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Improving learning experiences in the digital age

Today’s students are more technologically savvy than any who have come before them, and classroom learning practices have not always kept pace.

The Digital Age Teacher Academy (DATA) promotes student-centered teaching methods and fosters teacher leadership by building capacity among teachers to plan with and implement digital technology in the classroom. Designed to improve student learning by promoting effective classroom practice, this Monroe One BOCES professional learning experience utilizes a customized approach for each cohort in the district.

Currently in its second year in the East Rochester Union Free School District, DATA participants meet multiple times throughout the school year for workshops and collaborative sessions. “The feedback and reflections shared by the participants are vital to the development and customization of the program,” said Instructional Technology Specialist Doreen Pietrantoni, who leads the program along with Instructional Specialist Mary Beth Elko. “Spacing out the workshops throughout the year offers participants the opportunity to try out what they’ve learned and assess the impact within their classrooms,” added Elko.

East Rochester has implemented a 1:1 technology initiative for all students, and wanted to encourage all teachers to expand their use of technology as a tool in their day-to-day instruction. While recognizing that appropriate use of technology in the classroom will help to prepare students to be ready for an ever-increasingly digital society, there is still much to explore in best practices for that implementation.

While DATA is focused on increasing the use of instructional technology, it also helps teachers to evaluate when technology is appropriate. By using a Technology Pedagogy and Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework, participants are encouraged to think through what they are trying to teach, how they are teaching it and whether or not technology will enhance their instruction. It helps teachers to consider the strengths that technology offers but also understand when traditional methods may be more effective.

The first cohort in East Rochester included teacher leaders, and the second cohort involves other teachers in various grade levels throughout the district. Administrators receive a mini-version of each session throughout the year so they are aware of the activities and discussions and can facilitate support of the initiatives as they are implemented in the classrooms. Each cohort meets for a three-year cycle to build on their current knowledge base thoughtfully, while incorporating feedback from the group. “The debriefs and reflections shared among peers is vital to the success of the program,” noted Pietrantoni.

While there are many programs and applications available for teachers to use in their classrooms, DATA is focused on the types of tools that are available to all without being specific to any one device or platform. With the ever-changing accessibility of various tools and the constant barrage of new programs that become available, it is more important to understand how to assess a tool for effectiveness and learn how to successfully incorporate technology into proven teaching methods.

“Our districts want to encourage future-ready students who are able to incorporate the power of technology in their quest to be lifelong learners. We are here to help teachers and districts in supporting those goals,” added Elko.