Home » Columns » Quality teaching in a digital world

Quality teaching in a digital world

By Roderick Benns

In an unprecedented digital age, there is a popular misconception that technology is a threat to our classrooms because it is finding a way to replace the need for good teaching. There is a sense that the need for personal teacher interaction will be reduced, given that young people hold in their hands vast warehouses of information, via their smart phones and other devices.

However, we can take comfort in knowing that teacher leadership still matters more than anything else. It has never been more relevant to ensure great teachers connect with engaged students – and the best schools and school leaders are keenly aware of this fact.

Take school Principal Kevin DeForge, in Alberta. DeForge is the leader of St. Dominic Fine Arts School in the Calgary Catholic School District, in Alberta. He says it is crucial for educators to get on board with the idea that quality teaching, “if rooted in authentic learning practices like project-based and inquiry learning, can be enhanced by technology.”

Project-based learning is an approach to teaching where students are actively engaged in exploring real-world issues and challenges. With this kind of engaged learning, young people are inspired to go deeper into the knowledge of what they’re studying.

DeForge, who is a recipient of Alberta’s Distinguished Leadership Award, points out that with businesses looking more closely at soft skills as an area of need, “educators can use technology to provide new opportunities for innovation and communication.”

He says it is critical that the focus shifts to “allowing students to make meaning of their own learning, as they create with technology, rather than just curate with it.”

Creating with Technology

There are many ways that students can create with technology, including using a multitude of tools, from video streaming and podcasts to the use of social media, preferably used in a way that is project-learning based. Powerful programs like Prezi, PowToon, Piktochart, and even the classic Powerpoint are also great for student learning and student engagement.

For instance, PowToon is a cloud-based software for creating animated presentations and animated videos that can explain complex subjects. Teachers can use this engaging approach to introduce themselves to a new class. Students can use it to talk about multifaceted or difficult subjects, like war in the Middle East, social challenges, and political policies.

Piktochart is a web-based infographic software tool. It allows users who have little to no experience as graphic designers to make incredible, professional-looking infographics, using ready-made templates.

Piktochart is a web-based infographic software tool. It allows users who have little to no experience as graphic designers to make incredible, professional-looking infographics, using ready-made templates.

In both these cases, though, a hands-on, qualified teacher will ensure the time spent on these programs is used for rich and meaningful topics – not just technology for technology’s sake.

Dr. Simon Breakspear says while the digitization of educational resources “will enable more and more content to be accessible online, the most powerful elements of learning have always been deeply human.”

Breakspear is an internationally-known, Australian-based education leader on learning innovation and system reform. He says that we “need not feel threatened by powerful digital trends, as technology is merely a tool, much like a pencil or any other tool.”

“Technology is here to stay, so it is our challenge to infuse its use into good pedagogy, so that we can better prepare our children for a future that does not yet exist.”

DeForge, the Alberta principal, agrees. He says we are “leading and learning in an age of ‘squirrel,’” because of all the distractions, particularly with regard to technology.

“It is our challenge, as educators, to turn distraction into advantage. We should strive to integrate technology seamlessly into our instruction and leadership so that it becomes something that engages the learner, rather than diverts their attention from the learning.”

So, as long as the task is rich and project-based, the technology can only enhance the learning experience.

Breakspear notes there “are so many innovative ways to leverage technology so that it works to our advantage by enhancing our ability to celebrate, communicate and collaborate within a world of distraction.”

He notes teachers and principals simply need to be willing to approach the challenge “with an entrepreneurial spirit and an open mind, and the doors will begin to open.”

Lifelong Learning

Perhaps the most important aspect of teaching for a new digital norm is the fact that educators, more than ever, will be required to become inveterate learners. They will need to become increasingly aware of newer technological trends but not necessarily at an expert level.

In fact, many teachers complain that the training their schools and school systems provide for them overly focuses on how to use a program – not necessarily how to use it meaningfully in a teaching and learning context. In some cases, teachers will need to fight for this focus and ask for the professional development time that will help them create meaningful learning opportunities for their students.

Breakspear points out that while “overcoming the digital divide will ensure access to content for a greater number of people, the greatest challenges we face in education concern the motivational divide.”

“Quality teachers will increasingly need to develop the capacity to be activators and designers of learning. These roles will only become more important, not less as digitization continues.”


With the digitization of learning comes the great opportunity to improve collaboration in our classrooms. The use of technology can be a highly effective way to bring a classroom to life, with improved student engagement and enriched education.

The best teachers are using technology to support teamwork and collaborative assignments, rather than standing at the front of a class and telling students exactly what will be done. The thoughtful use of technology can break these habits and help spark a new mindset for educators of any age. Rather than using vast technology simply to ‘find information,’ the best educators encourage a transfer of control from the teacher at the front of the class to students who are actually helping one another learn.

— Roderick Benns is the publisher of Leaders and Legacies. He also spent nine years as Senior Writer within the Student Achievement Division of the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *