North Carolina is currently in the throes of crafting and implementing a state-wide digital learning plan for K-12 Education. It’s an important step along the journey of redefining and re-envisioning what our schools are and what they can eventually become. The plan has six guiding principles:
I believe in the transformative power that intentional, well-placed edtech initiatives can impact schools as a whole, but also on kids and their outcomes as well. If done well, an instructional technology program can bolster the good pedagogical practices already going on in a school; when done in the service of great vision and intentionality, it can redefine what’s possible within a traditional K-12 classroom.
Unfortunately in too many school systems across the country, that’s not what’s going on. Instructional technology programs are often not purposeful, not given the potential that they hold. It’s not transformative. It’s too often a case of shoving square pegs into round holes.
So it’s especially important for North Carolina that while we’re having this conversation, we’re focused not only on getting something done, but also getting it right. We need to look at education holistically when we start talking about making our classrooms truly future-ready.
To that end, here are some of my thoughts as I reflected on the NC Digital Learning Plan:
1. You can’t just drop technology into classrooms and expect great things to happen
To me, technology can make good teaching more powerful, but it doesn’t replace the power of a good teacher.
From the iPad fiasco in Los Angeles Unified School District, North Carolina’s own Guilford County Schools and AMP initiative, and even the whole Interactive Whiteboard craze that took many Race-to-the-Top schools by storm five years ago — too many schools have fallen into this trap. There’s a myopic assumption that teachers already know how best to leverage technology in their classrooms — or that students do. Just because students have smartphones doesn’t mean they can strategically and effectively leverage the Web. And teachers, while they’re often experts in their content and pedagogy, don’t always have the time or the inclination to fundamentally reframe how they do their work.
This is where human capital in schools and the development of professional agency need to come in. Positions like the instructional technology facilitator (ITF) are hugely important, and we need to commit to putting more of them in our North Carolina schools. My role as an ITF is first and foremost to support teachers and students and to model meaningful technology integration into their classrooms. I’m a coach, co-teacher, sounding board, thought-partner, a help-desk, and unfortunately — like so many people in my role — I’m only half-time. The other 50 percent of my months of employment comes from my position as an instructional resource teacher and I consider myself one of the lucky ones; I have the privilege of being based at a single school. Many ITFs have to divide their time between multiple schools, thereby decreasing their potential impact at any one location.
The digital learning plan and the people (educators, legislators, parents) discussing it need to concretely address the need to put passionate, dedicated, qualified people in every school within their “human capacity” framework. Technology coaches need to see themselves first and foremost as classroom teachers, with an eye for recognizing how thoughtful technology integration can make classrooms run more efficiently, more effectively, and more creatively. We need to address the inevitable need for instructional technology support and it’s not something we should assume will come hand-in-hand with traditional IT.
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(West was a panelist and resource expert on digital learning innovation at The Hunt Institute’s December 2016 Holshouser Legislators Retreat: Education for a Stronger North Carolina | Policy, Implementation, and Results. )