British Columbia’s curriculum has evolved over the years, yet the education model that focuses on academic success and print-centric learning has remained the same. COVID-19 accelerated the shift towards online learning, disrupting the classroom and proving that more innovation and resources were needed to succeed in a virtual setting.
While technology has been considered to hinder progress, we are now seeing that virtual education tools empower self-directed learning, from enabling access to an extensive library of content across all subjects, to allowing students to keep track of their learning through self-assessment. By adopting digital education platforms to mitigate distraction, educators have been able to curate and provide vetted content that better engages students. This solves key challenges while reaping the benefits of a modernized classroom.
As the CEO of Nelson, Canada’s largest education resource company, I have witnessed the company go through a self-disruption, shifting from an educational publisher to an education technology company. We have shifted our business model from predominantly print to one that enables educators and learners to digitally access curriculum-aligned content, as seen through our digital ecosystem called Edwin. We see the power that technology has, and are using that to empower students to bring their best foot forward in the hybrid classroom.
In order to understand how educators can leverage technology, it is important to understand the positive impact technology can bring to the future of learning.
Digital Content Erases Outdated Storytelling
Over the past two years, we have seen poignant examples of the need for important events and cultural context to be accurately communicated in the classroom. From inequity for marginalized students to the horrific discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites, there have been calls for action from the community, and with that, calls for the education system for appropriate representation. It is critical that educators have current and relevant content available to students that reflects how and why these conversations are so important.
The British Columbia education system, in particular, has been spotlighted, with some saying that Black Canadian history has been ignored, despite the long and intricate history that Black people have in Canada. Educators must facilitate honest conversations about the Black Canadian experience, and implement long-term strategies that combat system barriers. The same can be said for Indigenous education, LGBTQ+ rights, and more.
The lack of reliable resources and professional training remain two of the biggest challenges in teaching students about the lived, historical, Canadian experience. Access to digital resources allows for a larger volume of richer content, giving educators the tools to confidently teach and lead discussions with students that will shape how they, as future leaders, will prioritize and take action. At Nelson, we have done this with several series, most recently the See Us Learn Us webinar, which provided educators with a guide on how to approach the representation of the Canadian Black experience in the classroom, and how to empower students to have open conversations and put their lessons into action.
Equitable Access to Learning
In March 2020, school boards loaned computers and devices to students so they could access online learning from home. This showcased inequities in the classroom. A report from April 2020 found that up to 30% of families had no access to technology.
Prior to the pandemic, digital tools were only provided to students based on needs assessments, such as those with learning disabilities. Now, we have seen that there is a need for equitable access to digital resources for all students. The benefit of this is normalizing the positive outcomes of a digital device at every desk.
Technology has the ability to make learning more interactive. In Edwin, for example, virtual tools make complex subjects, like math, easy to understand. The platform uses visuals to break down abstract mathematical concepts to give students interactive context that doesn’t exist in a printed resource. With the support of technology, students are empowered to understand math principles more easily and develop a more positive attitude towards the subject overall.
When equipped with the necessary tools specifically designed to understand the needs of students and educators, a laptop alone has all the tools required to support various learning outcomes. The stigma of having a digital device is gone, and the benefits of utilizing technology to improve one’s educational journey is now at the forefront.
Empowering Self-Directed Learning
In the traditional education system, all students are taught through one standardized model. We know that all students don’t learn in the same way or at the same pace, and that is why many students fall behind.
Outside of the classroom, students turn to mobile applications and social networks for entertainment and interactions with their peers. Digital education platforms mirror that experience, allowing students to search through curriculum-linked content, watch videos to learn new concepts, and interact with course materials in an environment they are already comfortable with. This method of teaching guides students through digital citizenship, where they can safely learn how to use digital devices responsibly, think critically, and practice healthy digital habits.
In this digital era, students are deeply connected to the Internet – it’s how they communicate with their friends and consume content. So why shouldn’t they learn in a format that fits their lifestyle, long after public health restrictions are lifted?
A digital platform provides educators with the resources needed to allow students to be in control of their learning. It delivers curriculum in a tailored format, as seen through project-based learning and content creation. It also makes learning more approachable. For example, a student who fears presenting in front of their peers can create podcasts or videos instead and achieve the same success in that unit or subject.
The benefits are simple – an interactive platform meets students where they are, catering to a variety of learning styles and preferences while increasing student engagement and greater retention of information.
The pandemic disrupted learning environments and worsened the pre-existing teacher shortage crisis. We need to shift the conversation from disruption to recovery by adopting digital platforms that bring peace of mind to educators and ensure seamless transitions for changing learning environments in the future.
Now is the time to recognize that technology is not a distraction in the classroom. Technology is a tool that can create exciting and engaging experiences that can ultimately lead to better learning outcomes.