Learning in the digital age

What is learning in a digital age?

In the year 2010 technology continues to change at a dizzying pace. Our children are growing up in an environment of ubiquitous access to the resources, information and people they communicate with. By ubiquitous I mean pervasive, anywhere-anytime access. To our children access may include a smartphone, iTouch, personal computer, public computer any or all other digical devices which allows them to communicate via social networks, email, serach engines and the vast resources available on the internet to name just a few. Our children and specifically Saanich students live in a digital age.

To quote Dr. John Seely-Brown:

Many of the current, and certainly most of the next, generation of students who reach college age are remarkably immersed in technology, far more so than we or other members of any older generation can likely fathom. Today's digital kids think of information and communications technology (ICT) as something akin to oxygen: they expect it, it's what they breathe, and it's how they live. They use ICT to meet, play, date, and learn. It's an integral part of their social life; it's how they acknowledge each other and form their personal identities. Furthermore, ICT to some degree has been supporting their learning activities since their first Web search and surf years ago.John Seely-Brown, Learning in the Digital Age

How does this affect our students?

In the digital age learning and communication is also changing. Children and parents expect direct communication with their schools and teachers. They want ubiquitous access to homework assignments, learning resouces and other information supplementing the traditional face-to-face teaching learning process that schools are used to providing. They want to be able to move from school to home while securely accessing their programs, data and information.

How is School District No. 63 meeting these challenges?

As a start, almost all of schools are now using Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) as both a Content Management System (CMS) and Learning Management System (LMS). This system not only allows the school to communicate news, calendar events and contact information but gives teachers the opportunity to post homework, pertinent web links and other content at the Elementary and Middle schools. Lochside Elementary School and Bayside Middle School are good examples of this being done. At the secondary level Moodle is being used to supplement face-to-face learning in much the way universities like UVic does. Stelly's Secondary School is starting to use this extensively. Students who are using this system and then go on to post-secondary will be very familiar with this supplemental distance learning environment. The use of Moodle in our schools is becoming much more pervasive and supported. It incorporates both synchronous and asynchronous web 2.0 tools, forums, wikis, blogs, glossaries and other learning tools.

Ubuiquitous access anywhere/anytime

Additionally we are incorporating technology into our schools which allows access to the school system ubiquitously (accessible anywhere/anytime). This technology (known as thin or diskless client) is not only cost effective, but highly energy efficient, relevant and current. As of this date Saanich elementary school students and one middle school will have access to their school system from anywhere within the school and more importantly home. This goes much beyond just getting access to files or documents, as teachers and students can login to their desktop with all of the programs, files and bookmarks being available. This approach of anywhere/anytime more closely fits the type of access students have available with internet-based information that you mention and is a precurser to a district cloud computing model.

Social Networking

As well, we are working at developing a social-networking environment, similar to Facebook, but completely secure and separate to allow teachers opportunities to use this environment to supplement their curriculum with modern technologies which students are accustomed to.

The future is in the browser

Additionally we are working very hard making all resources available through a web-browser but in a very secure environment. Our long term vision is to support essential face-to-face learning from teachers with access to supplemental resources and learning in much the same way children from distributed schools might, with the advantage that they have a physical school environment and their teachers to guide and instruct.

Where are we going from here?

As a district we are agile and responsive to our students needs. Although we continue to introduce significant technologies into our schools the process will not cease however our emphasis is now upon developing and supporting rather than just maintaining aging and antiquated systems.

Questions/Comments?

I would invite any questions or comments you have on how we are changing the face of technology in our schools and what it means for the future.

Gregg Ferrie
Director of Information Technology