By Judith Sebesta, Executive Director, DigiTex
Digital learning is defined by the Department of Education as “any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience and encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices.” Drawing on both my own practice as an educator who worked for twenty years on the wide continuum of digital instruction and learning and my current role as a leader of an organization that supports and facilitates digital education across Texas and beyond, I would like to offer this polemic:
All Learning Should be Digital . . .
. . . at least to some extent. To support this argument, I assert that
- the binary of online vs. face-to-face/traditional instruction and learning is a false one, as there are a range of educational practices, methods, and modalities that exist on a wide spectrum between the two;
- pedagogy and andragogy completely untethered from technology should be rendered obsolete;
- digital technologies can enhance and expand analog communications and connections to support access to, and success in, higher education, making it more equitable for all learners; and
- engaging students in and through digital learning is not just a means to an end but an end in and of itself; i.e. instruction should model the digital literacy we want our students to achieve.
I am pleased to see an increase in requiring faculty to, at the very least, upload syllabi to an LMS and utilize it to record and track student progress and grades. Although some may cry interference in academic freedom, I think that these practices are essential to communicate this basic information to students and to be able to easily and regularly update these records as needed. I have yet to hear a persuasive argument that doing so in analog formats is more effective. But beyond this, digital resources, platforms, and tools can enhance accessibility of materials, meet more learners where they are, and so much more.
I recognize that, in order to embrace more holistic digital learning, and depending on to what extent course components are digital, resources may need to be (re)allocated to support this. Instructional designers and technologists may need to be hired, institutions may need to help students bridge the digital divide through better access to broadband and hardware, etc. But digital learning isn’t just the future, it is – and should be – now. While it may not always be what students want (although I believe that most often it is), it is what students need.