How Technology in the Classroom Is Shaping the Outlook of Education

By Tom Ingram, Director of Information Technology, Escambia County Schools

Tom Ingram, Director of Information Technology, Escambia County Schools

Throughout my educational career, I have been interested in improving student learning through technology. Thirty years ago in my first year teaching Latin, I used a computer for my own productivity. I thought then that student computer use could be a game changer for improving student learning.

I still believe that today.

COVID-19 has challenged us in unimaginable ways. However, in spite of all the challenges, or perhaps because of them, what an opportunity we now have to advance technology use to improve student learning. Never before has our society seen this need so great as we see it today. Never before have we had so much focus on using technology for learning.

What an opportunity we have.

When my district began remote work and virtual instruction in April, I felt lucky that we were so prepared. Every student in grades 3-12 had a Chromebook. In addition, we had adequate Chromebooks to assign one to every K-2 student who needed a device. The vast majority of our resources were cloud systems that function anytime, anywhere. We had a robust digital learning ecosystem anchored by a student information system, instructional management system, learning management system, and communication, collaboration, and productivity tools. All of this was true before April.

But in April it became important in a way it never had before.

One principal told me that she now understands why it is important for all of her teachers to know how to use technology. She explained to me that she always thought her good teachers who didn’t use technology were still good teachers. But now, they could no longer be effective without it. She recognized that going forward she could no longer allow any teacher not to use technology.

Every student must have an equal opportunity to learn at home, wherever that may be.

Everything was in place in my district: the infrastructure, the devices, the software systems. Even with everything in place, there was no compelling reason for everyone to use technology for learning before April. Now, there is a compelling reason.

Since April, we have added some software solutions to our digital learning ecosystem to fill some of our gaps. For the first time ever, we have identified the students who did not have internet access outside of school, and we have committed to finding a solution for them.

We have customized some of our software systems to incorporate workflows that were previously paper-based. All of these actions required acting in partnership with others in the district (all working from home), and none of them could have been completed in such a short period of time without the urgency presented by COVID-19.

As we move into the new school year, we must take this opportunity to continue to improve the use of technology for learning. I hear many people saying that our experience in April and May was not the quality of education that we want for our children. We now have the opportunity to make it better. What do we need to do?

Every student must have an equal opportunity to learn at home, wherever that may be. Equitable access to the internet is a problem in our society. We should be looking at solutions across our greater populace. Right now, however, we must make sure that all students have access to the internet and a digital device appropriate for learning whether they are learning from school or home.

Our students must be prepared to use technology. If we aren’t regularly using technology in school, there’s no way that we will be prepared when learning must occur outside of school. Even if we take every precaution, there will be times in the coming school year when every child won’t be able to come to school. We must be prepared for those times. We must use digital tools when we are at school so that students will be prepared to use digital tools when they cannot be at school.

The right digital tools must be available for both teachers and students. It’s possible for quality learning to occur anywhere, but we must have the right tools to enable it. Digital devices, internet connectivity, digital content, communication and collaboration software, and content creation software must be procured to enable every student including those with special needs to participate in learning enabled by technology.

The support that teachers need must be available at all times. Some teachers are ready. Other teachers may need a few hours to learn on their own. Some teachers may need a few hours of professional development while others may need many hours of professional development along with coaching. We must be prepared to meet every teacher where she is and help her move forward.

Let’s seize this opportunity to support and enhance student learning by engaging students through meaningful use of technology tools.

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