Digital equity was the big theme of this year’s State Educational Technology Directors Association conference, which focused on open educational resources, Internet connectivity outside of school and policy that would help bridge the digital divide.
“How can we best use resources, particularly when we know there are disparities among communities able to access these tools?” Lee Posey, federal affairs counsel for the National Council of State Legislatures, asked, speaking on a conference panel on Monday.
She added that technology can only help students if teachers can change the way they deliver instruction, and if that happens, blended and personalized learning can also target kids’ learning whether they are gifted or have special needs.
Earlier in the day, technology leaders talked about how broadband connectivity can reach far beyond school walls.
“We’ve always talked about anytime, anywhere learning, but the reality
is, most of the time and energy goes into school,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, who has advocated for more Internet access outside of school. “We need to solve the home problem. The biggest thing [districts] are doing is going to the local business community and asking them to provide free Wi-Fi.”
Laurence Cocco, director of educational technology for the New Jersey Department of Education, explained how the state created a new consortium to purchase broadband, improving bandwidth by 2.5 times in more than 200 schools and reducing costs significantly. The initiative was announced last month.
Cocco said he realized there was a problem when he saw that some school districts were paying $100 a month for connectivity, while others paid much less, because the districts were negotiating individual contracts.
“It was a really inequitable cornucopia of providers and costs,” he said.
So the state created an interactive technology database and reporting system, and came up with one contract that multiple schools could sign on to through a consortium procurement process.
“We’re expecting to see a huge jump in the use of digital learning and the capacity of networks on a school by school basis,” he said.
And open educational resources also took center stage at the conference, with several edtech leaders calling for the expansion of openly licensed, free online content that can be used, shared and modified by teachers across the country.
S. Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Schools in Maryland, said he was able to use OER for high school students to get college credits online. “Kids can go into college as sophomores,” he said.
Barbara Soots, open educational resources program manager at the Office of Public Instruction in Washington state, cautioned that OER could save schools some money — but they still need to think about quality materials for students.
“People think OER is a cost savings — it’s a cost shift,” she said. “It does cost money to do good professional development, but hopefully the cost can be recouped” by not using traditional textbooks and other expensive materials.