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Some teachers instill strict "no technology" policies in the classroom. In Monica Burns's ideal learning environment, though, social media and iPads are not distractions. Rather, they are keys to academic success. "I'm really passionate about turning students into content creators using technology tools," said Burns, an education technology consultant and creator of ClassTechTips.com.
In her Saturday afternoon session titled "Content Creation Inspiration: Using Digital Storytelling Tools," Burns demonstrated effective strategies for harnessing ordinary technology for use in the classroom. "Students are creating content in many forms throughout their day, whether it's a selfie, whether it's a picture that they send to someone or a meme," Burns pointed out. "We're showing them that they have the ability to impact a wider audience when using digital tools as a means for sharing classwork."
As an example, Burns projected a two-minute persuasive video a 5th grade student named Leo created to convince viewers to read his favorite book, The Hunger Games. The student's voice narrated the novel's main themes and plot points as imagery of the main characters and setting flashed across the screen. But what seemed like a straightforward, charming project required the same critical-thinking, organizational, and persuasive skills as any traditional paper assignment, plus the additional task of digitization. "Narrative, music, text, image, and movement—here are certain things we just cannot do with pencil and paper," noted Burns.
The video, along with several other student projects Burns demonstrated, was built using the free online program Adobe Spark, which includes tools for students to create their own educational websites and social media posts. Burns pulled up a sleek web page a 6th grade student created about the Colorado River, which paired bright imagery with in-depth academic writing.
"With these digital story-telling tools, you can take the core lessons that you've always done, the expectations that you've always had for students, and really take it to the next level," Burns said. To make tech-based class projects relevant and purposeful to academic curriculum, Burns recommended that educators recall the notion of "tasks before apps." Before assigning any project, teachers should ask themselves three questions: What is the learning objective? Why are students using this tool? What is the purpose of their creation?
"We're doing this not because it's cool, not because it's flashy, not because we've never done this before, but because it's taking learning to the next level by giving students different entry points and really making sure that every student's voice is honored and heard," Burns noted.
Burns was able to bring 1:1 technology in the form of iPads to her 5th grade classroom, but educators can still leverage many of the skills involved in digital content creation when technology is not available. For instance, students can create text-based outlines for their projects and develop valuable organizational skills before publishing their work online, she said.
Burns also recommended carving time out of the school day for students to share their published work with one another and suggested that educators create a collaborative class Twitter account for students to share their projects with the public.
"We're giving students a new sense of purpose when it comes to what it is that they're creating," Burns said. "We're setting expectations that will resonate with students as well."
Emily McCormick is a third-year student at UCLA with a major in Communication Studies and minors in Entrepreneurship and Music History. She is also currently the Music | Arts editor at UCLA's Daily Bruin. Contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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