Technology is an essential tool in 21st century education. I have actually had moments of panic as a teacher when my Wifi went down because I’ve become so accustomed to teaching with online tools, I could not adjust “in the moment” and imagine how to teach without my essential tools without some serious think time. I’ve taught on a variety of campuses, from one-to-one campuses with broadband and sliding walls to open classrooms during blended units to entirely traditional, closed internet campuses without any classroom devices for students and one small computer lab in the library.
The campus where I currently serve as an administrative intern is moving into the 21st century as quickly as possible, in spite of poor funding and failing building, which does not support broadband Wifi. Our district administration do not feel safe spending reserves to fund building updates or staff raises to improve our building needs, our staff needs, or our technology needs at this time, and our only hope is to pass a bond election, which is gaining support with community stakeholders.
In the near future, we hope to improve our campus failures in the areas of providing equitable access to devices for every student, for all staff members (to use during instruction), and for use during professional development (especially for the use of PLE-based digital professional development). We know we are not perfect, and we’d like to become a more progressive model to others instead of reading about the exciting models we’re following.
Technology for Equitable Learning
The 21st Century provides unique and simple methods for differentiating instruction in every classroom, regardless of funding, through the creative use of available technology. The USDE goal for this area states that “[a]ll learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences in both formal and informal settings that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally connected society” (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 9). Grouping students when a one-to-one device system is not available and ensuring that equitable time using the actual device (through assigned job sharing) provides time for collaboration, group problem-solving, and the use of technology to build fundamental 21st Century skills (Crockett, Jukes, & Churches, 2011, p. 19). We can trust students to engage in the content more than we realize when they have a team and a device. “Give students the chance to take charge of activities, even when they may not quite have all the content skills. Students are accomplished education consumers” (McCarthy, 2015). During my internship, I have noticed many classrooms allowing students to use their cellphones as the shared devices to allow digital learning in classrooms, and this model works well with appropriate directions and classroom management. On my campus, devices are reserved for daily instruction in English classes because we have no funding for textbooks, so cellphones are the only alternate devices other teachers can use, and the entire model is not equitable for the instructors in the building. The USDE guideline recommends that institutions “develop and implement learning resources that embody the flexibility and power of technology to create equitable and accessible learning ecosystems that make learning possible everywhere and all the time for all students” (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 25). We hope to establish a more equitable process through grant funds in the future, but because of our district budget crisis, we cannot hope for district funds at this time to alleviate our textbook issue or our technology issue, and therefore, our lack of equity will continue.
Technology for a Community of Thinkers
The technology boon of our current world offers limitless human resources and creative e social networking platforms for all types of communicators, ensuring that all teachers can share their expertise, their data, and their challenges for professional growth . . . as well as for the benefit of their students. Teachers across continents can share information on a daily basis and develop strong, supportive bonds in cyber PLC teams and PLE (personal learning environments) of their own making, bringing their unique learning back to their buildings for the benefit of their entire campus staff. According to the USDE, administrators and to ensure that instructors “will be supported by technology that connects them to people, data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that can empower and inspire them to provide more effective teaching for all learners” (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 28). To do so, principals need to provide all instructors with personal devices, up-to-date training, and ongoing professional development in digital trends (especially trends outside of education) to ensure that their creative thinking about technology for sharing information and for teaching students about how to prepare for their futures in a technology-based world centered around digital information sharing will be appropriate. Professional development should ALWAYS model these trends. Administrators should provide “professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase” staff members’ “digital literacy and enable them to create compelling learning activities that improve learning and teaching, assessment, and instructional practices” (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 40). The campus where I serve as an intern does not model innovative trends in professional development except for using PLE-based development as a pilot program for two PLC teams, a program my mentor asked me to develop as my fall project. Our campus hopes to expand this program and to develop a digital teaching channel in the future to improve our use of technology for professional use in the future.
Technology Innovation from Education Leaders
One disparity across all levels in education, including preparatory programs for new teachers, is the use of emerging technology in useful and creative ways to ensure quality education, professional development, fiscal responsibility, and success for all stakeholders within growing educational systems. The USDE has set an innovation goal asking educational leaders to “Embed an understanding of technology-enabled education within the roles and responsibilities of education leaders at all levels and set state, regional, and local visions for technology in learning”(Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 42). The USDE further suggest that “local authorities are uniquely suited to understand the needs and resources available within their local education ecosystems” to make this goal attainable (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 53), but finding any educational ecosystem successfully implementing resources for the good of all stakeholders and setting an example for others to follow is rare. We should expect to see new teachers using technology and models like TPACK more often in their instruction, but they are no more likely to integrate technology in the classroom after their programs than veteran instructors in spite of “faculty modeling, building technical proficiency, and developing technology integration experience through design projects” (Hofer & Grandgenett, 2012). A review of the longitudinal studies from 1987 to the present only calls for more research, and the writers of the article conclude that “technology integration [for pre-service teachers] may require a relatively sophisticated and interrelated understanding of the technology, pedagogy, and content of their instruction, resident within the TPACK construct and supported by a strong teacher preparation program” (Hofer & Grandgenett, 2012). My concern is that exhaustion, a lack of mentoring, and a severe lack of funding in actual buildings is preventing real teachers, especially first-year teachers, from utilizing their training effectively for the benefit of students.
Assessment Technology for all Stakeholders
Using technology to improve assessment is literally a no-brainer. Technology-generated and run assessments are faster and easier. The data is also a goldmine for savvy instructors and administrators, who know how to analyze information, and it’s immediate. The NSDE asks that “our education system will leverage the power of technology to measure what matters and use assessment data to improve learning” (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 54). My campus does an outstanding job of using technology at every level to assess student learning and to use that information to adjust instruction, improve instruction, and therefore, to improve student success. All schools need to ensure they follow strict FERPA protocols as they’re “enabling a model of assessment that includes ongoing gathering and sharing of data for continuous improvement of learning and teaching” (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 67). Most institutions follow a reactionary model, putting out fires for their lowest testing group each year to ensure they show nominal growth for that group in order to avoid poor grades from their state board, staff cuts, reprimands, or financial consequences. My campus is facing ALL of these issues this year, in spite of having shown growth for all student demographics during a year of uncommon change and stress, including a teacher strike, a superintendent turnover, and new testing rollouts. We will lose 25% of our building staff in spite of our successful student ratings at the start of the year and student growth performance in every category over the course of the year. Our data did not save us. I will personally be cut and had to continue with my state testing duties as a classroom teacher, knowing that a week later I would have to resume my duties as an instructional coach and intern, which included firing colleagues, without affecting the performance of my students due to my own stress. No amount of technology, creative or otherwise, could have prepared me for that week; however, having lived it will forever make me a stronger educator, and I will always remember how to face stress with grace for the stakeholders under my care and how to juggle too many tasks when disaster strikes---as it always does—for administrators. Wagner (2012) charges the business leaders of America with changing this problem since their pockets buy the legislative leaders of our nation, who really can change what’s happening in American education (252-259).
A supportive infrastructure, both within the school system, and also from with the larger community, is essential for student success in the 21st century. In order to be successful, the USDE mandate that “All students and educators will have access to a robust and comprehensive infrastructure when and where they need it for learning” (Thomas, et al, 2017, p. 69). Digital learning requires access to the internet, and students need that access wherever they are. Most communities now offer low income internet packages for families with students enrolled in local school districts, but schools need to provide that information to all families: “Working with federal programs such as E-rate through the FCC, as well as with nonprofit partners such as CoSN, EducationSuperHighway, EveryoneOn, and others, states, districts, and postsecondary institutions should make sure technology-enabled learning is available for all students, everywhere, all the time” (Thomas, 2017, p.83). Local libraries need to provide fast connectivity to their students, as well, to ensure that families, who cannot afford any package, can at least provide their students with library access. My current campus partners well with stakeholders to provide broadband access all day to every student, including after-hours access. We have learning labs before and after school with ample devices to ensure students can complete assignments and even take courses online to retake failed credits on their own time. City busses also provide free rides for students with school IDs to ensure they can access their campus broadband of the broadband of any public library from 6:00 am to midnight in our community. These programs ensure success and equity of access for all learners regardless of economic status or housing status within the community. Any community can collaborate with stakeholders to provide similar programming to ensure all students have access to the digital learning tools they need for learning success. The best next step is to obtain funding for a one-to-one device model for each student, ensuring device access at all times, as well.
Conclusion: Equity vs. Equality
All students need equitable access, not equal access, to the digital learning tools of the modern era, to ensure they have equal footing in the 21st century. Many students come to school equipped with ample tools for success in the digital age and do not need their taxed schools to provide those tools. Equitable access mandates that WE provide those tools to students, who actually need them. My son has a laptop, a kindle, a Samsung 8, three modern gaming systems, unlimited data, and no need for a device from his school whatsoever. He has ample opportunity to engage in digital learning wherever he goes. He can actually tip the learning scales in his classroom when the school Wi-Fi goes down by opening a hotspot and sharing his data to ensure learning continues for the entire group. Creative, equitable access requires creative solutions, which often ask those WITH access to share it with those WITHOUT. And it always asks for innovation. “Individual teachers, grade-level, school-specific factors, demographics, culture, and other factors ensure that every situation is unique, and no single combination of content, technology, and pedagogy will apply for every teacher, every course, or every view of teaching” (Koehler, 2012). As we move forward without appropriate funding, access, or support from those with these essential assets, we must continue to do so with creativity, collaboration, and innovation to ensure that our ability to use digital assets (and creative disruption with/of those assets) will benefit the students and instructors under our administrative care.