Grade 8 students from Riverside Public School in Huntsville and Jack Callaghan Public School in Lindsay are piloting Edwin, an innovative and collaborative digital backpack program. The program is designed to modernize learning by putting emphasis on how students learn, while allowing access to grade level content in a way that students understand.
Each student receives a digital learning device called Edwin. The device for TLDSB students is a Dell Latitude computer which can change from a laptop to a tablet, and into two portrait modes. The program also comes with a stylus pen and an interactive touch screen. An installed app contains textbooks and other resources such as Dreambox, a mathematics learning tool, as well as assistive technology for students with different learning needs.
TLDSB students from Jack Callaghan Public School and Riverside Public School opened up about their Edwin experiences. Their most recent group project on youth power topics involved collaborating with each other over the course of three weeks, even though they weren’t in the same school.
“Because we’re in different schools, I thought it was going to be challenging and hard – but it was actually pretty easy” says Jamie, a Grade 8 Student from Riverside PS. “I learn with visuals so I thought it was really interesting. Dreambox is cool, you can play games – but you’re having fun while learning math. I go on Dreambox when I get home a lot.”
When asked about the Edwin device in particular, Jamie noted that it contained a lot of information and it was very accessible. She loved the ability to use it anywhere – with or without Wi-Fi.
“I came from Germany and when I heard we were getting Edwin devices and I thought it was really cool,” says Pia, a Grade 8 student from Riverside PS. “It’s great because you have more opportunities and I can show my parents what I learned that day.”
Rachel, a Grade 8 student from Jack Callaghan PS said her Edwin device helped her to stay organized because it kept things in one place. It also made research easier, because she could go from writing and working, to research, and go right back to writing. Through speaking to students, it also became clear that students learn better with technology.
“At our age, we’ve grown up with technology,” says Rachel. “By bringing technology into the classroom, you’re striking our interest. Using it every day in the classroom makes us more interested in learning because get to use the technology.”
Equality for All Students
Staff say that equality between all students is evident with the use of Edwin devices in the classroom. For years there has been stigma amongst students with the differentiation in learning devices. Some students subconsciously didn’t want to use their equipment, but with the digital backpack program – each child has a device. There is no stigma about students needing something special for their learning, because everyone has something special for their learning.
Historically, if a student has had a psycho-educational assessment, and it has been prescribed that they need assistive technology, such as speech to text or text to speech, this would go into a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), and schools provide those supports for students. With the Edwin devices, teachers are seeing students access those supports, even though it has never been identified as a need for them.
“Students are self-identifying their learning needs,” says Mrs. Smith, a Student Success Teacher from Jack Callaghan Public School. “They’re able to say, ‘Hey, I understand better if someone reads to me, because I struggle with decoding. I’ll let the computer read to me so I understand everything that is being read.’ Even their reading and comprehension levels have improved because the struggle between decoding and comprehension is no longer impeding them.”
The digital backpack program also offers a multi-sensory approach to learning – the ability to see, hear, and touch learning components.
“Working memory is often a problem for our students with communication or intellectual disabilities,” says Mrs. Smith. “Having the external working memory – because the devices can take a photo of instructions or a model – means students no longer have to use their working memory to remember what the teacher showed them or told them. They now have this external memory capability that enables them to focus more on their learning.”
Discoverability Through Design
The intent of the digital backpack program is to be able to take textbooks, handouts, resources, and have it available in one single sign-on. Students have their Edwin device with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Typically, textbooks are left behind, devices are shared, and it’s not a personalized experience. The Edwin device allows personalization for each student, but also creates a whole new level of facilitation for teachers. Within the ecosystem, a simple, accessible search format provides provincial curriculum documents and is highly structured from the instructional perspective. Teachers have full control of their classroom through the device because of built-in applications. All eyes could be on the teacher in one moment, or they could split the class into groups. The goal is to optimize discoverability for each end of the learning. A teacher might search by curriculum outcome, while a student might search by topic.
“We want every student in Canada to have the exact same learning experience, with equal opportunity,” says Jessica Mosher, Nelson representative. “With the Edwin device, students have access to multi-model learning. They can use video for math, or reading for history – whatever the student feels they need in that moment to learn.”
Nelson has launched the Edwin product commercially in September to schools in southwestern Ontario. So far, two TLDSB schools and one other school in Mississauga have taken part. Nelson is launching Edwin in the province of BC in March 2018, and are currently in talks with Alberta.