How Can Schools Close the Technology Gap?
By Tim Walker
It’s common knowledge that schools across the country are struggling to catch up with the pace of change in digital technologies. According to a study group formed by the National Association of School Boards of Education (NASBE), most districts haven’t provided the training, tools and flexible learning environments that are necessary to meet students in the hyper-connected digital era.
The new report, called “Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today and Tomorrow,” provides a blueprint on how schools, despite recent advances, can and must catch up.
“It’s the wild, wild West out there in terms of technology,” says the report. “From virtual schools and online courses to the growing use of personal digital devices in schools and open-source instructional materials, much about technology is still in flux.” State education systems are the “only entities able to offer a sustainable platform for aligning these promising—but still fragmented and rapidly changing—forces.” The ability of any school to deliver on the promise of education technology rests on the preparedness of all its educators, from teachers to administrators, specialists and support staff.
The findings and recommendations of the study group focused on three areas: identifying the needs of today’s students; providing educators with the necessary training and resources to teach in a 21st Century learning environment; and building an educational technology infrastructure.
Although students are obviously skilled at immersing these tools into their lives outside the classroom, they still fall far short in understanding their value in learning. Despite all the know-how in gaming or social networking, when it comes to information and knowledge the most technically savvy students can be still be, in the words of one member of the NASBE study group, “digital doofuses.” Online research, for example, is more than just pulling the top results from a Google search. To address this weakness, the report recommends that state boards urge schools to focus on digital literacy and digital citizenship and to begin redefining what “school” is, so that learning environments can more responsive to the students’ digital lifestyle.
Developing a vision of a “connected educator” should be a priority for all education stakeholders. “Technology cannot replace the human element to a child’s learning,” according to the NASBE study group. “Teachers, not technological devices, help students develop the behaviors, skills, and content knowledge needed to succeed post-graduation. The connections students make with their learning and their teachers are crucial.”
Key to this transformation is ensuring that educators have the pedagogical training, technological tools, and the autonomy to properly integrate digital-based learning strategies into their classrooms. Providing teachers with first-rate professional development and mentoring opportunities that are “embedded” throughout the school day is essential. The report also urges state boards and state education agencies to engage aggressively with lawmakers to secure sufficient funding.
Connecting and engaging students through technology also greatly depends on a school’s technology infrastructure. From bandwidth issues to outdated user policies and data systems to a general inflexibility over the acquisition of many digital resources, many districts are in dire need of an overhaul of their technology plans. According to the report, districts usually meet and address individual issues as they emerge instead of having a broad and well-designed system in place that can help schools anticipate new trends. If states continue to pursue a piecemeal approach, according to the report, they “will miss a critical opportunity to comprehensively move teaching and learning forward in support of … the next generation of students.”