Ed-Tech Policy

Major Conference Tackles Schools’ Digital Needs

July 08, 2014 5 min read
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More than 16,000 educators, ed-tech company officials, researchers, and others swarmed the Georgia World Congress Center last week for the annual International Society for Technology in Education conference, which is billed as the country’s premier ed-tech gathering. Education Week Associate Editor Sean Cavanagh and Staff Writer Benjamin Herold attended to track news and trends coming out of the conference, including the following dispatches:

Crowds of iPad Users In Search of Help

IPads have a major presence in K-12 schools in the United States, but don’t think that means educators are uniformly confident or competent users of them.

Not judging by the standards of one session held here last week. The session focused on the biggest mistakes schools make with iPads—and how to correct those mistakes—and it drew an overflowing roomful of educators, administrators, technology officers, and other attendees who came in search of advice.

The session’s presenter, Thomas Daccord, is the director and co-founder of EdTech Teacher, a Dorchester, Mass.-based company that tries to help educators use technology to improve instruction. Districts across the country, including some of the biggest, have jumped on the iPad bandwagon. Mr. Daccord said he and his team have visited scores of school systems using the tablets sold by Apple, and they find that many of those rollouts have run into problems, including having drawn ambivalent or deeply skeptical reactions from parents, teachers, and others.

Mr. Daccord described a series of mistakes many districts consistently make in trying to put iPads to use in their schools. One of them is pretty fundamental, he said: They fail to give a compelling answer to the question, “Why iPads?”

“Vision, vision, vision is probably the most crucial element to success in any iPad program,” Mr. Daccord told the audience, which filled every seat and several chairs brought in from outside the room.

One of the answers to the “why iPads?” question, Mr. Daccord said, is the potential for the tools to engage students with different interests and ability levels through video, presentation features, animation, and other capabilities.

Too many teachers and administrators are inclined to treat the devices as they would any computer, without recognizing the potential of the iPad’s various tools to unleash student creativity—even if that means teachers end up sacrificing some control over their lessons.

“Educators shouldn’t think of iPads as repositories of apps,” Mr. Daccord said, “but rather as portable media-creation devices.”

New Ed-Tech Certification for Teacher-Trainers

Away from the heavy doses of marketing hype surrounding companies’ new product roll-outs at ISTE came news of a different sort—about a new technology certification for the people who train educators.

“Our hope is to reach that broad big audience of professional developers that are training on topics outside of ed tech. That’s where the real need is,” said Mike Lawrence, the founder of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Leading Edge Certification, which to date has certified more than 1,500 educators in their digital educator, administrator, and online and blended teacher programs.

Technology is “largely absent” in most K-12 professional development, said Mr. Lawrence, who is also the executive director of the nonprofit group Computer-Using Educators, an affiliate of ISTE. But potential benefits, he said, include the ability to offer teachers and administrators the flexibility to improve their craft at their own pace, on their own time, as part of a larger community that is connected via technology.

The cost of the 8-week training course, in which educators will be expected to put in about six to 10 hours per week, has yet to be determined. The group’s established certification programs cost between $450 and $750, Mr. Lawrence said, and he doesn’t expect anything “wildly different” than that.

Leading Edge Certification is an alliance of nonprofit organizations, universities, and educational agencies, such as county offices of education. Rather than create dozens of separate certifications, Mr. Lawrence said, the group pools its resources to offer a single option to which all alliance members sign on. The group’s first certification program was rolled out in 2012.

Digital Media Connects Students, WWII Veterans

Six years ago, members of the Illinois WWII Memorial Board, concerned that today’s students did not understand the sacrifices of their forebears, approached one of the state’s learning technology directors.

“Their original idea was that we create a curriculum and give it to teachers,” said Vicki DeWitt, now the online professional-development content specialist for the Springfield-based Illinois Principals Association. “I said that’s going to end up in a drawer. Let me think about this.”

Instead of creating a paper-based resource that mirrored traditional textbooks, Ms. DeWitt ultimately engineered the Illinois Veterans and Community Classroom Project, a volunteer effort through which students at 32 schools have conceived, produced, and edited more than 300 short video documentaries about veterans in their state, becoming what Ms. DeWitt described as the largest single contributor to the Library of Congress’ Veteran’s History Project along the way.

In settings ranging from yearlong credit-bearing social studies classes to six-week volunteer projects, students learn to conduct historical and archival research, prepare and lead interviews, and use video-editing software. The result is typically a 20-minute documentary telling the story of an Illinois resident who lived through war in some capacity, with a three-minute student reflection at the end.

Ms. DeWitt and a small group of high school teachers from the project’s showcase school, Harlem High in Illinois’ 7,100-student Harlem Consolidated School District 122, presented the project at the ISTE conference.

Nicholas Stange, a social studies teacher and nine-year veteran at Harlem High, said that leading his school’s documentary project has “completely changed my professional life,” he said.

“It’s definitely not your traditional classroom,” Mr. Stange said. “In this class, you actually get to see the light bulb go off every day.”

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Browse complete coverage of ISTE 2014.
A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as Major Conference Tackles Schools’ Digital Needs


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