3 Shifts in the Use of Ed Tech: Exploring, Personalizing, Closing Equity Gaps

By Michele Molnar — June 26, 2017 2 min read
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San Antonio

Ed tech is at a “tipping point,” Richard Culatta, the new CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education or ISTE, told a gathering of educators at the nation’s largest ed-tech conference happening here this week.

The evidence is evolving in three shifts Culatta has observed in his travels and his work, he said.

Shift #1: From delivery to exploration

The first rung of the digital ladder is using technology to produce digital content that students consume. But technology can transform students into explorers, said Culatta, who used an experience at the Sunnyside, Ariz., school district as an example.

There, he found high school students using a device for a biotech class to take genome samples, and a webcam to document the process. Their goal was to complete an experiment and publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Technology allows students to move from being content consumers to designers, builders, and explorers,” said Culatta.

Shift #2: From “one size fits all” to personalized

Learning must be tailored for all students, said Culatta, who served as the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of educational technology under the Obama administration. (That position still remains unfilled since Betsy Devos took over the U.S. Department of Education.)

He described a classroom he visited in New York City where students’ work one day led to customized learning experiences the following day.

“We have technology available ... to meet their interests, needs, and passions every day,” he said.

Shift #3: From access for the few to closing the equity gap

Learning opportunities should not be dictated by the ZIP codes students live in, the color of their skin, or the income level of their parents, Culatta said.

“Technology can bring access by tools that connect, that before only the wealthiest of students could afford,” said Culatta, highlighting the example of the Chattanooga, Tenn., where the city’s mayor saw the value of using “ultra high-speed internet and an ultra-high definition camera” to connect students in terminals at their school with students at a university who had access to a $1 million scanning electron microscope for science.

In Rhode Island, where Culatta was most recently the chief innovation officer, only 22 students had passed the Advanced Placement Computer Science test the year he arrived&mash;all were white and from private schools.

“However, through technology, we brought access to people who could teach computer science skills” to every public high school in the state, he said. The result? Rhode Island became one of the first states to graduate students who passed AP Computer Science tests on par with the group who came from private schools.

Culatta is one of five experts who shared their predictions for the future of classroom technology as part of Education Week‘s just-released 20th edition of “Technology Counts,” which tracks the state of ed-tech use in U.S. schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.