Open Letter to Educators: (Re)Defining Digital Learning Day

Dear Educator:

Tomorrow (well, technically today by the time I am done writing this) is the second annual Digital Learning Day.

Cool. I’m all for digital learning, as the title of my blog implies.

But, as we prepare for the onslaught of tweets, blog posts, videos, webinars, and other celebrations, it is worth exploring the definition of “digital learning” that the group is promoting, as well as the background of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s president, Bob Wise. Understanding a little more about each of these components for the day should, I hope, give you a better understand of why it is happening.

First, the definition, straight from their website:

Digital learning is any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience. Digital learning encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices, including online and formative assessments, increased focus and quality of teaching resources, reevaluating the use of time, online content and courses, applications of technology in classrooms and school buildings, adaptive software for students with special needs, learning platforms, participation in professional communities of practice, access to high-level and challenging content and instruction, and many other advancements technology provides to teaching and learning.

In this sense, I read the definition of “digital learning” to mean content that can be delivered to students at a low-cost and, presumably, without certified teachers in place to facilitate their learning. Or, as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder calls it, “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way Any Pace.” The fact that teaching is only mentioned twice (one of those times as an adjective) and “teacher” is never mentioned should be of concern.

And, as a number of educational historians, most notably Larry Cuban, have pointed out, when there is no teacher buy-in with technology or technology-based efforts at reform, very little if anything changes. This line of thinking is very much with the proposals that organizations like iNACOL (one of DLDay’s partners) through their federal policy frameworks have proposed to essentially eliminate teachers and fuel public education dollars into private, online corporations.

Also, there are number of buzzwords and phrases in this definition that should raise the eyebrows of anyone who follows educational reforms efforts. Phrases like “online and formative assessments” is certainly a nod to the impending PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments, which will be relying on computer scoring of writing, rather than informed, teacher-led assessments. The phrase “learning platforms” also barely hides a thinly disguised approach to curriculum delivery that is, at best, a type of self-paced credit recovery option coming in the form of programs like e2020 and Read 180. Finally, the euphemism “communities of practice” is code for teacher groups that are formed under the guise of choice and interest, but usually are created to fulfill a school’s need for performance to meet AYP goals, not genuine inquiry through teacher research.

Lastly, it is worth noting that Bob Wise, who teamed with Jeb Bush for the first Digital Learning Day let year, remains the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, the main sponsor of DLDay. Despite his Democrat party affiliation, it is worth noting that Wise is an advocate for digital learning who has shared his views in conservative forums such as the Mackinac Center. Lastly, and perhaps most concerning, Bob Wise has close ties to ALEC and many other organizations tied to the corporate educational effort movement.

All of this hubbub about DLDay thus raised major concerns for me — as a teacher, teacher educator, author, consultant, and parent. As I look towards tomorrow and the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of educators that will participate in Digital Learning Day, I wonder what we are truly celebrating?

Kids?

Creativity?

Real, authentic learning?

Contrast that paragraph full of edu-jargon quoted above and compare it with what happens when authentic assessment, student centered technology interfaces, and teacher driven inquiry guide digital learning that happens in places and spaces like NWP’s Digital Is and the DML Hub, through conferences like EdCamp and EduCon, or other affinity groups that coalesce through twitter or other social networks like Connected Learning. There is great digital learning going on out there, but not necessarily in the spaces or formats that DLDay actively promotes through their corporate partnerships and special interests.

So, what do you plan to do as you celebrate Digital Learning Day this year?

While I certainly encourage everyone to participate, I also strongly suggest that you think about the message you are sending in relation to digital learning: who has power and agency? Who has access? Who is accountable, and for what reasons? Are we talking about students, teachers, and parents working toward a common goal of universal literacy and civic engagement?

Or, is this just another corporate effort at “reforming” education into another line in their profit ledger?

However you celebrate DLDay, you have the power to show what digital learning is and can be, not just what corporations and politicians tell us it should be.

Use your power — and hashtags — wisely over the next 23 hours.

Update on February 7, 2013: Minor editing/typo changes. 

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3 thoughts on “Open Letter to Educators: (Re)Defining Digital Learning Day

  1. Pingback: On Digital Learning Day…Please Also Celebrate Analog Learning | uNewHaven Blogs

  2. Pingback: To MOOC or not to MOOC | the parable maternal: a blog on writing, rhetoric, and literary studies.

  3. Pingback: On Digital Learning Day…Please Also Celebrate Analog Learning

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