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NEA Says Digital Learning is Important, Won't Replace Need for Teachers

by Kelly Petty, published

digital learning in classrooms Lee Morris /

On Friday, delegates to the 2013 National Education Association Representative Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia formally adopted a new policy statement coming out in support of digital learning, while maintaining support for traditional teacher-led education. This is a major step for the nation's largest teacher organization as this is the first time the NEA has acknowledged the advantages of using computer-based learning models in the classroom.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said:

“In the fast-paced, worldwide, competitive workplace we now live in, we must tackle the equity issues that are keeping some of our students from succeeding—including closing digital gaps in our schools. All students—pre-k through graduate students—need to develop advanced critical thinking skills and master new digital tools, while adapting to the ever-changing digital information landscape. NEA embraces this new environment and these new technologies to better prepare our students for college and for 21st century careers.”

Van Roekel acknowledged that digitally-driven academic resources would improve student learning opportunities, enhance the quality and effectiveness of instruction, and reduce education inequities.

Back in April, the NEA’s Board of Directors began drafting the policy statement and shifting its previous statements on digital technology learning.

The policy statement stops short of fully embracing all forms of digital-based education or recognizing online curriculum as a stand-alone form of instruction. NEA now accepts hybrid-learning models — a mixed-model of teacher and online instruction — but does not accept online-only coursework as effective without interaction from certified teachers and qualified faculty.

The NEA’s policy statement reinforces the rights of teachers to choose, control, and maintain the digital-learning tools within their classrooms.

The association stresses giving teachers the instructional support to implement digital curriculum in their classrooms. Collaboration with school districts and higher education institutions should also provide effective professional development for how to incorporate digital technology in classes.

Additionally, technology support should reflect students with learning disabilities and English Language Learners.

The NEA also made provisions to mandate that teachers who create online or digital media curriculum must completely own  the copyright to the work, though it should be accessible to other teachers and faculty.

In addition, the NEA believes the original works should be subject to a “teacher’s exception” to the “works made for hire” guidelines, and any other copyright issues should be resolved between employers and education professionals through collective bargaining or another process of bilateral decision-making.

While this new position from the NEA falls in line with current transformational models to public school curriculum, the organization still upholds the role of the teacher in the classroom. The policy statement makes it clear that teachers cannot be replaced and that “optimal learning environments should neither be totally technology free, nor should they be totally online and devoid of educator and peer interaction.”

“This policy is not about replacing teachers with laptops—that misguided notion shortchanges students…Students need to develop advanced critical thinking and information literacy skills and master new digital tools in order to become self-directed learners,” Van Roekel said.

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