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How to use digital education resources effectively

Many teachers use digital education resources to supplement their curriculum. Find out how to use digital resources effectively to expand learning experiences.
How to use digital education resources effectively
How to use digital education resources effectively

Although many K-12 schools have returned to in-person instruction, students still continue to learn virtually from home and in the classroom. Teachers regularly search for digital education resources to supplement curriculum and engage their students. Digital Instructional Materials, a 2020 research report, surveyed ELA, math and science teachers across the United States. It found that 95 percent of elementary teachers and 97 percent of secondary teachers use Google to help plan instruction. Plus, more than half of teachers use online educational sites to find digital resources. School districts can support teachers and help them with strategies to ensure that digital resources are used effectively.

What are the types of digital resources?

Teachers and instructional leaders can find countless digital education resources online that fit any subject or grade level. Many resources are free to use, although schools may decide to purchase essential resources like digital textbooks. Here are several types of digital learning resources that teachers can add to lesson plans.

  • Simulations and interactive models can deepen learning and are especially helpful in math and science.
  • Graphics such as public-domain images (illustrations and photographs), charts and graphs can help learners better comprehend concepts.
  • Videos and animations from websites like YouTube help explain topics. YouTube can be safe for learners when school districts use a tool like Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara.
  • Digital textbooks can be used anywhere across devices and are more quickly updated than traditional textbooks. 
  • Online assessments, including formative and summative assessments, give teachers and administrators instant data. Plus, they are interactive and engaging for learners. 
  • Podcasts and audio, such as music, boost participation and reach students with different learning styles.
  • Online educational games make learning concepts fun for students.
  • Literature and online news articles are examples of digital learning materials that are quick to access and share.
  • Primary source documents that have been digitized help teachers supplement curriculum without needing physical copies.
  • Interactive maps give students a hands-on digital experience.
  • Tools like graphing calculators help students learn math without needing to purchase a physical calculator.
  • Full online courses can provide review or enrichment and give students the chance to work on their own learning goals.

Why are digital resources important in K-12 education? 

Digital learning allows educators to take students beyond the four walls of the classroom or their at-home environment. Learning then becomes a global experience. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) defines digital learning as “any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience” and uses a wide variety of tools and practices. This definition includes online resources if they are used with purpose.

Digital education resources also provide an equitable learning experience because students can access them anywhere. Teachers can use them for in-person or remote instruction and switch between the two without disruption. Plus, digital resources are often free and can easily be shared without the need for physical copies. 

What makes online resources beneficial to instruction?

Online resources benefit instruction because they are relevant to learners’ lives and the way they interact with the world. Virtual resources open up the world beyond what teachers can show students in the physical classroom. They pique students’ curiosity and strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving skills through inquiry-based learning. Students can also use digital resources to create and produce work. 

Digital content can supplement primary instructional materials or drive a unit or lesson. If the provided curriculum has gaps for certain standards, online learning materials can fill in those areas. Teachers can also use them to help learners who are not ready for grade-level standards or to provide enrichment. Another benefit is that learners can view the content as many times as they want. They can re-watch a video, re-work a simulation or listen to a podcast to help review concepts.

How do you support teachers when using digital education resources?

While most teachers use Google to search for materials, not every teacher has a deep understanding of how to use online resources effectively. Technology leaders need to be available to answer questions and guide them, and teachers need time to work with their peers and discuss resources. School districts should also provide training and professional development opportunities. One way to do that is by choosing a program that offers asynchronous training like the Hāpara Champion program. 

Another way to help teachers effectively use resources is with the help of instructional leads. The leads can gather a collection of high-quality digital resources to give their team a place to start. Teachers can then select the resources they want to use and suggest materials to add to the collection.

How do you create digital teaching resources?

There are many digital education resources online that teachers can use to increase learning. While educators can start from scratch, there are plenty across the internet to use in any subject. There are steps to take, though, to ensure that the resources are the right fit for the curriculum. 

Identify digital resources

The first step is to identify digital resources that teachers can add to their lesson plans. They should note whether the resources are free to use or have fees involved. Also, if they plan to make edits, they need to look at licenses to see if they’re allowed to modify resources. Additionally, they should consider whether or not the learning resources are equitable. Will all learners be able to use them on their devices, in school or at home?

Vet digital resources

The second step is to continue to vet the digital resources. Educators should ask the following questions: 

  • Is the information accurate? 
  • Does the information come from reliable sources? 
  • Are the digital learning resources high-quality?

Educators should also explore who created or funded the website. Is there any kind of bias? Teachers don’t have to rule out resources completely, but it’s something to be aware of. They can also have a discussion with students about bias and use it as a learning experience.

After reviewing the information, make sure that all links work. Also take note if students need to create an account or download an app. If so, be aware of data privacy issues that may affect learners. Before a new school year, it’s also a good idea to check if there have been any updates to the resources or if information is out-of-date.

Align digital resources

The next step is to check whether or not the resources are appropriate for the grade level and for learners’ reading levels. Then determine if they meet the goals of the unit and lesson objective. Next, educators should align the content to standards and consider modifications for special needs students. They may also want to take into account different learning styles and align resources that way.

Collaborate on digital resources

Educators don’t have to work alone to gather online resources. Collaborating as a team makes the identifying, vetting and aligning steps more efficient. School leaders should consider scheduling time for teams to meet and work on curating digital resources. Once teams have collections, they can re-use them year after year and add to them when needed.

Organize digital resources

Once resources are ready, an instructional leader, teacher or team should organize them. Resources should be organized by subject, grade level, unit, lesson, project, assessment, review, extended learning or reading level. Hāpara Workspace streamlines the organization process for educators and even gives school districts the option to add to private libraries. Plus, Workspace has thousands of digital learning resources available from around the world.

How do you help learners use digital resources?

Learners may use technology in their personal lives every day, but it’s still important to help them with the virtual resources teachers share. In their personal lives, students use social media and entertainment technology every day. They may not know how to use technology for learning, though. Online learning materials should be engaging and interactive, but if students struggle to use them, learning will be interrupted. Here are some tips to ensure students have a positive experience. 

Help learners access resources

First, learners need a way to access digital education resources. How will teachers send the resources, and where will learners find them? Teachers can share resources on their own website, through a school webpage, on a Google Doc or in Google Classroom. Hāpara Student Dashboard makes it easy for learners to find all their digital resources in one spot.

Help learners navigate resources

Next, teachers may need to demonstrate how to use certain digital learning resources for students. They can model it for the class or create a short screencast video. They should also be on hand to answer questions as learners navigate through websites, simulations, maps or online assessments. 

Help learners manage resources

As teachers continue to share resources throughout the school year, learners need a way to manage those links, documents and files. Learners need to be able to find resources quickly and know where they fit into units and lessons. By organizing resources beforehand, teachers can help learners manage all of their content and use that content productively. 

How can you make digital resources helpful in individual cases?

While teachers may share digital education resources with the entire class, resources can also help individual learners. Here are strategies for ensuring online resources are effective for each learner.  

Personalize learning

Tailoring instruction to students’ abilities and needs is one of the best ways to create a deeper learning experience. Educators can use digital resources to individualize and differentiate instruction to reach each student. Teachers and teams can do this by curating collections of resources for different learning levels and sharing links in the moment.  

Gather data and feedback

The best way to understand which digital resources individual learners need is by gathering data and feedback. Online assessments help teachers collect data quickly and spot where learners are struggling or excelling. From there, teachers can share resources to re-teach concepts or differentiate instruction for gifted learners. By gathering data consistently, teachers can guarantee that each learner is getting the instruction they need. 

Empower learners

Another way to effectively use digital resources is to empower students to take control of their own learning. Students can explore a teacher’s selection of resources or search for resources themselves. Self-directed learning at a student’s own pace makes education more meaningful. Teachers can also offer different pathways for learning with resources along the way. Then students can choose which pathway they’d like to take. 

Learners can also set goals for themselves and dig deeper into concepts or explore other topics. One way to encourage this is by teaching them how to find appropriate digital resources. Language arts teachers can create lessons on this topic, but teachers in any subject should reinforce these skills. With digital literacy skills, learners can use online materials responsibly and find appropriate content.  

How do you promote digital learning resources to students and families?

Promoting digital learning resources to students and their families helps build a positive environment. When educators communicate clearly, online materials can be used more effectively in their curriculum. Here are ways teachers can promote their resources. 

Communicate with a newsletter 

Sending families a weekly or monthly newsletter is a great way to keep them updated. In the newsletter, teachers can share activities and digital education resources students will be using. That way families can explore websites or apps and have a clear understanding of how their children are learning. 

Include FAQs for families who need tech support

Another way to build a positive environment around digital resources is by including a list of FAQs for families. Not every family is equipped with technology skills and may need some help. By anticipating questions, teachers can make it easier for learners to access resources at home. The list of questions and answers can be part of a teachers’ website or sent in a newsletter. 

Explain why the resources are important 

Educators should also explain to learners and families the importance and relevance of digital resources. How do they align with a unit, a lesson or standards? Why is a digital version better, in this case? When learners and families understand why a teacher loves a resource or recommends it, there is buy-in. Students will more likely be on board with using the digital resource and families will provide support.

Make sure instructions are clear

It’s also important to set expectations by making sure instructions are clear for using digital learning materials. One way to do that is by incorporating digital citizenship into lessons. Teachers should also communicate in multiple ways any instructions related to resources, especially if students are transitioning between the classroom and remote learning. Instructions should be verbalized and posted online so that learners are clear on what to do.

Create a schedule and make due dates easy to find

Creating a schedule and making due dates clear for learners helps them get the most out of digital resources. Even if students are on different learning pathways or working toward their own goals, it’s helpful for them to have structure. Teachers may want to send students reminders along the way and communicate reminders to families, too..

The majority of teachers today use digital learning resources to supplement curriculum. But online resources need to be used appropriately and with purpose, in order to be effective. With support and strategies, though, any teacher can use digital education resources to help students meet or exceed learning goals.

Explore why educators are reviving the #GoOpen initiative to increase access to free high-quality learning materials.

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