Digital Promise, with help from Google, coaches teachers on tech

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Through a partnership with Google for Education, the education nonprofit Digital Promise seems to have found success in tackling what it says is among the foremost issues in education today — the “digital use divide.”

Earlier this week, the two partners released a report outlining the results of the Dynamic Learning Project , a teacher-coaching program piloted in 50 low-income schools across Alabama, California, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas last year. The report found that instructional coaching — the process of teaching the teacher — paid dividends for teachers who might have struggled to otherwise integrate technology into their classroom.

Each school was specially selected by Google and Digital Promise based on interest from faculty and the severity of its “digital use divide,” or the skill of its faculty in utilizing the technology available to them.

Each school chosen for the project had adequate technology available to its teachers, but inadequate training or integration between the tools and the curriculum to actually justify the “use” of a 21st century lesson plan, said Aubrey Francisco, chief research officer of Digital Promise, and Liz Anderson, head of social impact programs at Google for Education.

“The first [divide] level is whether students have access to tools, and the second level is about how those tools are actually being used in the classroom,” Anderson said.

Anderson wanted to see if, by providing coaching to teachers in low-income communities, her team and Digital Promise could increase teachers’ confidence, build their skills and tap into the value of the technology tools that their schools have already invested in.

With funding from Google for Education, the project sponsored 50 instructional technology coaches, or DLP coaches, for one year. The coaches — many of whom were previously employees at their respective schools prior to the project — essentially became resident technology experts that the schools otherwise would not have had the resources or ability to provide.

Teachers took advantage of the free expertise from the coaches, who themselves were mentored by Google throughout the year. Working with around 10 teachers over an eight-week instructional period, the coaches first identified specific challenges that educators faced with classroom technology, while brainstorming potential solutions — tech-based or otherwise. Over the subsequent eight weeks, coaches observed, assisted and co-taught lessons empowering the lead teacher in his or her use of technology — a strategy that Anderson and Francisco said works well.

While the process could be considered personalized learning for teachers, it’s not just about learning how to turn on a new Smartboard or use a new software program on a tablet. In one 7th-grade history class, a teacher turned a news literacy lesson involving a decidedly non-digital form of media — newspapers — into a multimedia-based group project, in which students showcased online research, design and critical thinking skills to build their own newspaper as a classroom.

The project seems to have worked. A year later, Anderson and Francisco are adding 36 new schools while retaining 44 of the original 50, and more than 80 percent of DLP teachers agreed that they’re more capable of using technology to boost student collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, agency and more skills throughout the instructional cycle.

Schools interested in participating next year are encouraged to apply on Digital Promise’s website. While Google will not fund the coaches as it did in the project’s inaugural year, it will continue to provide mentorship and support.

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