Making the most of K-12 digital textbooks and online educational tools

Making the most of K-12 digital textbooks and online educational tools

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Whether children are currently going to school in person, learning remotely or doing a mix of both, digital tools and texts are becoming much more commonplace for K-12 education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m a professor who researches the use of technology in education. I’m also the father of three children between the ages of 4 and 9 who are all learning from home. You might think it would be easy for me to get used to this new normal. Sadly, that’s not true.

Despite all my technical know-how, even I struggle to manage the large variety of digital tools and apps that my children use for schoolwork, let alone the numerous websites, accounts and passwords from their classes that my family has to keep track of.

Beneficial but complex

The transition from relying mainly on physical textbooks printed on paper to digital educational content, tools, apps and other resources was was already underway long before the pandemic. K-12 teachers use everything from online videos to interactive websites and from games and apps to digital textbooks that meet state standards.

I believe digital educational resources have a lot going for them. In contrast with the static text in physical books, digital resources involve dynamic content such as audio, video and animations. They may also have components like games and simulations that let kids interact with technology or each other.

Some are equipped with adaptive and smart features that automatically tailor the instruction according to individual students’ mastery levels. For example, “intelligent tutors” use complex algorithms and artificial intelligence to mimic human tutors and provide students with a personalized learning experience.

These apps, texts and tools make it easier to search for key terms, take notes that kids can find and use later, assess mastery and get creative by making charts and doing other things that are typically harder to do on paper.

Wise use

With more students having their own school-issued tablet or laptop because of the pandemic, digital educational resources are likely to remain indispensable for modern K-12 classrooms even once life gets back to normal.

I consider this to be a good thing in general. At the same time, I have some concerns. One is that educators should not adopt and use these digital resources the same way as they might treat physical textbooks, because they have different characteristics.

Also, they may need to exercise caution in choosing digital tools and texts. Through Evaluating Digital Content for Instructional and Teaching Excellence, a state-funded project that helped schools transition to digital curriculum, my research team in The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning reviewed 1,200 digital educational resources from established educational publishers. We found that the quality of these digital products varies.

While most had good content and aligned well with academic standards, many weren’t user-friendly enough or properly geared for K-12 use.

Supporting children who learn online

No matter how good these digital resources are, they need to be integrated with all other learning activities.

For example, a math class may take advantage of the free videos available through Khan Academy, use Zoom for group work and collaboration, and use Google classroom for organizing assignments and communicating with peers and teachers.

That means there’s a lot to keep track of. Therefore, kids – until they turn 10 or so, and their parents – need a lot of help getting the hang of all this technology.

I recommend that families help children understand when, what, why and how to use everything. One way to go is to map out the variety of URLs, apps and tools used for specific classes, alongside their child’s usernames, passwords, access codes and group names, as well as schedule details. This will help kids access their digital resources for the right class and at the right time – on their own.

I also suggest that parents monitor their child’s technology usage, taking care during the day to limit distractions that can interfere with learning. When working on digital devices, with entertainment games and YouTube videos only a click or two away, kids can easily veer away from their virtual classrooms. Especially for younger children, whose self-regulation skills are not fully developed, parents and caregivers need to attend to them periodically.

In other words: Just because kids are quietly doing something on their iPad during school hours, it does not necessarily mean they are engaged in schoolwork.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Parental controls can help. There are parental control features on individual devices like Apple’s Screen Time on iPads. There are also some features on internet routers like the Netgear’s Circle – Smart Parental Controls worth exploring. These features can limit what kids can and cannot do on their devices – such as buying stuff without permission.

Even where remote learning and socially distanced socializing are the norm, parents can still aim for a relatively healthy balance, to the degree it’s possible, between screen time and time spent offline. See if you can persuade your children to put away their screens before and after school and during their lunch breaks, whether it’s to exercise, read, cook or play board games.The Conversation

Kui Xie, Cyphert Distinguished Professor; Professor of Learning Technologies; Director of The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Making the most of K-12 digital textbooks and online educational tools

Making the most of K-12 digital textbooks and online educational tools

d

Whether children are currently going to school in person, learning remotely or doing a mix of both, digital tools and texts are becoming much more commonplace for K-12 education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m a professor who researches the use of technology in education. I’m also the father of three children between the ages of 4 and 9 who are all learning from home. You might think it would be easy for me to get used to this new normal. Sadly, that’s not true.

Despite all my technical know-how, even I struggle to manage the large variety of digital tools and apps that my children use for schoolwork, let alone the numerous websites, accounts and passwords from their classes that my family has to keep track of.

Beneficial but complex

The transition from relying mainly on physical textbooks printed on paper to digital educational content, tools, apps and other resources was was already underway long before the pandemic. K-12 teachers use everything from online videos to interactive websites and from games and apps to digital textbooks that meet state standards.

I believe digital educational resources have a lot going for them. In contrast with the static text in physical books, digital resources involve dynamic content such as audio, video and animations. They may also have components like games and simulations that let kids interact with technology or each other.

Some are equipped with adaptive and smart features that automatically tailor the instruction according to individual students’ mastery levels. For example, “intelligent tutors” use complex algorithms and artificial intelligence to mimic human tutors and provide students with a personalized learning experience.

These apps, texts and tools make it easier to search for key terms, take notes that kids can find and use later, assess mastery and get creative by making charts and doing other things that are typically harder to do on paper.

Wise use

With more students having their own school-issued tablet or laptop because of the pandemic, digital educational resources are likely to remain indispensable for modern K-12 classrooms even once life gets back to normal.

I consider this to be a good thing in general. At the same time, I have some concerns. One is that educators should not adopt and use these digital resources the same way as they might treat physical textbooks, because they have different characteristics.

Also, they may need to exercise caution in choosing digital tools and texts. Through Evaluating Digital Content for Instructional and Teaching Excellence, a state-funded project that helped schools transition to digital curriculum, my research team in The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning reviewed 1,200 digital educational resources from established educational publishers. We found that the quality of these digital products varies.

While most had good content and aligned well with academic standards, many weren’t user-friendly enough or properly geared for K-12 use.

Supporting children who learn online

No matter how good these digital resources are, they need to be integrated with all other learning activities.

For example, a math class may take advantage of the free videos available through Khan Academy, use Zoom for group work and collaboration, and use Google classroom for organizing assignments and communicating with peers and teachers.

That means there’s a lot to keep track of. Therefore, kids – until they turn 10 or so, and their parents – need a lot of help getting the hang of all this technology.

I recommend that families help children understand when, what, why and how to use everything. One way to go is to map out the variety of URLs, apps and tools used for specific classes, alongside their child’s usernames, passwords, access codes and group names, as well as schedule details. This will help kids access their digital resources for the right class and at the right time – on their own.

I also suggest that parents monitor their child’s technology usage, taking care during the day to limit distractions that can interfere with learning. When working on digital devices, with entertainment games and YouTube videos only a click or two away, kids can easily veer away from their virtual classrooms. Especially for younger children, whose self-regulation skills are not fully developed, parents and caregivers need to attend to them periodically.

In other words: Just because kids are quietly doing something on their iPad during school hours, it does not necessarily mean they are engaged in schoolwork.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Parental controls can help. There are parental control features on individual devices like Apple’s Screen Time on iPads. There are also some features on internet routers like the Netgear’s Circle – Smart Parental Controls worth exploring. These features can limit what kids can and cannot do on their devices – such as buying stuff without permission.

Even where remote learning and socially distanced socializing are the norm, parents can still aim for a relatively healthy balance, to the degree it’s possible, between screen time and time spent offline. See if you can persuade your children to put away their screens before and after school and during their lunch breaks, whether it’s to exercise, read, cook or play board games.The Conversation

Kui Xie, Cyphert Distinguished Professor; Professor of Learning Technologies; Director of The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hugs and Snack Time Over Video

Hugs and Snack Time Over Video

The Edna Martin Christian Center in Indianapolis is holding Zoom sessions for preschoolers in its child care ministry. PHOTO CREDIT: Provided by Alexandra Hall

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat.


It had been two weeks since Terri Anderson, a teacher at The Oaks Academy in Indianapolis, had seen her 19 prekindergarten students in person. But on a recent Friday, they met virtually for the first time on Google Hangouts. The result: a cacophony of 4- and 5-year-olds on unmuted microphones.

“It was the best sound I had heard since all this had happened,” she said.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the educational system nationwide, even preschool has gone online. But school closures threaten to undo some of the progress that Indiana has made toward improving pre-K access for low-income families to help bridge critical early learning gaps.

Many pre-K classrooms have temporarily closed alongside K-12 schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, demand has waned at some Indiana child care centers as more families are keeping their children home. The loss of pre-K classrooms has consequences: First, education advocates fear that school closures will worsen the disparities for students across all grades who don’t have access to technology and whose families have fewer resources to support learning at home. Second, families could find themselves without child care as they continue to work during the pandemic in roles such as health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, and custodians.

“One of the most important things children learn in a pre-K classroom is how to do school, how to behave with other children, how to self-regulate and be ready to learn,” said Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, a nonprofit that provides and advocates for early education. “That’s one of the things that’s going to be harder for families to achieve independently.”

Because Indiana families have a lot of choices for where to go for preschool — districts, private schools, centers, homes, child care ministries — providers are tackling the challenge in different ways, both online and off-line.

At The Oaks, Anderson wanted the recent video meeting to be a joyful reunion for her pre-K class. She incorporated pieces of their daily routine, such as taking attendance with popsicle sticks that each had a student’s name. When she drew a student’s popsicle stick, she asked them to show the class a toy or something they had made at home, giving each a turn to speak “on the big screen.”

Anderson had them all hug their computers and give themselves hugs, too, wrapping their arms around their own shoulders.

“They need to be nurtured,” Anderson said. “They need a touch. They need a hug.”

Anderson acknowledged that parent engagement is key to children continuing to learn at home — something The Oaks, a private Christian school that enrolls students from a wide range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, regularly emphasizes.

Moving pre-K classrooms into the home also means teachers are supporting parents so they don’t feel stressed about their children “losing ground,” Anderson said. Teachers and instructional assistants regularly check in with individual students and families. The Oaks gives preschoolers 1-2 hours of learning each day, and more important than completing the work is instilling a sense of normalcy, she added. A lot of the key lessons are simple: Listen, follow directions, pay attention.

At first, parent Kelly McGary was worried when her son Sam’s preschool, Cooperative Play Academy on the city’s southside, closed its doors in early March. Sam had just learned to hold a pencil properly.

But now she’s less concerned after watching him video conference with his preschool class twice a week, and do engaging homework assignments, such as nature walks.

“I just have to put it in perspective. He’s 3½, he’ll be fine,” said McGary, a public health nurse. “Even if it lasts a few more months, we’re still interacting with him and providing for him. He has a safe place to play. I think he just misses his friends.”

At the Edna Martin Christian Center in Martindale-Brightwood, the approach to at-home learning has evolved over the last few weeks since the child care ministry temporarily closed its doors, said Alexandra Hall, director of early childhood education.

Teachers started by sending food home with students on the first day. Then, they started sharing learning resources. They gave students kits filled with art supplies, reusable writing worksheets, stories, and bubbles. Later, they decided they wanted to find a way to stay in touch with students in a dynamic, interactive way.

That’s how they started a series of 30-minute Zoom sessions throughout the day, mimicking a regular school routine.

“We figured if it works for adults, why wouldn’t it work with kids?” Hall said.

They hold virtual circle time and snack time. Families all gather for the video call with a healthy snack to show and share.

“That is what has just truly been a godsend during this time — to be able to look at people, even though you can’t touch them,” Hall said.

The online setting still allows teachers to be responsive to students. Just like in the classroom, “sometimes you have to throw your plan out the window,” Hall said — like when a student joined the video call in a superhero costume, prompting a show-and-tell that overshadowed the scheduled science lesson.

Even when e-learning isn’t as accessible, pre-K classrooms are finding ways to keep learning. For the five Indianapolis sites of St. Mary’s Child Center, where 93% of children come from low-income families, administrators are mostly focused on basic needs, such as directing families toward food resources.

Teachers are posting videos where they read stories, sing songs, or go on scavenger hunts. They’re encouraging families to find “teachable moments” but aren’t stressing academics.

“Children are such natural learners,” said Diane Pike, director of outreach and professional development. “If they are allowed to explore and communicate and ask questions and have that support at home, they’re going to be OK for kindergarten.”