Build Bridges So That No Student is Excluded from Opportunity

As we prepare for our panel, The Digital Divide, Education Technology & Education Equity, on October 9, prior to the ACTNext Education Technology and Computational Psychometrics Symposium, we have asked our guest panelists to answer a few questions regarding technology and education. Registration is still open and space is currently available. Register here.

There’s much talk of technology solutions in education. What are the pros and cons of employing them?

Technology holds the promise of advantages that can readily increase information access, harness the power of exponential change, and close opportunity gaps. Harnessing the full power of technology and envisioning its possibilities are key to competing in the global economy – if the individual is prepared to leverage technology to its greatest potential.

For K-12 students preparing to enter the digital economy, the use of technology in schools holds the key to filling these evolving job skills of tomorrow. School district leaders must develop a clear and powerful strategic plan that integrates the strength of technology, combined with skills preparation in K-12 schools. Including their communities and the business world in the development of these plans should leverage combined efforts that can catapult us to the future of technology careers in a hyper-connected world marked by an exponential velocity of change.

With the wide array of choices and present solutions, the pros and cons often depend on the perspective of the individual within their own context. We have to consider the role of the individual, especially when it comes to school district leaders in K-12 school districts, and the use of technology must be viewed in multiple perspectives and factors. Apart from considering technology infrastructure capabilities and costs, leaders must take into account the students and teachers who will use the tools and implementation for teaching and learning.

Often, in the haste to review, select, and implement the latest technology solutions, the tools selected may not represent the optimal approach for the specific set of target students. In education, you must have the ability to match the right tools to the needs of the students in order to meet and exceed learning targets and achieve equitable success with all students. Sometimes we look at the latest tool or data dashboard and adopt it without considering its use and application to the solution that is being sought. On the other hand, if you move too slowly, you quickly become a dinosaur in the world of technology devices, applications and programs. Making sound decisions that include the needs of all students must be central. Time spent making decisions matters. Because technology changes so quickly, decisions need to be made within a timely construct of perpetual technology change.

When selecting technology solution for K-12 school districts, there are important questions that need to be asked. These include the following:

  • What is the end goal for the desired solution?
  • Does the infrastructure exist or can it be feasibly adapted for the solution?
  • Who and how will the use of the technology be monitored?
  • What is the best strategy for this technology solution to be embraced and adopted by students and education personnel?
  • How will this technology align with preparing students for 21st century skills that could mean the difference between a lucrative paying professions/careers and lower paying jobs?

How has the digital divide affected student learning?

The digital divide forecasts the career outcomes between a future of student being relegated to low-paying jobs and professions that offer lucrative financial opportunities. Students who have limited access to devices and technology are denied at the starting line from having the necessary tools for developing the critical skills needed for advancement to higher paying roles. It’s a vicious cycle. Employers need to employ skilled individuals that can weather the climate in the constantly evolving world of technology. In order to become competitive and gain capacity, students must acquire the best preparation possible. Time on-task is crucial to learning; but, lack of access to the internet or a device other than a smartphone causes greater chasms of divide among students of equal ability. They must have access to quality schools and tools that will develop the required professional skills. It is truly difficult to experience collaborative projects, generate quality portfolios of work or write essays and complete applications to systems of higher learning.  Students who have access to technology have the upper hand.

Beyond preparing students with 21st Century skills that increase earning capacity, educators also face the need to prepare students of various demographics which are not limited to poverty, at-risk youth, English learners, exceptional learners and students who have not had quality educational experiences. Technology that meets the needs for all the students is always a constant moving target.

What’s the best technology solution you’ve seen? 

In considering technology solutions, there is no one individual comprehensive solution for all. While having to select from multiple a’ la carte options, selecting digital tools from a vast set of available options, creates a complex problem of itself. There is a veritable potpourri of choices that are laden with hours of professional development necessary for teacher implementation. Academic content versus technology use in and out of the classroom can be a major time and effort competing factor. Perhaps a solution lies in combining efforts to generate new practical solutions that can build customized technology that combine academic content, career development, skills sharpening and adaptability for the quick changing world of technology.

In adopting the next era of education technology, let’s link the best individual solution from multiple tools to create new solutions that meet the needs of students through a tailored approach. Let’s harness the artificial intelligence technology that will adapt to each student and provide them with consistent access to tools, the internet and to devices other than smartphones.  Let’s link student the information dashboard of assessment scores and develop tasks that will both allow students to keep up with content and employ 21st century skills simulations to find solutions to existing problems. While many students remain on the wrong side of the digital divide, it is fundamental that we ensure bridges are built so that no student is excluded from the real opportunities that arise as a result of little or no access. We must leverage tools so that students are afforded an equal opportunity for access to technology in K-12 schools and unlock a future where they have the ability to achieve meaningful, financially rewarding, and stable careers.

We hope you can join us for the panel, October 9 at 10:30 AM CDT, prior to the kickoff of the ETCPS event, which runs October 9-10 in Coralville, IA. Learn more here.

Dr. Nancy Lewin is the Executive Director of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS). She has served 23 years as a professional educator and brings deep experience to the Chief Executive role at the nation’s largest Latino-focused education leadership organization. Since taking on the role of executive director for ALAS, Dr. Lewin has significantly expanded the organization’s national presence, created a legislative agenda platform to advocate for critical issues impacting the Latino education community, and implemented an annual national Legislative Assembly event.