Classroom Practice

Crash Course in Creating Great Digital Lessons

Written by Kirstin Fowler

There are lots of great tech tips out there. Some feature specific tools for digital lessons, while others focus on justifying the use of digital lessons or encouraging reflection and risk taking. But, how do we integrate these lessons into our curricula? What are the best practices to guide you? Without purpose, limits, and reflection, it is impossible to create a structured and effective technology-enhanced lesson that provides students with valuable experience while keeping the planning and grading process manageable for you!

With that in mind, let’s explore some of the steps to creating a solid, engaging, and effective digital lesson.

1. Consider the medium

Do you want to blend learning modalities? Will you be providing an autonomous home learning experience or flipping your classroom? Are you seeking to differentiate lessons by providing students choices in their learning pathway?

Setting your lesson intention begins to narrow down the myriad options of digital technology that you might use to develop a lesson. Considering the purpose also forces you to align the medium with the lesson. If you’re simply sharing information with absent students, or rewording in-class direct instruction content, then you might consider a simple video or screencast that can be reused. If you want to differentiate lessons, you use Glogster or a WebQuest generator to guide students along different pathways related to the same material. Maybe you want to move beyond a discussion board and bring in student voices with a tool like VoiceThread or one of the many audio recording and response tools. Your students can even respond verbally to you!

2. Consider the type of feedback

Students need feedback to learn from mistakes and grow. You need to provide this information to them in a timely fashion…so, what will you do? Can the program facilitate feedback? Will they receive collaborative feedback from peers? Will you process quiz or rubric data later?

Considering feedback is simply an educational best practice. How you’ll define success and assess student work when using technology is as critical as considering the medium and tool. There are many different options: for Google Docs-based work, you can use the tool Doctopus*. Turnitin.com, most frequently used for large projects, can be used for shorter written assignments to ensure authenticity of student work. It comes with a host of rubric attachment and annotation tools via GradeMark. No matter what you select, it is important to build space in your rubric for the process of learning the new technology tool, so that students are held accountable (at least for the first time) for mastering the technology that is part of your lesson.

*Doctopus is a tool I’ve used extensively in my classes. It takes set-up time up front, but once everything is moving, it is fairly easy to use – and makes turn-ins and grading a breeze!

3. Consider the skills

Determine what your students’ ability levels are. Then, decide how you will help your students become proficient with the technology you want them to use.

Want them to learn collaboration? Choose a tool that fosters collaboration like Google Slides, Prezi, VoiceThread, or Wikispace. Understand what your students are comfortable with and give them ample practice opportunities to learn the technology. Provide short lessons and group modeling, then create tasks to scaffold their ability to collaborate (perhaps first in a Think-Pair-Share, THEN in an online research group). Knowing what your students can do, and what they need to learn, will help you to facilitate skills-based learning experiences for them.

4. Plan the lesson

Once you’ve selected a tool, create a script or a pathway. Learn how to use the tools yourself, too, prior to beginning to design the lesson. This outline will help you pace the lesson, and identify areas for differentiation of content and use of technology. Use multimedia – bring in video clips, songs, visual images – and momentary breaks to allow students to process information.

5. Test the lesson

As teachers, we don’t have ample time to plan and test out our lessons. However, it is important to make sure your lesson works when using technology. Try testing it as a student and grade your own work. Ask yourself: what happens if the video is blocked? Where will you direct students if a webquest link is dead? How will you manage a situation in which a student can’t log in?

6. Teach the lesson

Plan your day so that you are available to troubleshoot for your students. Monitor their progress, whether you’re online and accessible via email for the beginning of a homework period, or you’re actively monitoring your classroom. Pop into Google Docs randomly. Provide re-teaching and redirecting as needed.

7. Reflect

After you’ve taught the lesson, take a moment and reflect on the lesson’s execution. What went well? What was a struggle for the students? What content was obscured by technology, and what was enhanced? Did your assessment work?

Maybe your students need more training with the software or program. Perhaps they mastered the technology, but not the content. Maybe the medium worked for some students, but not others. Take the time to make changes to how you present the information or train specific students to use the program in order to maximize future digital lessons.

Finally, consider the following tips. Some might be re-emphasized from the steps above, but focusing in on these areas will help to make your digital lesson a success!

Be organized:

  • Plan the lesson ahead of time, test all links, and act as a student in your own class to check for glitches.  
  • Teach students to collaborate offline before bringing in digital technology.
  • Plan for enough time to train your students in new technologies and procedures.
  • Lay out your expectations for each student
  • Scaffold the use of technology as well as the content.

Be creative:

  • Guide students through digital interfaces to open up a new world of vocabulary, grammar data, test preparation data.
  • Give your students access to the real world, but keep them safe. Create an internal Twitter or Facebook account. Give students access to real data from accessible sources to analyze.
  • Involve students in the process of developing digital lessons.

Be realistic:

  • Technology can’t always replace everything that we do.
  • Know your class and what they need.
  • Use technology to ENHANCE, not to REPLACE – students need a wide variety of skills.

About the author

Kirstin Fowler

Kirstin Fowler (@KEFTutoring) is an entrepreneur, teacher, and writer who advocates for the development of new and creative ways of facilitating student learning. Kirstin's current position teaching high school allows her to move between classrooms and subjects, exploring many different styles of teaching and learning. She is also the founder of KEFTutoring, a company that specializes in tutoring, test preparation, college counseling, and educational planning for students in grades K - 12.

Kirstin earned her AB from Duke University in 2007. She continued her education at the Sotheby's Institute of Art (University of Manchester), earning a Master of Arts degree in 2009 and at Chatham University, earning a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 2012.

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