mandated curriculum. I have even used non-curricular approaches with un-schooling my children. However, educators can tell you, the way the curriculum is written is often used differently in classrooms. This is especially true for rigid and traditional curriculum. Educators need to craft their nuance into the curriculum and modify it to fit local needs. For example, while teaching middle school science in rural Texas, we used a science textbook that gave examples of rainforest ecosystems.

My students hadn’t seen a rainforest, but they knew the ecosystems in their backyards, farms, and ranches. So, naturally, I adapted and used examples that students could relate to instead of the textbook examples. This made the rainforest examples more relatable once we looked at them with our local ecosystems having been learned first.

At BSD Education, it is my role to oversee our curriculum development process and define a vision for our curriculum. After years of being a Learning Experience Designer, here are three practical ideas that you can use for developing a curriculum:

  1. Decide on a pedagogical foundation.
  2. Use learning standards or a learning framework.
  3. Design for flexible learning environments.

Decide on a pedagogical foundation

An often overlooked aspect of curriculum design is pedagogy. At BSD Education, we design our curriculum on three pillars of pedagogy: Constructionism, Project-Based Learning, and the Pedagogy of Play.

The pedagogical approach that you use will depend on the values that your curriculum is trying to convey. It includes the styles of learning that you want to immerse your students into, and the age of the students. Try exploring some different pedagogical approaches to see what might best suit your needs.

Use learning standards or a learning framework.

Every teaching subject will have a set of guidelines, frameworks, or standards that outline the actual learning material and objectives. For example, at BSD Education, we lean on the ISTE Standards for Students and the CSTA standards for computer science.

Pre-existing frameworks or sets of standards are vetted through a rigorous process, making them a great starting point. When adopted by governments, schools, and other education providers, it gives them greater credibility and reliability.

Design for flexible learning environments

In recent times we have learned just how important flexibility in the curriculum is, whether it’s teaching online, face-to-face, or in a blended environment. Designing the curriculum with this in mind allows for maximum flexibility that can benefit both students and teachers. At BSD Education, we create our curriculum and platform so that lesson delivery can happen virtually, face-to-face, or even self-paced.

Designing for this type of flexibility can be difficult, which is why we also include educator and student feedback as a part of our design process. Then, we take the feedback and explore ways to improve and make our curriculum more flexible and valuable while maintaining consistency to the standards and alignment to our pedagogical foundations.


Bonus: How to Design a Culturally Relevant Curriculum

Student Flexibility: How to Navigate When You Have Limited Resources

Earlier this year, a great example of navigating student flexibility was when I taught an online course called “Introduction to Digital Design.” Students made several different digital artifacts in class, like a Personal Webpage, a Blog, and a Video to share on the blog. The course was open to students all across Asia and the Middle East. Twelve students signed up for the class that met once a week for six weeks. The program’s intent was an after-school enrichment course. So I didn’t anticipate the wide variety of resources available to the students.

Two students from Hong Kong had their mini recording studios with green screens, stage lighting, and high-end laptop computers. Three other students living in Northern India were all siblings. They used one mobile device and did not have access to any other technology or devices. The rest of the students had a laptop at the minimum. As a result, I had to reconsider approaching the expectations for student flexibility, delivery, and final project outcomes.

Designing for Student Flexibility

Since that experience, I developed strategies focused on student needs and the different resources they may or may not have. Here are my top three techniques in designing for student flexibility.

Survey ahead of time

It can be helpful to gather some data about the resources available, skill ability, and limitations that students may have. I now send a survey ahead of time to collect information which helps me plan how to approach their needs. The survey also helps me plan which curricular materials to use and if I need to find alternatives before the class.

Provide Voice and Choice opportunities

In my example, where students had limited access to laptops, I had to help students find digital tools and resources that fit their needs. Allowing all students this same flexibility allowed more student choice in the tools and software they wanted to use. For example, this allowed the advanced students to use OBS studio with a green screen, while other students used a simple mobile video editor. This student flexibility approach empowers students to choose, allowing them to share their unique voices effectively.

Celebrate the differences

Instead of seeing a problem with students having limited resources, we turned it into an opportunity to share more about their circumstances, how they learn, their day-to-day lives, and how they know at home, leading to a cultural exchange between them. They became fascinated about the lives of their peers, and some even became online friends throughout the course. We learned about the customs, foods, and lives of people in India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. In the end, students shared their final projects, and everyone celebrated the achievements of each individual.

My highest priority is to meet each of the students where they are and with what they have while providing a high educational value to each student. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t follow traditional teaching practices where I simultaneously teach the same content to the same students.

As a result, I confronted some changes to my course design and became flexible in my teaching practices. Each student completed the course work and produced fantastic results because I tailored the content to the needs of each student and allowed them the flexibility to choose their digital tools and outputs.

What Are The Benefits of Technology in the Classroom?

You might be asking, what are the benefits of technology in the classroom? It’s fair to say that when I was in school, the use of technology in the classroom wasn’t widespread. There were no personal laptops for each student, no digital planners, no classes on coding or programming. I remember when the teacher would pull out the overhead projector for lectures. My school certainly wasn’t set up for the level of technology use that teachers were faced with recently.

It’s exciting to think back on how much has changed in the educational landscape since then! Since my high school graduation, social media use has skyrocketed, video conferencing has streamlined and improved greatly. Most students have personal laptops but also smartphones, iPads, watches, and Alexas provide any information they could possibly want to know.

Technology changes on a dime. As education continues to systemically evolve, we’re going to see the many benefits of educational technology come to fruition over the next few decades.

Read on!

Students are more engaged

“Bueller?” This scene from “Ferris Bueller” has to be the epitome of a bored, disinterested classroom. Whether out of a lack of interest in the topic or distraction, two things are happening here. They aren’t paying attention and they aren’t learning.

It’s been 35 years since that film came out and the classroom looks entirely different. Now teachers compete with a myriad of distractions that continues to evolve. So you may be wondering, how can teachers engage their students more effectively in the digital age? Well, I’m glad you asked! There are many ways to harness the positive power of technology and capture your student’s attention at the same time.

Meet them where they are – on devices, social media, websites, games – and bring this technology into your lessons, homework, projects. For example, their five-paragraph essay can become a blog. Now, not only are they more invested in what they’re learning but they’re building essential digital skills.

Part of increasing student engagement in any class is giving them an applicable reason for being there. Something they can relate to. Utilizing the interconnectivity of technology in the classroom helps you reap the benefits. Plus, your students are more likely to retain the information.

Incorporates different learning styles

There’s a big debate in education between the use of more personalized learning vs. a one-size-fits-all approach and it’s valid. When you have 30+ students in your class, it’s more difficult to create unique lesson plans that engage each student. Especially when you’re already overworked and underpaid as it is. We get it.

One of the many benefits of technology is that it provides an easier way to reach each student’s unique learning styles, playing to their various strengths and respond more intently to you.

  • If your student is more aural, it means they retain information better by hearing it. Some ideas for using technology to your advantage here:
    – Record your lessons! You can turn these into a private podcast that they can re-listen to as they study at home, use audiobooks. This helps you as well for any student that misses a class, they can be directed to your “podcast” and quickly get caught up.
    – Students can use an app like Me Book that allows them to listen to stories and record themselves reading.
    – Language teachers can make use of AI robots and chatbots to speak to students in different languages so they can practice as if talking to a real person.
  • Visual learners respond more to things they can see and are prone to retain more information if they can read/watch it rather than listen.
    – Try incorporating more graphic visuals aids to make the connection, or using more interactive videos in your lessons.
    – You can use technology like coding to allow student to visually code a website, or apps like Canva and Photoshop to create graphics that underline their classroom comprehension and level of engagement.\

Improves Collaboration

There are multiple benefits of technology is that it fosters a higher level of collaboration, not just within your classroom but on a global scale. It’s now easier than ever for students to work together with project management tools, video conference breakout rooms, social media, and even as simple as AirDropping files to someone in under a few minutes. This collaboration also works to the teachers’ benefit! If you’re grading papers, students can now see all of your notes and all communication can be kept in one space. Thus giving you more access to teaching students even outside of the school walls and time.

Embracing the global reach of the internet offers up exciting new possibilities for your students as well. Similar to pen-pals, maybe you have a sister school in a different country, and not only can the students communicate with each other as friends but they can also work remotely as teammates in completing a project. This would take a lot of planning of course, but the possibilities are endless!

Prepares Children for the Future

The single most important benefit of technology in the classroom is that it prepares students to be future-ready. We know that all students will need digital skills for their futures, but there are also many challenges when it comes to teaching digital skills.

At BSD Education, our goal is to prepare students for their undefined futures where artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and data privacy are all emerging topics with tremendous impacts on society. To accomplish this, we embed four approaches into our curriculum that have been identified as future proof and fundamental:

a) Computational Thinking
b) Design Thinking
c) Coding/Programming
d) Digital Citizenship

These are just a few of the many benefits to utilizing more technology in the classroom but I’d love to hear from you on how you use technology to boost student engagement or substantiate a lesson plan? Send me a message at bd@bsd.education or leave a comment below! We’d love to hear from you!

What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular

Design Thinking is a professional process that engineers and designers use to ideate, prototype, and test new inventions, ideas, and products, emerging in K-12 education as a strategy for use in the classroom as well as a tool used for total school improvement.

SparkTruck inspired me to later create my own mobile Design Thinking vehicle called the Geekbus. Since then, I have gone on to teach Design Thinking to students and educators all over the world.

So, what is Design Thinking? I highly recommend this quick video introduction to get acquainted.

There are 5 main steps to Design Thinking:

1. Empathy

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test.

The first step is the most impactful because it requires designers/students to consider the needs of the customer/user. This allows for the development of crucially needed social-emotional skills.

In contrast, the Engineering Design Process does not include this step and goes straight to the ideation and the problem-solving stage without careful consideration of the needs of the people involved. 

There are many ways to gain empathy for the customers/users that you’re designing for, but the best way is to speak directly to them through interviews to ask about their needs, pain-points and to get advice about what they really want and not just what we think they want.

If interviewing customers/users isn’t a viable option, you can brainstorm through empathetic thinking to imagine scenarios where people would use your idea and how they might respond to it.

Design Thinking can be used to create and make products, processes, events, organizations, and even food! The process is adaptable to many situations and once you have some practice with it, it can become a culture-changing practice that can be transformative at whole-school levels.

While Design Thinking can be a useful and practical tool for many situations, it also has limits. One criticism of Design Thinking is that it becomes a crutch and doesn’t help to cultivate what the d.school is calling Design Abilities.

Their 8 Core Design Abilities are: 

  • Navigate Ambiguity
  • Learn from Others
  • Synthesize Information
  • Rapidly Experiment
  • Move Between Concrete and Abstract
  • Build and Craft Intentionally
  • Communicate Deliberately
  • Design your Design Work

If you want to read more about these 8 Core Design Abilities, I recommend that you read the d.school’s description of each ability and the need for an approach that moves beyond Design Thinking.
Design Thinking has left a lasting impact on me and my work, which continues to this day in my work as an ed-tech leader and curriculum designer at BSD Education.

At BSD, we use the Design Think process to develop a new curriculum and to build new features on our custom coding platform. If you want to learn more about our approach at BSD, check out our certified curriculum design process.

Why Digital Skills Should be in Your Learning Loss Recovery Plan

The pandemic has affected all aspects of life, and the disruption felt by students is no exception. A phrase that has been top of mind lately is learning loss. An analysis by McKinsey puts the issue into measurable terms:

“Students in [the] sample learned only 67 percent of the math and 87 percent of the reading that grade-level peers would typically have learned by the fall. On average, that means students lost the equivalent of three months of learning in mathematics and one-and-a-half months of learning in reading.”

The American Rescue Plan earmarks 20% of a district’s new funds for learning loss recovery to address the issue. So while educators debate learning lost vs. students learning differently, many schools are looking at ways to make up for time lost. 

How do Digital Skills Become Part of the Solution?

Digital skills are well suited to be part of the solution. Digital skills like web, game, and app development are fun and engaging ways to reinforce math, English, science, and social concepts through real-world application. Another benefit of digital skills education is that it enhances cognitive skills such as computational and critical thinking, which can lift students’ abilities across subject matter — a vital benefit after an unconventional school year. (Further reading on the link between computational thinking and core subjects.)

As a digital skill teaching and learning solution, complete with projects designed for core subject integration, BSD Education can help reinforce core subject learning and develop transferable skills, assisting in learning loss recovery.

Digital Skills Reinforce Core Subjects

Mathematics and language arts have been pointed to as core subjects hit hardest this past school year. Yet, in many ways, digital skills empower someone to process information and communicate in our era. Said differently, digital skills are the intersection of math and language arts, where reasoning and problem-solving happen. 

To illustrate the point, we can look at a couple of BSD’s projects. A popular project this last year has been “The People Who Inspire Me,” which asks students to reflect on those who have impacted their lives. Students sew traditional writing and reflection processes with new digital components to build a website using industry-standard HTML and CSS. In one of BSD’s AI projects, “Digital Assistant,” students use JavaScript, and the link between math and programming becomes apparent. Students work with variables, conditionals, patterns, and percentages and use arithmetic operators, arrays, and random functions to program outcomes. 

From science to social studies, there are many cross-curricular learning objectives digital skills can support. I even have a teacher who modified our “Trivia Game Maker” to be a Spanish Quiz.

Creating Digital Products Captures Attention & Imagination

Classes always aim to be engaging, but this becomes even more important for learning loss recovery plans. That includes utilizing out-of-school time (afterschool, summer enrichment, extended school year), as the American Rescue Plan suggests. Learning digital skills is fun, and that makes them perfect for the task at hand. Allowing students to create is inherently engaging. Whether students are developing an AI chatbot, website, or platformer game, digital skills projects capture attention, spark imagination, and harness passion.

Agency is a core value of BSD’s evidence-based pedagogy. That means that each student finishes with a unique piece of work, not a cookie-cutter experience. Projects are designed with extension activities in mind and allow students to customize further or reenvision their work. Students stay engaged as they decide the direction to take their project and what to incorporate. My most successful lessons come from students’ refreshing ideas, going back to their work, and implementing something new. Through creating, students will entrench themselves in their learning loss and assist in their recovery.

Learning Digital Skills Develops Broad Cognitive Abilities

Teaching 21st-century skills means honing in on strategies that will have lasting impacts. These strategies include identifying computational thinking, design thinking, coding/programming, and digital citizenship as future-proof and fundamental. Computational thinking is the process of breaking down a problem to solve it. It includes decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithms. Steps for design thinking include empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing to create based on the needs and experience. In short, developing these abilities enhances someone’s ability to think and can help accelerate learning in the future. With the right approach, these skills are present in a digital skills education program. 

Website, app, and product development and design projects that utilize coding are ideal exercises for building future-proof skills. Our pedagogy accentuates these abilities and the transferable aspects of digital skills learning. It also includes the space to reflect on digital citizenship. Our curriculum is designed for all students, not just those who will become computer programmers. These disciplines have broad applicability across subject matter and are essential to many job functions in the working world. Meaning, these skills follow students throughout their education and careers.

Implementing a Digital Skills Program

Incorporating digital skills in your recovery plan enriches and reinforces core subject learning. It focuses students in engaging and imaginative ways and develops and enhances cognitive skills like computational thinking. However, although learning loss is a top issue as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, other trends make digital skills highly relevant. Most notable is the shifting future of work. As another article from McKinsey suggests:

“In the digital era, educators need to expand their understanding of what it means to be literate in the 21st century: not replacing traditional learning but complementing it. As a result, computer programming and digital literacy are becoming core skills.” 

Of course, implementing a digital skills program can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be. BSD Education partners with educators to make implementing a digital skills program easy. We make it turnkey by providing all the necessary pieces: platform, curriculum, professional development, and highly responsive support. With the correct methods in place, educators can hasten learning loss recovery. Using digital skills, they can also encourage students to develop future-proof skills with a curious, adaptable, resilient, and empathetic mindset. 

The Role of EdTech During A Global Pandemic

It’s been a full year since COVID-19 affected us all globally and forced us to quickly adapt to a new way of life.  A significant change, in particular, was to the workplace and educational establishments. Teachers and students were suddenly expected to adopt a digital way of learning and had to rely on EdTech platforms like never before.

We spoke to Nickey Khemchandani, CTO and Co-Founder of BSD Education as he reflected on the past year and the role EdTech played during Covid. 

How do you think the educational systems and individual learners coped with this exceptional change in education?

Nickey Khemchandani: We are seeing highly adaptable and creative educators changing the goals of their curriculum, increasing attentiveness to individual student needs with the help of technology, and are now starting to flourish under the change. Individual learners have found very different experiences, some really benefiting from the adjustment to the pacing of online learning, the relaxed environment of learning from home, and the increase of engagement with digital skills being put at the forefront.

On the flip side, students are unfortunately tackling challenges created by a wider digital divide, access to a ‘relaxed environment is a luxury globally, having stable and regular access to the internet and computers is not as accessible.

What role do you think EdTech has played during Covid?

NK: A critical role, it has enabled teachers to continue teaching for starters. One of the big things it was able to do was make it globally accessible for teachers and students to connect. It has enabled millions of kids to start moving into a world where online education, as well as a hybrid education, can exist.  So it’s played a role of being more like a bridge, at the moment during Covid, however, it has also started highlighting areas of growth in the future such as the benefits of an environment of online learning. As some schools enter a hybrid model (half physical, half online) we are starting to take advantage of both worlds, and the blend of the two looks like it’s here to stay.

Do you think education has been changed long term by the pandemic?

NK: Absolutely!

With the evolution of online learning, it’s made their experience of education more accessible, and less time-consuming.  Long-term positive effects for the education sector could be lower fees. That landscape could start becoming a lot more affordable.

A negative is that the digital divide is going to be a big problem to solve in the next couple of years. How do we provide access to cities, states, and households that do not have enough access to digital learning? People who have this level of access are benefiting from it, and now they are at such a distinct advantage that the divide has become even greater I would say.

What types of EdTech will see the longest-term benefit? Do you think that for example, Zoom’s growth for education will tail off?

NK: The video conference will remain, it’s a useful and global tool.  Zoom has grown but it takes a lot to become big, a household known name and tool.  I think EdTech will be more integrated into the education system rather than replacing it.

Zoom has changed the ‘playground’, the social aspect. We are looking through screens, not interacting with body language and eye contact. It’s accessible but not sociable, therefore I think it will be less used, but not completely abandoned.

How do you see the opportunities for EdTech from the pandemic? 

NK:  Funding of EdTech has grown, it highlights the importance of it when globally it’s seen as something worth investing in.  A new hybrid model of EdTech is going to emerge. We will start to see the difference in accessibility and a lot more engagement. The biggest one for me is a push for project-based learning. The future of education is results, project-based learning can only get bigger.

Was there a bigger demand for BSD Education’s product during the pandemic?

NK: Yes a larger demand came in, a big difference between us and other EdTech platforms is that we provide a curriculum and support outside of just the technology, we are way more than just a tech solution, we are an education solution.

COVID has unequivocally accelerated the EdTech and Education industries and presented new challenges to students and teachers alike. Now is the time to learn from the past year and digitizing curriculums for various types of learning will be key as we move forward. EdTech has ushered in a new era of education and undeniably played a major role during the pandemic.

Addressing the Digital Divide: Where Do We Go From Here?

There is a student I used to teach, who will remain unnamed to protect his privacy. He was a student a part of my STEM Honors class, and he always showed promising potential in coding assignments. Throughout my time getting to know him, I learned, like most of his classmates, he was highly motivated and believed in his academic prowess. Since the emergence of Virtual Learning, I’ve watched the challenges of adjusting to this time period change his motivation and diminish his belief in his ability to achieve academically. 

This year is his junior year in high school. When I was in high school, my junior year was the toughest, yet most rewarding year in high school; it was the year that determined my post-secondary success. Like most students who are attending an under-served school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is his first time having a personal laptop and he is living with the expectation to thrive in a completely new learning environment. 

This experience for him and his peers has been devastating, traumatizing, stressful, overwhelming, depressing, and draining. However, he is resilient. But should he have to experience this much courage, independence, and pressure at his age? My grandma once told me, “you should never have to display that much independence”. 

What we all need is support. 

This past year has emphasized the importance of understanding what it takes to holistically support the academic success and personal development of our youth. Virtual Learning has forcibly engaged every stakeholder at every stage of a child’s development to acknowledge two important determinants of our future: 

1) What our children are learning

2) How they are using technology to learn.

When addressing the Digital Divide, I think it is crucial that we prioritize adequately informing and including every stakeholder in all planning and implementation processes for integrating technology and Digital Literacy into learning environments. Parents raising children, Students learning information, Educators teaching courses, Administrators leading schools, and Tech Professionals creating learning products ALL are the creators of our tomorrow. 

We are our support; and in this support, we all need the grace to adjust – as we do so rapidly.

There are a few key focus areas I’ve noticed in my local school system, of Philadelphia, that are a part of the disparities of the Digital Divide: 

Transforming School Systems and Policies

Due to the emergence of Virtual Learning, many schools had to rapidly adjust and revamp their systems and practices. This transition has revealed how much more critical attention needs to be given to what students are learning about technology, and how they’re learning to use technology. 

This can be achieved by making a greater investment in setting and implementing grade-level standards for Digital Literacy, as well as, training talent to uphold these expectations.

Information Sharing and Literacy

During this Virtual Learning experience, many parents, staff, and students have felt either overwhelmed with information or under-informed on certain aspects that have affected the learning process. For example, there have been scenarios where internet providers have had outages, but the change in service was not effectively communicated to families; which has resulted in students missing information and feeling helpless. 

There have also been moments where school administrations have made huge changes to their school’s Virtual Learning practices without adequate notice or input from families and staff; which has resulted in immense fatigue and disorientation. Some school districts may have not had these experiences, but this is what’s disproportionately happening in under-served communities. 

This can be changed by re-evaluating the effectiveness of communication channels, and equitably including key stakeholders as consultants throughout the process of information dissemination.

Tech and Wi-Fi Accessibility

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools did not account for whether their students had access to technology or Wi-Fi. Why is that? Yes, students were primarily learning in schools, but learning also happens at home; and for the past 25 years, access to information has primarily been provided through the Internet. 

This past year has revealed a better understanding of what students have access to, and how their homelife really affects their education. There are students in homes where their Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough to host multiple devices streaming at the same time; and the Chromebooks that many students rely on aren’t always able to handle processing multiple apps operating at the same time – such as Zoom, Nearpod, or Google Suite products. 

These limiting factors are critical aspects of our youth’s future success that have been neglected for too long, and it is important to address these issues equitably. 

There are many issues for our youth at risk if we as leaders in education and technology do not respond to these disparities quickly and equitably. One important thing that is at risk is our youth’s ability to properly cultivate and enfranchise themselves from having experiences during their youth. While being forced to stay home, and without adequate resources for many, this time period is diminishing the very essence of having youth; which is time.  

Time to have exposure to different areas to spark their interests; time to take risks or make mistakes; time to refine one’s aptitude to bounce back, try again, and learn how to take calculated risks. Time to create viable niche solutions to make a life for themselves. 

However, this moment in time also brings about a unique opportunity for all the youth to cultivate 21st-century skills that are essential to the future. If more youth are empowered to explore, take risks, and be creative with technology; they can exponentially grow from this experience. 

But with the Digital Divide widening daily, will all youth be a part of the world’s digital future? That is the question I think is important for us to ask ourselves as leaders, and act upon in our daily efforts to be the change we want to see in the world.

Research References: 

How Digital Education is Affecting Young Students

At BSD, we believe that all students should have a digital education, learn digital skills and apply them to a range of contexts. That is why we advocate for these skills to be taught across subject areas, topics, and age groups. Even though younger students may not label that they are learning digital skills, technology is now second nature. 

The educational focus is less on cultivating particular technical skills and more about creating digital familiarity during the early years. This includes developing ways of thinking (such as computational thinking and design thinking), and building a foundation for fluency. Teachers can do this in many ways, and students are never too young to start creating digitally.

Virtual Learning

The move to virtual teaching and learning was a real opportunity for younger students to start a digital education earlier. In addition, it has enabled educators to introduce technologies and digital skills from a very young age, which was not always the case. 

Children are growing up as digital natives, so they are often familiar with digital media earlier than ever. However, virtual learning did not always align early years education with children’s experience with technology in the ‘outside world.’ 

Digital Opportunities

While many students had excellent experiences, the prevalence of technology and opportunities to learn digital skills were hugely variable. These opportunities depended on a range of factors. Kate Gilchrist nicely summarises this in a blog for LSE: ‘teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards the value of digital technology as part of learning was found to strongly relate to whether they used it or not in their teaching.

Early educators often lacked the IT skills, confidence, and knowledge of implementing skills relevant to the subject being taught. There is also a lack of adequate training, professional development, and technical and administrative support for teachers. Many of the curriculums investigated also did not include any provision for developing digital literacy.’ 

Historically, these factors have meant that not all students were exposed to this critical learning from an early age. As a result, when more technical skills are introduced later, students’ skill levels are at very different starting points. 

Virtual teaching and learning, however, have shifted this. This meant that many of the barriers outlined above have had to be overcome in the classroom. Educators have had to find a way to digitize their curriculum, and with trial and error comes confidence and knowledge.

While teaching young children virtually has its challenges, this educational experience is positive for developing children’s digital fluency and foundation. 

Critical Examination May Be the Most Important Digital Literacy Skill Yet

Digital literacy skills are not a new topic in education, though they seem to be at the forefront of concern, especially now, with terms like “fake news” and “AI-generated social media.” More than ever, we need students to possess strong digital literacy skills so they can make informed decisions, be competent researchers, and form opinions free of bias. Because of this need, digital literacy is now a common subject in k-12 schools around the world, even major education frameworks like the ISTE Student Standards have digital literacy baked into the themes. 

Despite this, a recent study has shown that students still struggle with basic digital competencies. For example, students were “asked to evaluate Slate’s home page, where some tiles are news stories and others are ads (set off by the words “Sponsored Content”), two-thirds of students couldn’t tell the difference.”  The same study elaborates further by saying “students displayed a tendency to accept websites at face value. Ninety-six percent failed to consider why ties between a climate change website and the fossil fuel industry might lessen that website’s credibility.”

With these troubling findings, it seems as though our current digital literacy education isn’t enough to prepare students for today’s communication minefield. For this reason, I propose that “critical examination” should be the most important lens at which to look at digital literacy. 

When reading articles, watching videos, and viewing other forms of media I often ask students to pull out their magnifying glasses and deerstalker caps to investigate as Sherlock would. Here are a few questions that I would ask them to consider when examining media:

Critical Examination Questions

  1. Who paid for the publication and what effect does that have on the authenticity of the information?
  2. Who is the target audience and how does the media appeal to its audience?
  3. Does the author or producer make money each time you read or view the media and what influence does that have on you reading or viewing the material?
  4. Is the medium trying to persuade your opinion or paint a false impression?
  5. Does the medium cite any references or other works that can be verified?
  6. Can you fact check any of the claims or facts?
  7. Can you find another source that claims the opposite?
  8. Does the medium contain any advertisements, and if so, is it made clear that the medium contains advertisements?

These questions are designed to provoke critical thinking, investigatory discrimination, and inquiry so that students can make inferences and informed decisions about the content that they consume. Critical examination is not just a skill for the classroom, it’s a life skill that you hone over time, making one a conscientious consumer. 

The questions provided are just an example of critical lenses that can be applied to digital literacy, what other critical examination questions might you use with your students? Please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or email.

6 Tech Practices to Improve Student Experience

We’ve had no end to the fantastic technology helping us along as the education landscape changes. However, as engagement and learning experiences have shifted, so have the ways we interact. Here are six tech practices in my classrooms that have improved the student experience this past year.

1. Be available outside of class (reasonably, of course)

If one of my students is showing interest outside of class, I want to meet them with the same level of zeal. So I check our online class chat as prep, which shows the students that go the extra mile that I’m there to work with them even when I don’t see them. And for the students that need a boost, I can review their work and get back to them before the next class, setting them up for better success for when we meet next.

2. Make specific tech practices meaningful through comments on work

Excellent job, and Keep it up are nice and all, but bookend the critical stuff when it comes to the student experience. When I call out specific aspects of a student’s project, I demonstrate that I can tell their work apart from their peers. When I make suggestions that inspire and guide, students are given a greater sense of direction. Commenting on a live document, referencing that individual line of code, or linking to additional resources, helps me integrate this practice with technology and goes beyond the traditional red marker on paper. 

3. Email reminders

The occasional email to students can go a long way in improving the student experience and helping them succeed in class. For example, I have an in-person class that will occasionally meet online during snow days. After some absences and class link confusion, I decided a quick email might do the trick, and like magic, they now all show up.

4. Encourage, but don’t enforce, varying types of virtual participation

I’ve had virtual classrooms with students ranging from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and the variety in types and amount of interaction has been just as wide. Your school requirements notwithstanding, I aim to be approachable regarding things like “cameras on” and verbal participation. Virtual hand-raise or Zoom chat might not just be easier for you to manage, but the preferred way to speak up from the student. But if an AFK turns into an MIA, I’ll call them out on it. There’s a balance of comfort and accountability that’s important to maintain.

5. Share screen collaboration

This year, some of my most successful periods have been when students share their screen, which I suppose is the new “standing in front of the class.” The level of individual engagement and class collaboration exceeds expectations when my students share what they’ve been working on. It’s even better when we do a bit of “bug hunting” and solve the coding mistake in a student’s project. I’ve had the same results when projecting student work for all to see in an in-person or hybrid class.

6. Virtual backgrounds and other goofiness

Sometimes the right background, emoji, or filter sets the mood just right, especially on a Friday. Your mileage may vary, but you know your kids best, so consider bringing some fun to a virtual class when needed. Just ensure them that you’re here live and not a cat.

Since online space has become an educational platform, we must utilize its strengths to work for both teachers and students for continued success. So, if you have class tips and tech practices that improve the student experience, let’s keep the conversation going! Contact BSD here. We would love to hear from you.