Education, government, and industry leaders gathered April 28 in Washington, D.C., to discuss key issues regarding the use of technology in the nation’s schools. Among the topics addressed at the fifth annual Intel Visionary Conference: how to secure funding for educational technology during a period of lean federal budgets; how to deliver targeted and sustained staff development; and how to prepare students for an increasingly uncertain future.

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), Michigan’s Freedom to Learn laptop initiative, Microsoft Corp., PBS, Scholastic, SMART Technologies, eSchool News, and others were on hand for the day-long event.

Opening the conference was Tim Magner, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology, who prompted his audience to imagine the future by considering the past.

“Think about the jobs you’re doing now–were they around when you were in the fourth grade?” Magner asked. Noting that few participants had job titles that would have made sense a generation ago, Magner said educators are in the strange position of having to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist or that “we might not even be able to imagine.”

He went on to discuss advancements in nanotechnology that will force paradigm shifts in medicine and manufacturing, creating industries still unthinkable today. The smartest, most certain way to equip students for the uncertain, internationally competitive workforce of the future, he suggested, is to endow them with core math and science skills that will remain fundamental building blocks for professions yet to come.

“We need to give students the skills to prepare today for jobs that are not even on our radar right now,” Magner said. “The one job title I have had that was even a possibility when I was in fourth grade was teacher.”

Magner suggested that school systems can use improved administrative technologies to transcend many of the barriers that traditionally have existed between educators and administrators. School employees tend to become confined to different professional “silos,” or areas of focus, he said, and communication and trust among educators, administrators, and vendors can be limited as a result. But better administrative technologies that permit all parties to track student progress can be used to create a common set of figures from which all vested parties then can work.

The integration of such assessment technologies is an issue of primary importance in the coming years for education, Magner said, and it will be a key to closing the “digital divide” between middle-class students with regular access to technology and working-class students who do not have this degree of access. Such longitudinal data, Magner said, will show areas of instructional, administrative, and technological infrastructural weakness that can be identified, funded, and solved.

Funding tomorrow’s education solutions was another key area of concern for participants at the Intel conference, and it was the topic of a panel discussion. Participants in the discussion encouraged attendees to forge partnerships that will help them navigate the circuitous path to achieving full project funding.

“These kinds of programs require more than one leader,” said panel participant Bruce Montgomery, speaking as the executive director for Michigan’s Freedom to Learn initiative, which had supplied laptop computers to nearly 21,000 students across 95 Michigan school districts as of last fall. “We looked at it as a triangle of government leaders, education leaders, and industry leaders working together to ensure that we would have a meaningful program that met our goals.”

Besides working with the governor’s office and the state legislature to get the bill authorizing the program written and passed, Montgomery said, the Michigan Department of Education cooperated with the state information technology department, the state budget department, and vendors in unprecedented ways to make certain the project was adequately funded and supported.

“We worked together to make sure the Title II funds came to the program,” Montgomery said. “All of those partners worked together to ensure that a high proportion of those funds went to professional development to make certain the teacher and administrator training was adequate.”

Montgomery said program organizers knew the laptop program would need round-the-clock support, and in providing it, they looked to industry partner HP and its philanthropy division. Together, the parties developed a help desk–reportedly worth about $500,000 and paid for with grant monies from HP–dedicated to the Freedom to Learn program. HP staff at the help desk answer questions about the devices and professional development opportunities available through the one-to-one computing program.

Professional development also was of great concern to conference participants, with a panel dedicated to the improvement of professional development in technology.

Sally Stanley, principal of Cresthill Middle School in Colorado, said training often is seen as a one-time activity–but staff learning and development instead must be approached as ongoing efforts. She said online professional development in her district has been received well by both administrators and teachers alike–and one reason is because it is targeted to educators’ individual needs.

Cresthill teachers are able to take various professional development courses “depending upon their skill level and knowledge of a subject,” Stanley said. In addition, she said, staff members tend to engage in community building through online groups that form through the common questions and concerns that are discussed in the online training sessions.

Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, closed with a speech discussing the top leadership challenges in education during the next decade. Among these, he said, are continuing to bridge the gap between middle-class users who have better access to technology at home and those working-class students who might not; managing parental nostalgia for traditional textbooks in an era when content needs to go digital for students to remain globally competitive; and integrating high-stakes testing as an important piece of data determining educational outcomes–but not the only piece of data.

“No matter where I travel internationally, one thing that every developing nation and developed nation has in common is that they want to use technology to develop their human capital,” Knezek said. “So, these important national trends are actually global.”

Links:

Intel Corp.
http://www.intel.com

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

Michigan’s Freedom To Learn program
http://wireless.mivu.org

Cresthill Middle School
http://www.dcsd.k12.co.us/secondary/CMS/index.html

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org