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Viewpoint: Moving beyond technology initiatives


When applied in a thoughtful manner, technology empowers teachers to scale and implement the best educational practices.

Walking the show floor in San Antonio at the recent International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, it was hard not to be impressed by the broad array of educational technologies on display. Row upon row of gleaming tablets, 3D printers, and interactive tables, to name but a few of the products available, vied for our attention.

Likewise, reports on the latest technology initiatives, and related strategies to implement those initiatives, helped fuel the buzz surrounding this year’s conference. To anyone committed to empowering teachers with technology to support student achievement, ISTE 2013 should go down as a watershed moment. It is clear like never before that we have the right ed-tech tools to create the digital learning environments today’s students need and deserve. ISTE CEO Brian Lewis and the entire ISTE team deserve our praise and thanks for their efforts to showcase the very best in educational technologies and ed-tech thought leadership.

Now, it is our challenge to turn these technology initiatives into learning initiatives.

(Next page: How does the transformation begin?)We know that technology has enormous potential to transform learning. When applied in a thoughtful, systematic manner, technology empowers teachers to scale and implement the best educational practices. Consider how ed-tech can support differentiated learning. Research shows us that each student learns differently and that the best classroom instruction is tailored to a student’s individual learning style. In a classroom of 20 or 30 students, however, reality sets in. Differentiating instruction can be a difficult and time-consuming task for even the best teachers.

However, when an educator is empowered with the training and support needed to use technology to quickly and efficiently optimize the learning style of each student, the seeds of transformation begin to take root. Classroom teachers with access to customized, standards-aligned digital content can easily assign students the text, eBooks, interactives, videos, animations or audio that meets a student’s unique learning style. In turn, students with their own devices can consume assigned content at their own pace.  Now imagine that same educator being given the tools to pair formative assessment with digital content. An effective system of measuring each student’s progress and personalizing instruction is created, amplifying even further the teacher’s efforts to provide individualized instruction, as well as the student’s ability to learn.

Thanks to the hardware and software on display at ISTE 2013, it is feasible to put the technological assets in place to make this type of integrated system possible. But it is only when innovative leadership, committed educators, and an engaged community are added to the equation that ed-tech initiatives become the learning initiatives that equip students with skills for college and career-readiness.

The visionary education leaders I met this year at ISTE are transforming education in their school systems, not by simply inserting new hardware and software into classrooms, but through dynamic, multi-pronged learning initiatives. In addition to providing students the resources that make authentic digital learning environments possible, these educators and their teams are engaging local stakeholders in their plans. They are meeting with community leaders and parents to explain the value of their investments—both time and money—on student outcomes; they are providing their teams with the sustained, job-embedded professional development needed to enhance instruction and properly integrate new technologies into classroom practice; they are encouraging their teachers to connect to robust communities of educators for best practices, support and thought leadership; and they are creating cultures that encourage innovation and continuous improvement.An excellent example of a successful learning initiative can be found in North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District. To transform teaching and learning, Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards enrolled his entire community and staff. While Dr. Edwards and his team worked hard to give students digital textbooks and other educational technologies, they simultaneously changed the culture of the school system. Parents and other stakeholders were engaged in the change process and educators were introduced to a rigorous professional development program supporting the effort. While the work was at times difficult, the results speak for themselves. Over a three-year period, student performance on state exams increased by 13 percent, while the school system continued having one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the state.

Another example of a well-planned and well-executed learning initiative is in Florida’s Santa Rosa County Public Schools. There, Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick and his team decided to use digital learning environments to improve achievement and foster the higher-order thinking skills students need for the future. Thanks in part to this learning initiative, which included ongoing assessments, digital resources aligned to district pacing guides, and comprehensive professional development and community outreach efforts, Santa Rosa became one of the top performing school systems in Florida based on FCAT results.

While education technologies have indeed helped support student success in Mooresville, Santa Rosa and hundreds of other districts nationwide, it is important to remember technology played just one part of a larger effort. As educational leaders unpack the lessons learned at ISTE 2013, I’d encourage us all to remember that the most successful efforts to improve student achievement are not focused solely on embracing one technology or another. We know that the most successful learning initiatives are holistic efforts that provide students, teachers and community members with the tools, information and resources needed to participate in and support an education that prepares today’s generation for college, career and citizenship.

Bill Goodwyn is CEO of Discovery Education, which aims to transform teaching and learning with digital textbooks, multimedia content that supports the implementation of the Common Core, professional development, assessment tools, and a professional learning community.

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