From Where We Sit

Digital learning strategy for K-12 schools and higher education

As we approach the start of the school year on August 24, most schools and higher education institutions (HEIs) and teachers, students and parents are still confused about what education will look like in the new normal.

Many are skeptical about whether our schools are ready for new learning delivery modalities, despite the many examples offered by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Perhaps, this can be attributed to the significant decline in the number of enrollees as most parents decide not to send their children to school this year. According to recent data from DepEd, only 308,930 students have enrolled in private schools this incoming school year compared to 4.3 million students registered during the previous year. The enrollment in private schools is expected to continue at this rate, raising fears of the closure of small private schools, and the lay off of teachers and non-teaching staff.

Challenges for digital technology integration in education

The integration of digital technology into teaching, learning and assessment is a complex and challenging process that goes well beyond introducing digital technology in schools.

Integration requires carefully considering within the broader context of schoolwide improvement issues such as change management, educational leadership, teacher professional development, evaluation systems and sharing best practices.

First, schools face external issues surrounding insufficient equipment or connectivity and inadequate technology training. If teachers and students do not own an adequate computer and a fast internet connection, implementing online or virtual learning is unfeasible.

Furthermore, if teachers are not provided practical training on new technologies, they will not be capable of using them to their full potential.

Next, schools face internal issues surrounding resistance to change and fear of technology.

Teachers are comfortable and used to traditional teaching methods and resist getting out of their comfort zones. Most teachers also have a fear of experimenting with new technologies. The notion of having to learn them all at once turns them away from the idea of using technology.

The most pressing concern facing schools and HEIs today is how they will transition from the traditional schooling model to an innovative and all-inclusive educational model that provides equal learning opportunities.

The digital learning strategy roadmap

A starting point for any successful digital technology integration is a virtual learning strategy roadmap that helps schools navigate education challenges in the new normal.

The strategy roadmap guides schools in launching educational innovations and sets out a clear vision for the role of digital technologies in teaching, learning and assessment. A successful digital learning strategy should cover four key areas: leadership, infrastructure, pedagogy and teacher training.

Digital leadership

Leadership plays an active role in implementing the digital learning strategy and in ensuring that the use of digital technology is embedded at all stages of teacher education. Embracing such technology can be challenging, as it requires stakeholders to work together to achieve meaningful technology integration.

To help schools identify where they are in terms of digital technology integration and where they want to, there is a need to plan for the effective use of technology as part of schoolwide planning activities.

Monitoring the implementation of the strategy is crucial to ensure that the strategy is progressing towards digital technology integration. School leadership should support teacher-led research, experimentation and reflection about how digital technology can be integrated into teaching, learning and assessment. Also, school leaders should allow teachers to reflect on their practice and share it with their peers.

School leadership must also address the issue of the safe, critical and ethical use of the internet. Central to promoting students’ effective and safe use of the internet is a strong commitment to changing behavior through a sustained information and awareness campaign targeting parents, teachers, and students themselves.

Digital infrastructure

Improved connectivity for schools must be a priority. The government should seek enhanced broadband connections and on-campus Wi-Fi networks using several different technologies to ensure all schools are connected regardless of location.

Schools should invest in digital devices and address the issue of aging computers. Some of our teachers don’t have access to computers, and students don’t have access to such resources. Schools should provide teachers access to a computing device as part of their professional toolkit. The government must have arrangements to acquire and supply school-ready information and communications technology equipment, and develop a national plan to renew such tools and avoid obsolescence. DepEd recently released the minimum specifications for personal computers, laptops and mobile devices for distance learning.

The effective use and integration of cloud services, supported by fast, reliable broadband, will enable schools to provide email and file storage to teachers and students. The cloud computing ecosystem will allow schools to collaborate and communicate more efficiently using a range of cost-effective applications and technologies. Technical support cannot be regarded as an isolated issue and should form part of the school’s digital learning plan.

Digital pedagogy

A teacher’s pedagogical orientation is a primary factor in how the teacher uses digital technology in the classroom. The strategy should provide teachers with guidelines and clear statements on why and how digital technology should be used in teaching and learning, and across all subjects and areas of education.

The integration of digital literacy in the curriculum ensures that every student has an opportunity to acquire 21st-century skills and to learn to use digital technology, communication tools and the internet to engage in self-directed inquiry.

Schools need to have access to a wide range of relevant, high-quality digital content that supports students at all stages of our education system. There is now an opportunity for teachers, students and parents to reduce the reliance on printed textbooks and move towards alternative forms of relevant content.

The concept of technology-based assessment is a new domain, and digital technology plays a crucial role in assessment transformation. With digital technology, it is now possible to assess critical thinking, creativity and collaborative problem-solving skills that are challenging to measure using traditional paper-based assessments.

Digital technology can support inclusion in many ways across the education system. It is also a key enabler for students at risk of educational disadvantage.

Digital teacher training

Teachers require a wide range of knowledge and skills to embed digital technologies effectively into their practice. Teachers need to have a mixture of technological, pedagogical and content knowledge (TPACK) so that they can use technology successfully.

TPACK requires a new model of professional learning that allows teachers to choose how they develop their knowledge. It also provides in a wide range of formats, including online and blended learning workshops. Teachers will also need to have access to continuing professional development throughout their careers, especially since technology changes at a rapid pace.

There should be opportunities for teachers to experiment with the use of new devices and other digital tools with their students and then share their experiences across the teaching community.

A new vision for learning

Our vision for the integration of digital technology in schools is to realize the benefits and potential of these technologies to enhance not only teaching and learning, but also assessment.

In achieving this vision, schools and HEIs have a major role in ensuring our students can develop an array of critical skills throughout their academic journeys.

Jess Obana is a senior managing consultant in the Advisory Services Division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 23 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @GrantThorntonPH, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to jess.obana@ph.gt.com or pagrantthornton@ph.gt.com. For more information, visit www.grantthornton.com.ph.

 

As published in The Manila Times, dated 17 June 2020