Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Born in Another Time

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

If you are ever curious about the nuances and challenges of local policy-making and governance, look no further than the U.S public education system. When you consider the statistics and actors – nearly 14,000 school districts, 95,000 principals and more than 90,000 school board members – it is no wonder that public schools see higher levels of success when local leaders come together to collaborate and develop solutions.

The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) represents the state boards of education that govern and design education policy at the state level. These bodies set the tone, agenda, and overall vision for their state. One area in which their leadership is urgently needed: education technology. To that end, NASBE recently commissioned a study group, whose core composition consisted of 18-20 state board members, that produced Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today – and Tomorrow.  This report puts forth a vision for education technology in our nation’s public schools, along with key recommendations on how to get there. In essence, it takes a big, bold vision for 21st century learners and distills it into a professional implementation guide.

Student Needs

The vision examines three key topics: the voice and needs of today’s students, the use of technology in meeting the needs of today’s students, and education technology infrastructure. The report notes that, “for this generation, there is no divide between ‘technology’ and their daily lives.” Given the hyper-connected world we live in, “there is the imperative…that all students be digitally literate, which will require educators to meet students in the technological world where they now live in order to bring them a new place.” The report makes three recommendations with regard to the needs of today’s students: address digital citizenship and literacy, design instruction to take advantage of how each student learns, and create policies that allocate resources based on data, student needs and student, parent and stakeholder voices.

First, the focus on digital citizenship and digital literacy seeks to help students critically assess material, content and resources on the Internet. Despite being digital natives, children are not born with an understanding of how to effectively and responsibly use online resources and content. For example, online interactions can result in cases of cyber-bullying thanks to the anonymity that social networking sites offer to students. Learning to be a respectful and intelligent digital citizen necessitates guidance and instruction.

Secondly, today’s students expect a more customized learning experience, due in part to ease with which online experience can be customized – filtering Tweets, selecting which blogs to follow or which news sources to read. But while student engagement is now more dependent on individualized instruction, through technology educators are better able to engage students with different interests and strengths.

Finally, policies in place should allocate resources based on the voices of parents, students and other stakeholders as well as data and student needs. These audiences should be assisted in understanding the complexities of education policy as well as the local district and school needs; their feedback is by association the most accurate and useful when it comes to providing possible solutions.

Educator Capacity

The second section of the report focuses on educators and their ability to teach in a 21st century learning environment. 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 report focuses on five areas where state policies can help make a difference: defining today’s vision of a ‘connected educator;’ establishing a state vision for technology and education in standards; improvements in educator preparation; improvements in professional learning opportunities; and increased flexibility around time, place, and pace for learning. Among the key questions for states to consider:

  • How are educators, administrators, and other support personnel incorporated into the state’s plan for education technology?
  • To what extent are educator effectiveness and teacher/student technology use incorporated into the states’ requirements and policies for educator evaluations, technology standards, and educator professional learning systems?
  • What barriers exist that make it more difficult for teachers within and across districts to collaborate with each other on shared practices?

Some of the report’s recommendations in this area encourage state boards to examine existing policies while others speak to what the state board must ensure to build this vision for educators and their digital capacity. Among their recommendations: state boards should consider which policies allow or inhibit the ability for online, virtual or blending learning opportunities for students or teachers. They should also examine what opportunities, incentives and barriers are in place that inhibit or enhance the ability of districts to partner with each other, or across state lines, to share resources. State boards should ensure teacher candidates have the skills and content knowledge to teach students in a 21st century learning environment and provide personalized instruction. .

Technology Infrastructure

Finally, the report covers technology infrastructure, noting the vast differences from state to state when it comes to preparedness for technology of the future. State policy-makers should assess their state’s current capacity to integrate technology, develop data systems that provide timely and meaningful information to all stakeholders, navigate the transition to digital instructional materials and support blending and online learning options.

The need for equity in access to education technology is pressing, especially as states work to implement the Common Core State Standards, which use computer adaptive tests. Another key area in addressing equity relates to broadband access and adequate bandwidth. In the shift to online resources and digital materials, schools will need to increase bandwidth to ensure all students and educators have access to the 21st century learning environment.

Additionally, collecting accurate timely data is important both in ensuring that the needs of each student are being met and in reflecting a teacher’s contribution to the child’s learning in an era of accountability and oversight. Finally, a rapid push to digital materials will be a cost saver for schools and ensure that students are not learning from old out-of-date textbooks.

For these concerns, and others, the report makes three recommendations around technology infrastructure: ensure every student has adequate access to a computing device and Internet at school and home, with sufficient human capital in schools to support their effective use; have an up-to-date technology plan and policy that are reviewed on a pre-determined timeline; and address the interoperability of devices, software and data at the state and district level.

As a proverb cited in the report says: “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” For state board members and others, this report offers insights into addressing the challenges and opportunities inherent to our continuing technological revolution.