Friday, January 22, 2016

5 Steps Toward Building Successful Digital Communities Infused With Rigor and Relevance

A dynamic combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills is required for schools to become places where social media and digital tools are integral and beneficial parts of a rigorous program and where they work symbiotically with active, engaged, and applicable learning. 
How can we take the greatest advantage of this moment in time and create compelling and challenging learning spaces for students? 

Image credit:

The most important things to do are to give up control and to trust students and their teachers to use real-world tools to unleash creativity and a passion for learning. After putting these tenets in the foundation, the specifics can take several different forms: 

Step 1

Realize that social media is a predominant tool in the world. It fosters personalization, creativity, and collaboration, giving students infinite ways in which to create artifacts of their learning and knowledge. 

Step 2

If 1:1 is not in the cards make use of devices students already have, know, and use. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) signals to kids that teachers know and understand their basic makeup. 
Employing the energy surrounding personal devices allows them to use the tools that help them do what they do better. BYOD enhances learning, increases productivity, allows students to grow their research skills, and gives teachers the chance to teach appropriate digital responsibility. 

Step 3

Create spaces for making, collaborating, and tinkering. Give students chances to build and create using real-world tools (wood shop, electronics, metal work, and coding stations) and to solve open-ended, real-world problems. Bring play back into the picture. These spaces provide students with challenging problems to solve where there is no one correct solution. Through self- directed learning, students are driven to find solutions to create a product that has value. 

Step 4

Structure schools so that they more accurately reflect the real world. Ubiquitous connectivity, charging stations, and casual zones that promote conversation and play increase students’ sense of belonging and engagement. Digitally astute students engage through such models as blended learning, flipped classrooms, games, makerspaces, and virtual learning

Step 5

Give students access to open courseware and open source technology. Inherent in these approaches is a high level of personalization and choice about what to focus on, which in turn leads to greater ownership over learning and personalized ways to demonstrate understanding. 

Ambitious, successful teaching and learning have become inherently intertwined with the digital world. Educators must be able to develop and enact rigorous, relevant instructional methods and formats while using digital tools effectively to underpin their instruction. Students and teachers can transform learning so that it not only prepares them to excel in academic life, but also endows them with essential digital age skills. 


  1. I work in a district where we are encouraged to utilize/integrate technology and have a BYOD policy. But ironically, some of the teachers get upset when students come in and plug in their devices. Because of this, I especially love Step #4 and the suggestion of charging stations etc... the physical spaces of our schools are just so outdated and do need to completely change in order to promote learning through technology. The teachers also need to change their ideas of classrooms norms.

    1. We need to really ask ourselves is school relevant to our students and are we relevant as educators. Thanks for the comment Stacy!