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How to bring digital skills into every classroom

There's always scope for incorporating digital skills into lesson plans, writes Engish teacher Emma Pass

Edtech: How teachers can bring digital skills into every classroom

I was almost speechless as I watched two of my students, who are typically disengaged, crouched over their computer, heads together, deep in conversation.

They were discussing potential conclusions for the story they were writing as a part of a lesson on digital skills. Not only were the students on-task and focused, they had also chosen to come back to the classroom during their lunch hour to finish the assignment — not because I had asked them to, but because they were so absorbed in their learning. 

The lesson was from Google’s new initiative to bring practical digital skills into the classroom, called Applied Digital Skills. It was an "If-Then Adventure Story" exercise, in which students collaborate to write narratives online, using links, images and a Google Slide deck to create fun and interactive multi-branched stories. 

As an English teacher, the storytelling element of the lesson was obviously appealing, but, as a real bonus, it helped me to bring practical, digital and life skills into my classroom, which I believe will serve the students just as well as learning to write. 

Are we really preparing students for the future? 

A study by the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2020, at least one-third of jobs will require skills that aren’t commonly taught in schools today. Surprisingly, many of these skills don’t involve advanced technical ability; instead, they are easily accessible abilities, like website design, spreadsheet management and email etiquette.

As a teacher, I have committed myself to prepare students for success in their future careers, and I had to ask myself: were my lessons currently doing that?

Where to start

Incorporating digital learning into my English curriculum was a bit daunting at first, and many teachers will face similar challenges of limited access to technology and scarcity of planning time. However, once I was committed to the task,  had booked the IT Suite and started doing the research, I found that there are plenty of simple ways to get started:

  • Search YouTube for tutorials

If you are just getting started with digital learning, it’s a good idea to hone your own digital skills before introducing them in the classroom. Luckily there are plenty of great YouTube videos and tutorials specifically designed for teachers. For example, this video on how to collaborate on a digital slide deck. 

  • Use screen recording programs 

Once you start to feel confident in your own digital skills, use a screen recording program, like Screencastify, to capture video demonstration of the skills you’d like your students to perform. You may, for example, record a short video demonstrating how to write a proper email, then send them the link as a homework assignment. 

  • Find inspiration 

There are plenty of teachers who create websites and blogs to share their experiences and resources using digital tools in the classroom. Mr Caffrey is a former geography teacher from Lichfield, who has loads of ideas about using digital maps. Additionally, Caitlin Tucker is an English teacher from California, who has an excellent list of favourite web tools

  •     Save time 

Save time creating your own content and use Applied Digital Skills lessons. 

Applied Digital Skills 

With Applied Digital Skills, I now have a great resource to help me bring more of a digital curriculum into my English classroom, and these tools are available to everyone.  

Applied Digital Skills is a free, online, video-based curriculum with over 75 (and counting) pre-built lessons to choose from. The lessons are thoughtfully developed, incorporating digital skills, life skills, collaboration, creativity and communication. 

Because the lessons are video-based and student-driven, it means every student can work at her or his own pace, while teachers are free to work individually or with small groups of students as needed. Each lesson also comes with a written lesson plan, which is categorised by key stage and aligned to the national curriculum.

Digital skills in any subject 

While I was lucky enough to find an Applied Digital Skills lesson on storytelling for my English class, most lessons on the platform could be used in any subject area. 

For example, one lesson called "Guide to an Area" asks students to research notable geographic areas and plot them on a map. A science teacher could use this lesson while teaching her students about different climate zones and biomes, while a language teacher could ask her students to do this assignment as they research and map culturally significant locations in Spain, France and beyond.  

Another lesson, called "Start a CV" teaches students how to use a Google Docs template to create a professional CV. A history teacher studying the Second World War could ask students to write their CV about Winston Churchill. An art teacher could assign Salvador Dali, or a science teacher, Gregor Mendel. 

This strategy adds to existing skills in research, analysis and reflection while giving students the practical knowledge of crafting a CV. Many of the other lesson ideas offered by Google provide similar scope for interpretation that teachers in a range of subjects can use. My advice would be to have a look at the lessons they offer and think creatively about how they could be used in your subject areas.

Learning tech skills can be fun

Along with creating a CV, many other practical skills taught through the Applied Digital Skills curriculum, such as working as a team, negotiating a salary, organising an event and building a business are highly relevant to the working world. If students can become comfortable using these skills in the classroom, they will be more confident using them as they enter the workforce.

It’s worth noting, too, that while I began incorporating digital skills into my lessons because of a fear that my students wouldn’t be prepared for their futures, I keep going back to Applied Digital Skills because there is power in lessons that are practical and relevant.

What’s more, and just like my two students working on their adventure story over the lunch hour, I keep coming back to them because they’re so engaging.

Emma Pass is a secondary English teacher and educational technology consultant. She tweets @emmabpass and blogs at EdTechEmma.com

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