For rural schools, technology is a solution but also another challenge

rural-technologyTechnology makes it possible for each of us to do more, learn more, and be more connected. That’s true for education in general, but its potential seems particularly compelling for rural schools, which struggle to offer an array of learning opportunities, to transport students to a central facility, and to get the best combination of teachers from small candidate pools.

Technology in education sounds terrific: It can bring the world to a classroom. It can give students access to courses and resources they might not otherwise get. It can inject engaging fun into the classroom, as students learn through games and create in a digital medium. Technology seems like a shiny tool that will build a bridge across the achievement gap.

But technology’s power, like any tool, depends on how it is used. If a builder buys a new skill saw and wants to get the full value from his investment, he will place it in the hands of his best carpenter, and will charge that leader with training the other carpenters to use it effectively.

Likewise, efforts to use digital tools in education gain new potential when paired with efforts to give more students access to the best teachers. Schools in several states are doing just that, by developing new staffing models that break out of the traditional one-teacher-per-classroom model. They extend the reach of their top teachers using technology and team leadership. These teacher-leaders help their peers orchestrate in-person and online activities to maximize student learning. They use flexible student groupings and scheduling to meet each student’s needs while coaching teams of teachers toward excellent instruction.

Most rural schools, including districts participating in the Idaho Leads initiative, the Idaho P-TECH network, Khan Academy in Idaho, and other efforts, are already forging ahead with integrating technology into their work. But to tap the full potential of technology, students, communities, educators, and policymakers will also need to re-envision the traditional paradigm: particularly the notion of education delivered within classrooms of 20 to 30 students led by a single teacher.

Next page: 3 ways to use technology wisely in rural schools