Over the last few years digital content such as educational websites, electronic textbooks, and online journals have become more available to classrooms than ever before. Unfortunately increased availability does not always equal increased use. Despite the number of iPads, Chromebooks, and other devices in schools today the amount of print based material remains roughly the same. Reasons for this vary, but understanding the importance of having digital materials available can go a long way in helping classrooms make the transition.
The primary reason to use digital materials in the classroom is to increase accessibility. I define accessibility in two ways: Location based accessibility and accessibility for diverse learners.
Location Based Accessibility
Location based accessibility is the actual availability of material on any device at any time, whether it be at home, school or anywhere in between. This is not the case with traditional paper based materials. For example, if a student receives homework but leaves it at school, he or she will not have access to it at home. Similarly, if homework is finished but left at home, the student will not be able to turn it in. Digital materials help in that they can usually be accessed on any device providing an internet connection is available.
One way to make this a reality in your classroom is through Google Documents. Google offers word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools that are completely free as long as you have (or create) a Google account. The great thing about Google Docs is the ability to create and share files in the cloud (offline access is also available if no internet connection is available). So students can start working on a document in the computer lab and do revisions using their mobile phone at home. This is of course just one example. Office 365 through Microsoft is now offering a similar service, but in my opinion it is tough to beat the collaboration and sharing features offered through Google.
Accessibility for Diverse Learners
Accessibility for diverse learners simply means providing a more user friendly medium for diverse learners or students with disabilities. Digital content allows students to zoom in or out of materials as needed, use text-to-speech software to have content read aloud, take advantage of word prediction and spell check to assist with writing, and much more. For students who speak English as a second language, words can be instantly translated to their home language with the click of a button. Many of these supports come standard on devices or can be easily added for a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, taking advantage of these tools with traditional paper based materials require an adult to come and sit next to the student. This is not an efficient or effective method of support.
Hopefully by now you have bought into the importance of using digital materials in the classroom when possible. The next step is actually finding or creating them, which I will be covering in next week’s post. What other advantages do digital materials provide? Or maybe you can think of situations where paper is more appropriate. Please leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.