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03 May 2021

Beyond the Black Mirror of Education: Key Drivers to Create a Vibrant Digital Learning Environment

Beyond the Black Mirror of Education: Key Drivers to Create a Vibrant Digital Learning Environment

2020 has touched our lives forever. We have waited in countless lobby rooms to speak to our loved ones and heard the dreaded “you’re on mute” far too many times. In our personal moments, we have all probably binged watched more than we admit on Netflix… which mostly ends with us staring into a black mirror as Netflix patiently asks, “Are you still watching?”.

Globally, our desire to feel a sense of real belonging and human interaction has pushed our communities online. Schools, being the bedrock of childhood social and academic development, have required to provide online learning this year. We are unanimously in agreement no child should ever feel alone, staring into their own black mirror, passively listening in on teaching that is happening elsewhere. Bricks and mortar schools are full of laughter, chatter and joint experiences of learning, growth and development- for teachers and students! Each school’s digital environment should reflect those values.

Attitudes towards the role of educational technology to achieve these ends has seen a paradigmatic shift over the past 12 months and many teachers in many schools have found themselves peering through the looking glass into a bright future of elevated teaching and learning, bolstered by their developing digital environments. Here are three key drivers that our school used to ensure we built a vibrant, collaborative community as we transformed what education looked and felt like in our school.

It is never about the platform

Gone (hopefully) are the days now where we use Kahoot merely as a “fun game”, and where students think they are getting the same learning experience out of watching a video recording of a lesson. When choosing schoolwide platforms, it is essential to make explicit pedagogical links to how it will directly promote questioning, intervention, collaboration and student voice. By making these links obvious to the teachers and students, you build a legacy of learning that is bolstered by technology in every department.

A great example of this was the implementation of an AI based learning platform in our school. We explicitly linked the platform as a tool to promote timely and tailored intervention for every child, which inspired authentic schoolwide use and bought extraordinary value to our teachers and student’s lives. Pedagogy first is the non-negotiable angle and the difference between a disconnected array of “bolt-ons”, which will be shattered as soon as schools fully open; or implementing platforms that play an integral part of creating a sustainable future of education.

Growth as a community

The fear of becoming robotic and deskilling as educators as we swapped our classrooms for online meetings rippled through the worldwide teaching community during March 2020 as we gazed in confusion into our screens…. And our screen selves stared blankly back. Fast forward one year and the best thing we did as a school was to let teachers set up their own routines that celebrate their style of teaching, which authentically connected their children to the content they are delivering. Being part of a school with experienced and confident teachers made transformation of our digital environment into a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem possible because we are all able to offer different methods of applying technology to our lessons to boost questioning, intervention and authentic student voice. Celebrating our teachers’ abilities to deliver their lessons in the various changing environments created more ownership of continued personal training for all our staff members, dispelling the notion of having “techy teachers” at school. We are all teachers that use technology. This growth mindset flowed down to our Student Leaders, who now relish at the opportunity to hold student workshops on digital skills, highlighting their own online fluency and raising the standards of digital literacy for teachers and students across our school.

Thinking big means that this format can be repeated in other schools, tailored to anyone’s digital ecosystem! Our activities are developed to be fully inclusive for online learners, so it becomes a lot easier to create unique opportunities for teachers and students to be collaborating with nearby schools… or schools on the other side of the world!

Innovate to embrace analogue skills in the digital world

The huge misconception about technology is that it’s use will somehow replace the analogue skills of literacy, oracy and fine motor skills, fundamental to a child’s success in any specialism. This black mirror has been happily shattered over and over by our teachers finding innovative ways to promote and practice these fundamental skills at every age group. I’ve seen English lessons (and even science lessons!) where students are reading to one another in small breakout rooms, and Office Lens combines beautifully with OneNote to embed clear images of handwritten work for feedback and marking. Flipgrid and OneNote audio recordings in our Arabic and MFL department have transformed the way our students and teachers practice oracy development at all levels. PE trailblazed the use of Flipgrid in our school to track and feedback in a moderated and safe way to students completing physical activities at home. Even teachers sharing their screen as a blank PowerPoint slide and digitally inking to create a whiteboard means that every teacher can instantly model excellence to their students. This simple tweak to how a teacher delivers in an online meeting can bring life to an explanation and draws students in as active participants as the teacher bounces questions around. The long term effect of blending analogue and digital skills is that the students, and teachers, carry less in their bags and use less paper, creating a long term positive impact on the school’s carbon footprint, that will only get better as we mature and refine our use of OneNote in our subjects.

One year on Deira International School’s focus on community values to drive education forward has been internationally recognised by winning the Digital Transformation Award for 2021. The transformation of our digital landscape into a fully inclusive and vibrant learning community ensures that every child can work with their friends and engage in active learning, wherever they are. Our community of teachers are our driving force, with every single teacher working as one unit to ensure high expectations in lessons are maintained for every learner, wherever they are. The litmus test for every transformation is whether it will continue to develop after the disruptive factor. As we move beyond the “Black Mirror of Education” and into an age of immersive experiences for our whole community, we are truly taking learning through our looking glass and beyond the realms of the classroom.

Linda Parsons is Educational Technology Lead at Deira International School, Dubai. The school has recently been awarded the ISC Award for digital transformation.

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