Beyond the Basics — How Edtech Can Provide Students with Essential 21st-Century Skills

With all the changes and challenges over the last year, one takeaway I keep reflecting on is how essential education technology has become to learning—and how quickly this transition occurred.

I have long believed that edtech has the power to open up opportunities for students and change how educators teach.

I have been in the education and edtech space for nearly a decade now, and I have long believed that edtech has the power to open up opportunities for students and change how educators teach. That being said, when COVID-19 hit, edtech went from being a learning supplement to the center of the classroom, almost overnight. As the stress of the pandemic, the abrupt shift to remote and hybrid instruction, and the challenge of managing students’ social-emotional learning made teaching incredibly difficult for educators around the world, edtech made learning possible when physical classrooms were no longer accessible.

This transformation created both challenges and opportunities. Yes, everyone experienced their share of glitches. No, technology couldn’t address every issue, and not all students had adequate access to tools or WiFi at home. And yet, tools like learning management systems and video conferencing apps helped ensure continuity of learning during a very tough time.

Now, we’re moving into a new phase for education, and we hear a lot of uncertainty in the community regarding what to prioritize in edtech practices during a pandemic. At Adobe, we talked to education leaders who are using our tools with students, and we asked them about the new rules of teaching with edtech during and after COVID-19. Here are their thoughts, and ours:

Three Rules of the New Digital Classroom

1. Higher-order thinking skills are essential for success, so we should use edtech to drive that thinking

Artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting the education landscape. Memorization and other lower-order skills represented at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy or Level One of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge wheel are part of the learning process. However, lower-order skills are the floor, not the ceiling, of student learning, and now more than ever before, the floor is not enough. AI can perform these simpler skills better, faster and cheaper. To prepare students for the changing job market, schools need to focus even more attention on teaching higher-level thinking skills that can’t be automated—creativity, critical thinking, creative problem-solving and communication.

Schools and teachers are already moving to address this shift in what students need in their professional futures. “This past year has allowed us insight into how disruptive innovation can harness the power of technology to ignite a new generation of empowered citizens,” enthuses Martha Bongiorno, a Media and Education Technology Instructor in Fulton County, Georgia. Bongiorno has seen firsthand how COVID-19 has impacted education, and she believes educators are ready for new approaches to teaching and learning. “After a year of uncertainty, educators are more aware of how that uncertainty can lead to creativity blossoming, more opportunities for student interest and engagement and a wealth of resources to analyze data for skill development.”

2. Give students opportunities to lead their learning and use edtech to show their thinking in new ways

Keeping students engaged in a digital environment can be challenging. When we asked education leaders how they recommend driving engagement using technology, a lot of the advice they gave boiled down to one simple principle: Put the students in the driver’s seat.

Student agency in learning is not a new idea, but the opportunities for students to show their thinking and drive their learning have multiplied and changed, with new technologies opening up new projects and possibilities. By assigning digital projects like podcasts, infographics, and video essays, educators empower students to fully express themselves with new media and methods that students today find most familiar and relevant to their lives. And when students have the opportunity to create their own digital media, they become better-informed and more intentional media consumers. These projects also give students more opportunities to guide the direction and vision of their projects, instead of just filling out a worksheet.

Willie Thomas III, Director of Media Integration for Robinson Independent School District in Texas, works each day with students and educators to ensure classrooms provide safe spaces for expression and creative exploration. “I am always fascinated by the increased student engagement we get from our learning experiences when we allow students to infuse their passion into their products,” he says. “When student voice takes a front seat in the learning process, the ownership of their learning shines through the products that they chose to produce.”

Let’s help students grow into their best selves by giving them a chance to guide some of their learning.

It’s not always easy, but Thomas says it’s worth the effort. “It can be hard for educators to let go of power and control over the final product and what the learning outcome looks like to them. When they finally do step back and allow the demonstration of learning to become a natural and personal journey, the products they produce can help to increase the retention of the learning experience.”

The Adobe for Education team believes that the edtech world is moving beyond simply connecting students to their classrooms, learning resources and assignments. It has the power to help students center themselves in their learning and build those 21st-century skills that are future-proof. And, as Martha Bongiorno indicates from her recent teaching experiences, “Nurturing learner agency in the school environment allows our students to develop social responsibility, cultural awareness and positive personal identity. They learn content and how to be a positive change agent in our communities.”

Let’s help students grow into their best selves by giving them a chance to guide some of their learning.

3. Pedagogy first, edtech second—don’t let the tool get in the way of the learning

While COVID-19 has changed some of the rules of edtech, there is one rule that I feel will always be true—the tools will shift and change, but good pedagogy and education practices are enduring and timeless.

I learned in my education classes and as a teacher that, before I try a new tool, I should know how it meaningfully helps my teaching practice and aids student learning. At Adobe for Education, our team believes we should support teachers in focusing on the pedagogy and the tools, helping bring the two together. The Adobe Education Exchange has thousands of free lessons and educational resources to help teachers learn to use Adobe tools, how to teach with them and how to integrate them into every subject, from English to photography. That way, teachers can focus on teaching, confident that the tools are giving students a better learning experience.

We also recognize the value of reaching teachers where they are in their workflow. This is why we have partnered with some of the leaders in the edtech ecosystem, from Google, Microsoft, Canvas, Blackboard, Clever and Classlink, to curriculum leaders like Khan Academy. This way, from deciding where to start your lesson through students submitting their work, we’ve got you covered.

On the Adobe for Education team, we’re excited to partner with educators and fellow solution providers in the journey to evolve education technology and to learn from the community about new rules of the road as they emerge. In the year ahead, we’ll continue finding new ways to support educators and schools as they prepare students for the future.

The tools will shift and change, but good pedagogy and education practices are enduring and timeless.

Adobe has created a new set of resources and developed new edtech integrations. We also offer free products that help educators bring creativity and digital literacy into their daily lesson plans and assignments.

  • Adobe and Khan Academy curriculum - We co-designed this curriculum in partnership with Khan Academy, bringing together Adobe’s creative tools with Khan Academy’s world-class content in over 100 flexible and adaptable teaching resources. Each activity provides students an opportunity to engage deeply with their learning, practice essential skills like digital literacy and nourish their creativity and self-expression.
  • Adobe Creative Educator community - We developed this free program to help educators in every subject area and grade level learn best practices for bringing creativity into their classrooms. When educators join, they receive curated professional development materials, invitations to virtual and in-person learning events and the opportunity to connect with like-minded peers from around the world. To recognize their professional development, we award badges for completing each level of the program.
  • Edtech integrations - We’ve been working with our partners to make learning with technology as smooth and seamless as possible. Adobe Spark and Creative Cloud apps now integrate with the edtech tools teachers use every day—Clever, ClassLink, Canvas, Blackboard, Google Classroom, Google Drive, Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft Teams, Flipgrid and more.
  • Free, intuitive apps that spark creativity and drive digital literacy - We’ve developed a powerful yet easy-to-use set of apps with students and teachers in mind. Adobe Spark, Premiere Rush, and Photoshop Express empower beginner-level creators to make graphics, images, web pages or videos they’ll be proud of—in minutes. And students can use Adobe Acrobat Reader to easily view and print PDF documents and fill in PDF forms.

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