To help educators and technology leaders find solutions to their problems and keep up with new ideas, edweek.org sponsors occasional online chats with school technology experts. Following the release in June of the first issue of Digital Directions, the site hosted a chat titled “The Road Ahead in Educational Technology,” with Jim Hirsch, the associate superintendent for academic and technology services for the Plano, Texas, school system, and Susan D. Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the North American Council for Online Learning. Here are edited excerpts.
We are looking for a new student-information system that includes centralized, Web-based student tracking, data validation, customizable reports, scheduling, etc. Do you have any recommendations?
Jim Hirsch: There are quite a number of systems available that fit the scenario you describe for a student system, but I encourage you to go beyond that in your thinking. To get total information on the variables that affect student achievement, you have to make certain your three primary systems—student, human resources, and finance—all talk to one another, or better yet, reside in a single database. At this point, there is no one system that provides that level of information integration, which is why we’ve opted to build our own Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and other Texas districts have opted to use ours. A quick Google search will bring you the variety of Web-based student options, none of which I can endorse here.
How will the refresh of the National Educational Technology Standards impact any digital directions under way or under development?
Susan D. Patrick: If you mean projects or programs to digitize curriculum and instruction, I think these ed. tech. standards may be useful for ed. tech. leaders to focus on tools that enable students and teachers to collaborate, use critical-thinking skills in developing assignments, and put an emphasis on 21st-century skills. I would also encourage schools that are becoming more digital to realize the flexibility this creates in the learning space to stretch time and make instructional interventions possible—not just in the 50 minutes within classroom walls, but expanding the resources of time, instruction, and feedback to more flexible environments available in a digital world.
Large institutions can benefit from employing computer programmers who can customize computer applications to meet the unique needs of the institution. Are you aware of any educational institutions that have employed this type of computer expertise to meet the needs of classroom teachers?
Hirsch: Regional technology centers in each state have attempted to provide this service since the early ’80s. Some have been more successful than others, but none has set a gold standard. For that reason, just as you suggest, many school systems, including my own, have opted to develop ERP and business-intelligence systems that more closely meet the identified needs of the organization. With the advent of Web 2.0 programming environments, these application initiatives have a better than ever chance of success and possible replication to other school systems. It’s too early for any research to prove how effective this practice may ultimately be, but it’s worth watching.
Is there a plan to encourage the designers of Xbox and PlayStation game systems to create educational software that is as challenging and stimulating as their games?
Patrick: That’s a great question—and it is already happening. Many of the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) members from companies that design and create educational software and online courses are moving into different digital formats, and game systems offer a wonderful platform for learning. Recently, I was viewing a Spanish course on a PlayStation for elementary students—and it was cool. Watch for new releases in these areas. This is an important trend and will grow.
Are there any processes or integrative systems in the market today that go beyond test scores as the sole method of teacher evaluation?
Hirsch: You’re entering into the realm of what is termed performance management, and to my knowledge there are no commercial systems available today that can truly track student performance and teacher efficacy. However, the private sector has been using business-intelligence tools for many years to help make their businesses more effective while becoming more agile. There is great promise in these tools’ allowing us to generate scale-score-distribution reports, student-growth-curve models, and ultimately the link between teacher efficacy and student learning. All of these tools rely on models’ (algorithms) being available—these are just now being designed and tested in a small number of school systems in partnership with traditional business-intelligence firms. This work will enable commercially available models within the next five years.
Compiled by Kevin Bushweller
A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2007 edition of Digital Directions as Solutions for the Ed. Tech. World