A digital learning environment (DLE) is what we need to strive to create for all learning environments today, if we are to help educate our students authentically. A digital learning environment encompasses physical, pedagogical and virtual spaces.
Our physical learning environments need to support digital technologies seamlessly, so teachers and students can focus on using digital technologies to support their learning needs, rather than focussing on being able to connect to the wifi network, or get the data projector working properly etc. It is vital that teaching staff work in conjunction with a robust technical team, each bringing their skillset to support the learning in schools. Ideally, I would like to see physical spaces in schools reflecting the flexibility, openness, collaboration and networking of digital spaces. This is apparent in the design and/or repurposing of some innovative schools, which are worth visiting next time you are in Sydney (eg. Northern Beaches Christian School, Merrylands East PS, St Luke’s Catholic College, Marsden Park)
How we design and approach learning in schools contributes to the learning environment. A successful learner today is a digital learner, who needs to be able to work safely, productively, ethically and creatively in both physical and digital spaces. Learning design that leverages the possibilities of digital tools, while recognising their constraints; learning tasks that include choice (of pace, place, presentation), constructive feedback and opportunities for collaboration; and learning that can continue beyond the classroom in terms of time and reach are possible within digital learning environments. I have had experience with Learning management systems such as eBackpack, Canvas or Showbie; collaborative spaces such as Google Apps; Social networking tools specifically designed for education such as edmodo; social bookmarking sites such as Goodreads, Pearltrees or Diigo; Web 2.0 tools such as VoiceThread, Flipgrid, Padlet; blogging platforms such as Kidblog or edublogs, that can help to support this kind of learning.
Digital technologies enable learning in virtual spaces beyond the classroom, beyond school hours. This has implications for a teacher, and how (s)he chooses to manage this. It is important for each of us to find a balance – we need to have a consistent presence in the virtual spaces we encourage our students to learn with and in, which we can contribute to with input, suggestions, comments and feedback at any time; but we also need to have down time away from our students and career, to spend time with family and friends, pursue hobbies and nurture ourselves. This is something I constantly struggle with.
We can use the way we manage our own lifestyle, particularly our digital lifestyle, as a model of digital citizenship for our students. We owe it to ourselves and our students to be informed about digital technologies, and a PLN is a vital resource to support the lifelong learning that is needed to be aware of the ever-changing digital environment. I think it’s important for us to walk-the-walk as we talk-the-talk of digital citizenship with our students, and using examples from our own digital life when talking about privacy, security, acceptable risk, online publishing, online purchasing, finding credible resources, etc., both explicitly in digital citizenship lessons, or implicitly as the occasion arises, can provide authentic, helpful and practical advice. Sharing resources such as commonsensemedia.org, and stories of the learning that is happening about digital citizenship with the parent community through regular communication helps them to be part of this digital learning environment too.