DLAC: Giving Students Agency Through Digital Learning


By Darlene Wilgus | Aug 21st, 2021, 06:00 PM PT

The DLAC (Digital Learning Annual Conference) is centered in providing digital learning options for students and giving them agency or control over what, how, and when they learn.

Digital learning has a wide-open opportunity window as we enter the 21-22 school year. I heard this repeated frequently in passing on the way to workshops, table talks, and general sessions (virtual or in-person). These learning opportunities are laser focused on the work I do daily. I couldn’t agree more.

Topics of Conversation from DLAC 2021:

Outdated State Funding Model

This has been a year where digital education thrived and suffered at the same time. Chaotic service invention in the spring of 2020 and even into the past school year left a bad taste in the mouths of professional educators, parents, and most importantly, students. Our educational system was only used to one delivery option: 5 days a week, 6.5 hours a day. This antiquated system of state-funded, seat-based attendance was vacated by state health proclamation. Many public and private systems were left scrambling.

Student Engagement

We wondered why the same students that were marginalized continued to be so on Zoom meetings that were often dictated. Many systems began to wrestle with what student engagement looked like from the student and family lens.

Lack of Vocabulary Calibration

Educators called online learning many things: virtual, distance, remote – to name a few. Not only was learning disrupted, but we had no agreement on how to label delivery practices. The ground continually shifted, confusing those who were being served.

Implications for the 2021-2022 School Year

Planning this event served as a micro-model for options. No one knew what to expect. Emerging and reopening were themes in many locales late spring. As of this date, that would appear to be the case again. In some states, the debate about masks surfaces again with virus variants on the rise.

What We Know As We Approach This School Year:

  1. Students and parent want to have digital learning options. Many stories exist about families that have discovered they don’t have to be locked in a traditional school calendar and don’t plan to return. How the delivery model will change in providing options to those that want a different model remains to be seen.
  2. Live streaming was a positive communication piece for many.
  3. Serving medically fragile or special needs students in a more personalized way was a win!
  4. Teaching in-person and online at the same time was a huge lift and a recipe for burnout. Little advance training, if any, existed for this to occur.
  5. Taking rural kids that live on a mountain top to the Smithsonian (digitally) was amazing!

My gem from DLAC came from fellow blogger and Colorado Springs alternative school principal, Nathan Gorsch. In essence, he said that making education look like a remodeled video store would be waste of time, energy, and resources. I wholeheartedly agree.

This is our time to provide agency through well-designed virtual learning options for our students! Let’s not return to a static system.

What is Next?

Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) 2022

Marriott Marquis – Atlanta, Georgia

February 7-9, 2022

Please note that I do not work for the Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC). Registration, however, is open.

I honestly cannot think of an educational learning opportunity that is more valuable than attending DLAC. It truly allows you to zero in on all things pertinent to virtual learning practices, programs, and trends. You will get to interface with people and resources that believe in giving student agency via digital education options. The conversations will be relevant and empowering. Hope to see you there!


Meet the Writer

Darlene has 35+ years of experience in education spanning teaching and leading private and public schools K-12. She has also served as an adjunct professor in both education and university administrative programs for George Fox, Seattle Pacific, and Heritage. Her passions lie in student-centered practices, program development, and best practices approaches for teachers to employ. Her undergrad work was at Northwest Nazarene University, MED in School Administration from Central Washington University, and her Superintendent’s license was earned through the Executive Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University.

During her tenure in alternative learning the past 14 years, she became an NBCT, led a 10 member cohort with 80% certification in year one, and facilitated two district-level program cohorts. Her focus for the past seven years became a lightning rod for today’s educational paradigm: developing and implementing a successful district online learning program.