U.S. Department of Education Brings ‘Student Liaison’ for Tech On Board

By Sean Cavanagh — June 29, 2014 2 min read
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A big part of Erik Martin’s new job is to see technology—the kind of flashy and often costly technology on display at the ISTE conference—through a student’s eyes.

Martin has been named a “student liaison” for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of educational technology, a new position in which he’ll be asked to bring a young person’s perspective on digital tools and their capabilities.

The 20-year-old University of Maryland junior-to-be will not be paid for his work at the department, which starts soon. He’ll be working part time, probably a day or two a week, while also juggling his studies. Martin, who has been involved as an undergraduate in efforts to increase students’ influence, says the work will last through the summer, though he’s had discussions with agency officials about staying longer.

Richard Culatta, the director of the department’s educational technology office, introduced Martin to attendees here at ISTE 2014 during a conference workshop the agency official was leading on Sunday. Culatta met Martin at the South by Southwest education conference in Austin earlier this year, and an arrangement to bring him to the department was worked out not long after that.

Culatta compared Martin’s role as a student-ambassador in the ed-tech office to that of teachers the department has invited in to provide perspective on the educator’s role.

Some of the best ed-tech efforts Culatta says he’s seen in schools have been implemented with student input “all the way through,” which helped convince him that creating a more formal role for a young tech voice in the agency was a good idea.

At the massive ISTE gathering, which is awash in apps, games, platforms, and devices being touted by companies of all sizes, Martin’s assessment of some of what he saw was blunt.

“Most kids who tried to play the games at these things would just hate them,” he told Education Week in an interview.

The reason? Many of those games were created from a purely educational standpoint, with little concern for entertainment value, Martin said. The best ones are academically beneficial and yet engaging enough to hold students’ interest: For people designing those games, “it comes from working with people who know what’s fun, first,” he said. “Students know what’s fun.”

At the Education Department, Martin said, he expects to be involved in working with agency officials to coordinate meetings and programs that seek to incorporate student voices systematically into ed-tech discussions. He’s also interested in trying to encourage uses of technology that can help students who feel isolated, or who are struggling in other ways.

For those students, “technology can offer a solution,” he said.

Photo of Erik Martin at ISTE by Sean Cavanagh

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekSCavanagh for live updates from ISTE 2014.

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

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