If there is a silver lining surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that the national spotlight is shining brightly on equitable access to effective use of technology in schools. But in order to keep moving toward greater equity, we need to take the lessons we’ve learned collectively to strengthen our plans and advocacy efforts to improve technical infrastructure and effective teaching with edtech.
In the article COVID-19: Get federal funding for your district, edtech advocate Ji Soo Song outlines a three-pronged approach for how districts might leverage federal COVID relief funding for their schools and districts. I’d like to delve more deeply into those three approaches and offer actionable ways districts can support the technical infrastructure, the curation and delivery of content, and educator capacity for effective online learning.
These three approaches are critical for both in-person and distance learning and require strategic use of federal funds, grants and continuous professional development.
1. Create optimal IT infrastructure in schools.
IT infrastructure is the system of hardware, software, facilities and service components essential to support IT processes. Before the pandemic, schools were typically designed for in-person learning rather than for distributed virtual experiences. When learning went virtual, this infrastructure often struggled to meet the higher demand of delivering online learning for every student. On top of that, not all students were equipped with appropriate devices, and many did not have access to reliable Wi-Fi.
For schools that haven’t already optimized their IT infrastructure to support their school staff and students, here are four resources that will help marry the right blend of cloud-based solutions and tech equipment.
- K-12 Blueprint for Infrastructure
- The Building Blocks of Remote Learning
- 3 Steps to Optimize Your IT Infrastructure for Remote Learning
- SETDA: Home Access: Working Toward Digital Equity
2. Weave edtech into instructional design practices.
The ISTE Standards for Educators and the ISTE Standards for Students offer excellent guidelines for instructional design. But the ISTE Standards are not designed to be used in isolation. School districts need to intentionally look for ways to align the ISTE Standards with academic standards and now the SEL competencies.
Inspired by my co-author James Fester on an upcoming ISTE project, I created the table below to illustrate the questions districts and teachers should ask when aligning content and edtech with these standards and competencies. The most important takeaway is the importance of determining needs before establishing solutions.
For example, as schools level up their IT infrastructure — they should also determine the tools best suited for meeting the academic goals they set for the students they serve. Well defined academic goals in tandem with appropriate edtech give both teachers and students a clear path to success. By using this table, schools will align their edtech curation to their unique academic focus, boost student engagement, provide measurable results and increase students' academic success.
The table also works well for teachers struggling to choose among their district’s varied edtech options. For example, a math teacher may want to increase engagement and participation among students who are getting stuck because they lack procedural knowledge. By consulting the third column on the table, she can quickly determine the most effective tool for student success.
The key is to determine academic needs first and choose the appropriate edtech to augment instruction second.
3. Grow teachers capacity for augmenting instruction with edtech.
Since 2007, I’ve been responsible for the professional development of educators in the K-16 setting, and my conclusion is that good PD for teachers either enhances in-person or remote curriculum, or it improves how they teach it. Optimal PD, on the other hand, will do both.
Therefore, no PD, materials or equipment should be purchased if they don’t directly enhance the school's curriculum and instruction. Growing teachers’ capacity to use edtech for both in-person and remote lessons must directly tie to curriculum and instruction.
Here are three effective uses for edtech that directly tie to curriculum and instruction for schools and districts to consider when choosing PD for their teachers:
- Learning tools for students. These are the edtech tools and resources that educators use to teach and scaffold lessons. They include open educational resources, such as interactive lessons, readings, videos and simulations.
- Formative assessment tools. These refer to apps or tools that both teachers and students can use to check understanding because they can collect student data. Current popular tools for remote learning include Nearpod, Formative, Pear Deck and Flipgrid.
- Tools to transfer learning. These are edtech tools that allow students to create authentic products, such as computational artifacts, reports, videos, digital plans or prototypes/models. Helpful tools include Google for Education, Sphero Activities, WeVideo, AutoDesk and YouTube.
Organizations dedicated to helping teachers level up their lessons with edtech through teacher summits and education resources include ISTE, CUE, Dyknow, CSTA, Carly and Adam, and the Illinois Digital Educators Alliance.
Doing new things
Dr. Jean Piaget once said, "The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done." I believe this is a moment where we can collectively apply this wisdom to strengthen our schools' capacity to be more equitable, efficient and proactive in how we develop, continuously enhance and maintain our IT and edtech plans.
Jorge Valenzuela is an education coach, author and advocate. He has years of experience as a classroom and online teacher, a curriculum specialist and as a consultant. His work focuses on improving teacher preparation in project-based learning, computational thinking and computer science integration, STEM education, and equity-based restorative practices. Jorge is an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. His book Rev Up Robotics: Real-World Computational Thinking in the K–8 Classroom is available from ISTE.