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Iowa's AEAs Poised to Support the Shift from Traditional Classroom Teaching & Learning: Heartland AEA Series Part 1

Heartland AEA Supports Shift to Virtual Learning

April 15, 2020

This blog post is the first in a two-part series from the Heartland Area Education Association (AEA).

As students in Greater Des Moines (DSM) move to digital modes of learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, area educators have been able to step up to support students’ academic, social and emotional needs and continue to engage them in meaningful learning. Virtual Learning in DSMThis hasn’t happened by accident. Our schools have been able to make these shifts in part because Iowa has a talented teacher workforce that continues to grow in its expertise, and because Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) have a nationally-recognized collection of digital resources that are free and open to all Iowa students and educators.

Iowa is a nationally-recognized leader in providing access to digital content to PK-12 students in public and non-public schools due to the collective purchasing of Iowa’s AEAs. Very few states come close to the variety and depth of digital content available to our students. Teachers new to the state are continually amazed at what’s available for their classrooms at no cost to them. Equity, access and excellence are the key concepts that drive selection of content for Iowa students.

Curating Digital Content

Iowa educators review and curate digital content from various vendors and sources with an eye to what students need to know and what educators need for their teaching. This digital content includes read-aloud ebooks for our youngest learners, ebooks and research sites for high school students taking AP courses, videos to supplement all subject areas, audiobooks, interactives, encyclopedias, newspapers and articles for middle and high school researchers. The literacy and technology skills used for keyword searching, finding and comparing information, checking for accuracy and comparing points of view from different resources are required skills in the workplace and everyday life. Last year Iowa students opened over 10,000,000 ebooks!

We recognize that our students have different learning needs, preferences and challenges. That’s why most of the digital content includes text-to-speech, read-aloud ebooks, digital audiobooks, closed captioning, written transcripts from video, font and size adjustments, background options to enhance reading, language translation and more. The content can be accessed on mobile devices and computers at school and home.

We think there are three general truths in education today: technology is ever-present, teachers are driven to reach each student and students are creative. That paves the way for finding the best resources and learning mode for each student. Teachers take content from numerous digital resources to create lessons that engage and challenge students. Rather than read a chapter about an historical event like the Cuban Missile Crisis, students can read editorials from that time period, look at primary source videos of Kennedy and Krushchev, listen to news of the day, read historical analyses of the politics, read or view Kennedy’s speeches, choose a page or a chapter from an ebook and more. Elementary students can interact with a science experiment on the screen and change variables and chart different results. Middle school students can listen to an audiobook while multitasking. Teachers and students are creating their own content by finding the best from various resources for a lesson or to present a project.

Digital Privacy + Security

In today’s world, using digital content and technology also means we need to pay attention to digital privacy and security. Iowa’s AEAs are playing a role in helping districts keep their information and infrastructure safe and helping students and educators understand their rights and responsibilities as users of digital content. We hope that students will be digitally savvy when they start their careers or enter higher education.

Technology also offers Iowa educators new and better ways to find and use digital information. That’s why Iowa’s AEAs are looking to the future with a platform we’ve named AEA Scout that provides a single search and common interface for teachers and students to find, create and share digital content in the classroom, school and district.

We see connections, collaboration and sharing happening with technology every day outside of a school setting. The skills of finding information and resources, understanding, explaining to others, creating and sharing new content start with our youngest learners. Heartland AEA is proud to partner with families and schools in helping prepare students for a bright future. To learn more, visit Heartland AEA Online Resources. The icons and digital resources will look familiar to your children, so ask them to give you a quick tour using their school username/password.

Iowa families and businesses should be proud of the robust and growing technology infrastructure that allows for home and school access as well as the delivery of high-quality educational opportunities across our state.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.