Author Archives: Torie Bates

The future of learning is digital

With the rise of online learning and digital tools, education has dramatically changed over the years — requiring teachers and students alike to learn new digital skills. On February 22, thousands of educators around the world are celebrating the use of technology in the classroom by participating in Digital Learning Day. Whether in school or at home, we’ve seen technology can help provide access, increase engagement and help educators and students open up new possibilities for learning, especially over the last few years.

In honor of Digital Learning Day, Grow with Google’s Applied Digital Skills program has curated a collection of our most popular digital lessons, which includes everything from how to make art using spreadsheets to creating a presentation. Applied Digital Skills is Google’s free, online, video-based curriculum that teaches learners of all ages the practical technology skills needed to be successful in school, work and beyond. To date, this curriculum has helped more than three million students learn digital skills and has helped thousands of educators teach them in a fun and engaging way.

Matt Winters, a Senior Technical Trainer at the Utah Education Network and co-lead for Google Educator Group Utah, has incorporated Applied Digital Skills lessons in his community by training educators across the state of Utah to help them get more comfortable with technology. I met with him virtually to talk about his experience integrating technology and digital tools to create more personal learning experiences in the classroom.

What does digital learning mean to you?

In Utah, we are promoting several activities to get teachers and students involved in Digital Learning Day. And it isn’t about celebrating just one day or one week: This is a skillset that every teacher and student needs on a daily basis. Technology is a tool, and with any tool we need to know how to use it.

Technology is a tool, and with any tool we need to know how to use it.

In your opinion, how can Applied Digital Skills be used in the classroom to promote digital learning?

We as teachers are asked to do so much, especially since the pandemic. Whether it is planning curriculum, taking attendance or being experts in social-emotional learning, on top of all that we are asked to be technology experts. Teachers just don’t have time for all of it. Applied Digital Skills gives teachers the latitude to teach the technology skills that they want students to learn, without ever having to know the technology skills themselves. Although they can take the lessons too!

I also love the open-source nature of Applied Digital Skills. The lessons can easily be adapted to not just your content area, but also the digital tool you would like to use. One of my favorite lessons is Create a Comic Strip with Google Drawings. It’s a big hit with students and was a no-brainer given my personal love for graphic novels. The curriculum encourages teachers to hand off the lessons to the students to let them easily learn the technical skills needed. This allows the teacher to step out of the “sage on the stage” role and switch into coach mode. And they are able to be the content experts that they are and focus their attention on students who need additional support.

What advice would you give to teachers who are skeptical of bringing technology into the classroom?

My biggest suggestion to teachers is to simplify what you are doing with technology in the classroom. Less is more. Get comfortable with a few tech tools first. Start small. It doesn’t have to be a huge overhaul of your curriculum. If you are going from using very little or zero technology, start with very little increments to grow your confidence. That is a very easy win as you will continue to grow your skills over time.

We have to remind ourselves that some things that seem scary to us teachers aren’t actually that scary. For example, I was initially intimidated by some of the coding lessons but I realized how comfortable and easy it was to learn to code with Google Apps Script. By using lessons like Create a Guide to an Area, I was able to get comfortable with coding and show my students that this is much less daunting than it seems. No matter where you are at in your journey with digital skills, all you need to do is start today. Just remember to take it one step at a time.

Connect with family during Black History Month and beyond

Every year, I look forward to family reunions. From the matching T-shirts to the impromptu line dances, reunions allow my family to pass down traditions and preserve memories across many generations. But now, when social distancing has become the norm, staying connected with family and friends is even more challenging. When meeting in person is impossible, it’s crucial to find ways to get together virtually using technology.

My family, of course, isn’t the only one having to change what reunions look like. This year’s theme for Black History Month, set by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. That’s why Applied Digital Skills, Grow with Google’s free, video-based digital literacy curriculum, created a new collection in honor of Black History Month with a lesson that allows learners of all ages to create a virtual family reunion using Google Slides. This lesson incorporates aspects of culturally responsive learning by centering and valuing students’ cultures and identities, all while learning digital skills.

Yolanda Payne, a teacher fellow from Athens, Georgia, has incorporated the new collection into her students’ curriculum. I sat down with her virtually to talk about her experience integrating technology and culturally relevant lessons into her classroom, and how she’s helping her students connect with loved ones in celebration of Black History Month. (Looking for more? Check out the full collection of lessons from Applied Digital Skills to help you teach or learn about Black history, culture and identity, not just this month but all year round.)

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Growing up, Black history was never really mentioned in the classroom, except during Black History Month. I believe that Black history is every day, not only in February. I was fortunate enough to have parents who taught me about the great Black leaders and the sacrifices they made for us. Magazines like Jet, Ebony and Essence were common sources of knowledge on Black history in our household. 

Now, as a teacher, I noticed that my students didn't see themselves or those that looked like them in the history books. Because I knew what it was like to not learn about my culture in school, I’ve made it my mission to incorporate learning about all people in our classroom. Black history is everybody's history if we do it right.

Black history is everybody’s history if we do it right.

This year’s Black History Month theme is “The Black Family.” How does family play a role in your life?

The pandemic has really made me value my family a lot more. I’m originally from Mississippi, so when talking to my stepdad back home recently, I realized just how much I missed my family. Family is the heart of everything for me, and I haven’t been able to see them in over eight months. Now that we have had to stay apart from those we love, it emphasized for me the importance of having strong familial ties. Without the anchor of my community, I would have felt even more adrift during these tumultuous times.

Photos of Yolanda Payne and her family members

Yolanda and her son. Top right: Yolanda’s aunt, dad, grandmother, grandfather and uncles. Bottom right: Yolanda’s great aunts.

Tell us about your experience using the Applied Digital Skills Create a Virtual Family Reunion lesson with your students.

I worked with my co-teacher, Mrs. Pamela, to do this lesson with our middle-school students. The students were able to collaborate with their family to create a virtual reunion using Google Slides. I loved the ease of use, the lesson plan and the adaptability. Students watched an overview of what to expect, but could then add their own twist and tailor it to their interests. I really liked the topic of the family reunion because it gives students a way to connect with family or friends in a meaningful way. The lesson is relevant to students' lives and is teaching them the necessary digital skills that many assume they already have. And the lesson isn’t just for students: I plan to try it with my own family, too! My cousins and I have already started planning out our slides in our family group chat.

An example of creating a virtual family reunion using Applied Digital Skills

An example student project used in the Applied Digital Skills Create a Virtual Family Reunion lesson.

Why is it important for you to incorporate lessons like these into your curriculum?

I am fortunate to have open communications with my students about life, culture and what I have encountered in the "real world" as a Black woman. If students feel that their teacher is being their authentic self, it empowers them to do the same. As we discuss cultural and life events, it is important that students see themselves as a part of a larger community and context. It is impossible to tell the whole truth about a community when excluding people who are instrumental in that community. 

What role do you see technology playing in your students’ lives in the future?

Digital skills are important for students to function in a literate society. When I was growing up, there was an emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic. In today's society, we have to include digital literacy skills as a core component because digital learning is embedded in all areas of society. 

Celebrate digital learning with tools for everyone

One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting on my dad’s lap and using a program on our old desktop computer to learn multiplication tables. It jump-started my love for math and science and showed me how technology could make learning exciting.

Educational tools have only improved over the years since I first experienced them. Thanks to educator feedback and companies building tools to help solve real problems in classrooms, they’re better than ever. Today, Feb. 27, thousands of educators across the world are celebrating the use of technology in the classroom by participating in Digital Learning Day. Whether in the classroom or at home, technology can help provide access, increase engagement and help educators and students open up new possibilities for learning. This technology has also helped many students learn the basic digital skills needed for work and life. 

As part of our Grow With Google initiative--which helps ensure opportunities created by technology are available to everyone--Applied Digital Skills has curated a collection of our most popular lessons, which include everything from creating a resume to understanding your digital footprint. Applied Digital Skills is Google’s free, online, video-based curriculum that provides training on basic digital skills for learners of all ages. To date, this resource has helped over 1 million students learn digital skills and empowered thousands of educators to teach them in a fun and engaging way. 

It’s important to make sure everyone has access to these skills, and community leaders are making sure this happens. Valamere Mikler is the founder of She Ran Tech, a community initiative that encourages digital proficiency and empowerment for women and girls from underserved areas. “Our focus is on data privacy and technology, particularly with girls and young women to educate them on the alternatives to social media trolling, oversharing, idle web surfing and so on,” says Mikler. She’s incorporated Applied Digital Skills lessons into her organization’s internship, as well as its workshops and recommended resources. “We want to get them into technology,” she says. “We are fighting for equity here and this initiative is a way to empower them.” 

Valamere and I know firsthand the positive impact technology can have on learning experiences. Dive into our new collection of Digital Learning Day lessons to get started yourself, and use the momentum to embrace educational technology all year round.