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Building connections and community with technology

In his new role as a School Technology Coordinator, Donovan Kerns knows how valuable it is for all students to be connected to the various digital tools available to them.

But Kerns wants to make it clear that the most significant connection will always be the one that forms between a teacher and their students.

“We have to continue to find new and more meaningful ways to connect as people,” said Kerns, who works at Royal Spring Middle School in Georgetown, Kentucky, where he taught sixth-grade social studies the past four years. “We have so many more tools now to do that and more ways to pique students’ interest.”

Kerns’ views on the importance of leveraging technology to foster connections are shared by educators across the country, as evidenced by the results of the third installment of the Gradient Learning Poll. In partnership with Project Tomorrow, Gradient Learning surveyed 1,418 teachers nationwide to better understand their views on the state of education. 

Seventy percent of teachers agreed that the effective use of technology within learning is important for students’ future success.

The survey also found that 69-percent of teachers believe that digital learning creates interactive and participatory learning experiences. 

Abel Ruiz, a science teacher at Aspen Public Schools in Fresno, California, said the COVID-19 pandemic forced all educators to embrace technology as schools made the sudden shift to remote learning. But even before the pandemic, Ruiz sensed the need to utilize more digital tools in his teaching to help keep students engaged in the content. 

“As teachers, we are constantly battling for their attention, especially with their phones and social media,” Ruiz said. “So, as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.”

Ruiz started a popular social media account on TikTok, where he posted science experiment videos that his students could follow and interact with to further their knowledge—no matter their learning environment.

“I figured if they’re going to be on their phones anyway, they might as well see my face pop up on their page every now and then,” Ruiz said. “It’s super important to me to try to engage them where they’re at and find things that they’re interested in. I remember all of the different ways that my science teachers did that for me growing up and all the lessons they taught me. This is still the same, just with different ways to do it and keep them excited about learning.”

In the Gradient Learning Poll, 70-percent of teachers agreed that the use of digital tools and resources helps them provide opportunities for their students to develop self-directed learning skills. Also, 60-percent of educators believe that digital learning expands access to online content that is current and relevant. 

“We’ve entered into a space where technology—with our students, our parents, and our teachers—has opened up a lot of doors for us to be able to connect that we weren’t utilizing in the past,” said Heather Brown, Assistant Principal at Royal Spring Middle School. “We’ve learned the importance of students having access. Whether that’s access to relevant content or, more importantly, simply having access to somebody.”

Dr. Stacey Perez, Principal at Classical Academy High School in Escondido, California, said using digital tools has helped strengthen the authentic connections between educators and students and brought meaningful change to her community.

“I’ve learned so much about my students,” Perez said. “I thought I knew my students really well, and I learned about them and their hobbies and their families and their values. That’s built an even stronger connection through videos and technology.”

To learn more about building connections and community with technology, check out the third installment of the Gradient Learning Poll. The first installment of the poll, released in January, showcased the power of mentoring. The second installment, released in May, focused on the benefits of educating the whole student.

As part of its commitment to rebuilding education, Gradient Learning has embarked on this initiative to listen to educators, understand their feedback, and provide actionable solutions to meet their needs.

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