Technology needs to be viewed as “both a language and a tool,” in today’s education environment, argued a leading education advocate at a national education technology forum near the nation’s capitol today.
But teachers still need much more training and support to make that a reality, other experts said at annual gathering of the State Education Technology Directors Association.
Despite widespread gains in education technology adoption throughout the country, most teachers are still at only a “three” or “four” on a 10-point scale of education technology readiness, according to an unscientific poll of panelists speaking at the opening day of the conference.
Among them was Joseph South, U.S. Department of Education director of educational technology. South noted that in the past three years, the nation has seen a flip, from a majority of schools lacking adequate broadband access, to a majority of schools — and about 20 million more students —now having high-speed internet access at school.
But South said 40-to-50 percent of teachers still need additional training on ways to capitalize on broadband access and digital instruction.
Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, said that when he surveyed school districts, school administrators appear totally on board in supporting technology in the classroom, but conceded teachers don’t experience the same level of support.
Bob Chris Minnich, executive director for the Council of Chief State School Officers was less bullish, giving teachers more like a “three” in readiness.
Minnich highlighted what most educators see as the potential of technology-enabled education, citing an openly designed South Carolina classroom he had visited where 60 students and three teachers were actively pursuing a variety of projects simultaneously.
“They wouldn’t have been able to do that without the technology piece,” he said, acknowledging that to an outsider, all the activity might have looked chaotic. But the teachers “were getting better results than comparable schools in the same district,” he said.
“But we have to think about how we train teachers,” he said, adding “They were doing something very different in that classroom” than what teachers are traditionally trained to do.
Charmaine Mercer, director of Learning Policy Institute, made the case that educators need to grasp that technology in the classroom needs to be more than simply a new-age tool for teaching.
“Technology is both a language and a tool,” she said. “If you think about technology as a language, we know that language is best acquired when it’s integrated with content,“ she said.
She urged the audience of state education technology directors and educators to “figure out ways to use technology” where students and teachers can actively engage with the information riding on top of the technology.
Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association State Boards of Education, also argued that technology cannot substitute for foundational coursework.
“If you don’t offer students a chance to take Algebra 2, you really can’t call yourself a high school,” she said.
There was general consensus among the panelists that the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law last December, will provides schools with greater flexibility to embrace technology.
“With this new federal law, it’s far more flexible on opportunity than it is on compliance,” argued Wise.
But Minnich cautioned that schools still face an uphill battle with funding.
“I don’t think we have state out there with a funding mechanism that really works,” he said. He also cautioned those who advocate having schools become the Wi-Fi hub for their communities not get too far ahead of what schools can realistically deliver.
“I’m sensitive to the burdens schools have. Schools should be responsible for not placing barriers in the way” of students having equitable access to the internet,” he said.
“But I’m not sure schools should be in the role of providing [Wi-Fi services] to their communities. We also need to look at churches and community centers — places where kids are and adults are,” he said. Schools nevertheless can and should play a leading role in their communities to advance universal broadband access, he added.
He also urged state technology directors to concentrate on just “three or four priorities as a state, if we’re going to move the needle for kids. We need to focus on things that really work for kids,” not just that sound good as part of a technology agenda, he said.