Inspiring Instructional Innovation

4 ways to reimagine teaching and learning experiences for today’s digitally connected, tech-savvy students.

By Nicholas J. Myers
Principal, March/April 2021. Volume 100, Number 4.

Evidence supports the idea that traditional schooling can no longer prepare students for future successes in the technologically advanced economy of today and tomorrow. Fortunately, the digital age has ushered in a new period of promise, as schools strive to capitalize on the potential instructional technologies offer in transforming teaching and learning opportunities for students.

One outcome of this has been the inspiring “instructional innovation” movement that has emerged as a counterpoint to ineffective school reforms. The movement emphasizes the need to redesign learning experiences to be more personalized, geared toward real-world application of skills, and supported through the robust use of instructional technology. With school districts across the nation continuing to toggle between remote and hybrid learning due to the impact of COVID-19, the opportunity to anchor these principles into active practice has never been greater or more necessary.

The crucial questions the innovation movement asks include:

  • How do we more fully engage our students in the learning experience?
  • How do we ensure that we are equipping our students with the skills needed to succeed in our technologically advanced economy?
  • How do we broaden the learning opportunities we provide to students in the areas of communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving?
  • How can we best leverage instructional technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience?
  • How can we redesign the learning environment to support progressive teaching practices and immerse students in deep levels of engagement?

In answering these questions, school systems seeking to cultivate innovation in instructional design might wish to consider the following priority action steps:

1. Establish a leadership cadre of teachers and administrators to build shared knowledge and set a shared vision around the concept of instructional innovation. Providing leadership teams time to collaborate with, problem-solve with, and learn from one another is instrumental in navigating the issues and questions that naturally emerge when systemwide change is introduced. Consider what you and your team want teaching and learning to look like in five years. Beginning with the end in mind, you’ll be able to chart meaningful action steps supportive of your shared vision.

2. Update learning spaces to align with a shared vision of 21st century classrooms. Progressive teaching practices will see classroom teachers incorporate lessons that call upon students to collaborate with each other, use digital resources, and solve meaningful problems with real-world applications. Traditional classroom seating arrangements—students seated in rows of bulky desks and uncomfortable chairs—promote outdated teaching practices that focus on the teacher delivering content for memorization. Teachers need classroom furniture that assists them in creating small-group meeting spaces, spaces for project-based learning, spaces where technology is easily accessible, and spaces that accommodate movement and noise.

3. Reimagine the role a learning center can play in supporting instructional innovation. As digital connectivity expands in our schools, educators must reexamine the teaching and learning experiences taking place in learning centers. With 1:1 devices commonplace in classrooms, entire libraries of text are now available online for student access at any time. Progressive school systems across the country are transforming learning centers into “creation studios” that are equipped to support digital connectivity, audio and film production, and high- and low-tech “maker” activities.

4. Develop an instructional technology plan that includes 1:1 digital connectivity for all students and technology integration that enhances the teaching and learning experiences provided. As prices for 1:1 devices have dropped, curricula have become digitized, and the quality of educational apps has risen. School districts have never been better positioned to realize the potential that instructional technology holds to transform learning. A key priority in this work should be focusing on using this technology to engage students in the creation of new, authentic, and creative work products—not simply for the consumption of content. Staff training plays a pivotal role in supporting teachers in leveraging instructional technology to accelerate learning. Used appropriately, instructional technology can enable students to function more autonomously, provide students with choice and voice in their work, extend learning into real-world situations, and encourage low-cost, creative expression of ideas.

Tremendous potential exists to reimagine the teaching and learning experiences we provide to today’s digitally connected and technologically savvy student learners. Doing so will help ensure that we provide our students with a fully engaged present and a profoundly inspiring future.

Nicholas J. Myers is associate superintendent for Schaumburg Township School District 54 in Illinois.

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