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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

Education Opinion

3 Ways to Implement Ed-Tech to Help Our Students Succeed

By Guest Blogger — February 25, 2016 4 min read

Note: This week, contributers to the Smarter Schools Project will be guest-blogging. Today, our guest-blogger is Matt Worthington, a Digital Learning Coordinator for KIPP Austin Public Schools, who will be speaking at SXSWedu next month about education technology policies and their impact on educators.

I am frequently amazed at how far technology has advanced. As I type, engineers and innovators are developing improvements to watches that we can talk to, homes that efficiently manage themselves, self-driving vehicles, invisibility “cloaks,” and “Bionical Spinal Cords” that control physical actions with the brain.

But what about schools? As an educator and soon-to-be parent, I often imagine what schools will look like in 2020. My hope is that by then, K-12 schools will have improved significantly with more equity and opportunity for more Americans. I hope we increase the avenues that allow all students to pursue a life and career that makes them proud.

While this hope is noble, we have to actually start making strategic changes today that lead to a better tomorrow, and I think technology is a big part of a much-needed solution. As we implement new technologies to improve our schools, we need to be courageous, open to transformation, and committed to providing our students with a future-ready education.

Have the Courage to Integrate Technology

Far too many teachers are afraid to use technology, despite the fact that many high-performing schools have embraced it. Several of the best schools I have seen are led by leaders who self-describe as lacking a natural propensity for technology. Though they aren’t confident, they see the value and have dedicated their schools to integrating technology (even as little as formally introducing “blended learning” models). Their commitment is honest and admirable. As one of my colleagues recently said to me, “There are better ways to serve our kids and I know that. I can’t let my lack of ‘tech savviness’ be the reason we don’t improve their opportunities in life by making our work smarter.”

If we can move beyond a fear of what we don’t know as leaders, we can help increase the opportunities that our students will have upon graduating from high school or college. In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama acknowledged our rapidly changing economy and job market. As educators, we have a responsibility to increase opportunities for our students, which means overcoming our own fears to prepare them for a life five years, ten years, or twenty years down the road, whatever that may look like.

Plan for Technology to Be Transformative (and Useful)

Some educators have tried technology in the past and have been let down. These failed promises made technology feel more like an additional task than a useful tool. But we owe it to our students to give those same products a second chance. Educators give many reasons for avoiding new technology, but these reasons indicate a need for greater understanding of technology usage, rather than a reason to avoid it.

Blended learning apps can (though imperfect at times) provide curriculum data to help increase academic achievement in the classroom. Often, however, these benefits can’t be accessed because they are implemented as “extra” things as opposed to being planned well in advance with aligned, clear purposes behind their function. In that case, it was always destined to be lackluster. If we want to be smarter, we have to do the work of learning how to plan for technology to make school staff more productive, classrooms more efficient, and students more accomplished. Without that backwards plan in place to allow technology to transform the way we do things, we’ll be destined for disappointment.

Be Committed to Doing What’s Right for Students & Families

According to a recent study conducted by Google and Gallup, 91 percent of students reported having a computer at home that they use to access the internet, but only 40 percent reported using a computer at school. That means that less than half of our kids are using a computer at school at a time when the Federal Communications Commission is predicting nearly 80 percent of jobs in the next decade will require digital skills.

Educators should see this as an opportunity to better-serve our students and do more to provide digital literacy and computer science alongside the basics. Do we want students to read, write, and be proficient in math? Absolutely. Do want to do this at the expense of foregoing an essential element of their future? No. So we should be intentional about how a school or district spends their time. We must ensure that we are orienting our curriculum, pedagogy, and methods around the tools of the future so that our students graduate prepared.

At the end of the day, technology should be helping and not hurting our schools. If you’re finding yourself feeling the latter, ask yourself the following questions. Are we feeling this way because we’re nervous to address those fears we have about technology? Have we truly developed a meaningful plan that integrates technology into campuses so that it sets up everyone for success? Lastly, are we making room to explore new ways of tackling our students’ greatest needs in order to ensure they are set up for success in years to come? I think if we take the time to think through this and move from there, our schools will look healthier, happier, and better suited to meet the needs of students.

--Matt Worthington

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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