14 recommendations for taming the ‘wild, wild West’ of ed tech

State boards should ensure that teacher candidates have robust clinical experiences where technology and online learning are incorporated into the program, the report says.

A disruptive factor exists today in educational technology, according to a new report, because while virtual schools, personal digital devices, and open-source materials are transforming education, these forces are still fragmented and rapidly changing, creating a “wild, wild West” landscape for schools and districts.

State boards of education can play a key role in helping to tame this environment, note the authors of the report, “Born in Another Time: Ensuring educational technology meets the needs of students today and tomorrow.”

“State boards of education, along with their state education agencies, are key to providing the leadership on educational technology issues our school systems need to ensure students are ready for life and work in the digital era,” says the report.

Without a “broad, purposeful approach,” it notes, “education systems are likely to pursue a fragmented course that merely addresses individual policy issues as they happen to arise.”

Watch this video on getting educators involved with state policy, featuring Jeanne DelColle, history teacher at Burlington County Institute of Technology and the 2011-12 New Jersey Teacher of theYear:

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Last year, the National Association of State Boards of Education created a study group to address the challenges of ed tech and digital learning, focusing specifically on how the digital age has affected the learning needs of today’s students.

The 14 recommendations listed in the report are applicable not only for state boards and education agencies, but for anyone looking to improve school or district technology plans:

1. Address digital citizenship and digital literacy. Policy makers should realize that every school community is different, and each is starting at a different place. Some will be ready to implement a full curriculum, while others first need to create common definitions. The study group recommends that state boards urge their districts to address these critical areas and make sure their state education department offers guidance and resources.

2. Design instruction to take advantage of how each student learns now.

3. Create policies that allocate resources based on data, student needs, and student, parent, and stakeholder voices. These key stakeholder groups understand the complexities of the issues involved and can provide the most accurate feedback about what solutions might work best, the report says.

4. State boards of education, in collaboration with their state education agency, state chief technology officer, and relevant stakeholders, should create a statement, definition, or visionary document defining what a connected and networked education looks like within the state.

5. State boards and stakeholders should examine what opportunities, incentives, and barriers are in place that inhibit and enhance the ability for districts to partner with each other, or across state lines, to share resources.

6. State boards should examine their policies in place that allow or inhibit the ability for online, virtual, and blended learning opportunities for students and teachers.

7. State boards should reexamine the weekly and yearly school calendar to allow districts and schools autonomy to create a schedule that provides additional flexibility and time for students to learn through alternative means and for educators to connect.

8. State boards, in collaboration with licensing boards and program accreditation committees, should ensure that teacher candidates have fundamental skills and content knowledge to teach students in a 21st-century environment and are able to use student data to personalize instruction.

9. State boards should ensure that teacher candidates have robust clinical experiences where technology and online learning is incorporated into the program.

10. States, districts, and school should expand professional learning experiences to include online and virtual learning.

11. In collaboration with districts and state education agencies, state boards should ensure that teachers are provided with high-quality professional learning and mentorship opportunities embedded throughout the school day through technology.

12. Policy makers should ensure that every student has adequate access to a computing device and the internet at school and home, with sufficient human capital in schools to support their effective use.

13. States and school districts should have an up-to-date technology plan and policy that is reviewed on a pre-determined timeline. A robust ed-tech plan should include everything from instructional practices to teacher preparation and professional development—and how technology can support every aspect of the education system. Because the technology landscape changes rapidly, it’s important that ed-tech plans and policies are flexible and reviewed on a regular basis.

14. States and districts should address the interoperability of devices, software, and data. It’s critical that all devices, regardless of operating system, are able to interact efficiently and effectively and are supported by schools.

Follow Associate Editor Meris Stansbury on Twitter at @eSN_Meris.

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