Innovation, Ed Tech, and ISTE

In most education circles these days, the focus is on school improvement, common standards, and, most importantly, innovation.  Doing things the way they have always been done (albeit with additional dollars) is simply not on the current agenda.  From the EdSec all the way down to building leaders, we are looking for new ideas, new approaches, and new solutions to break the hold of the status quo and bring lasting improvement to our schools.
When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law, much was said about the proposed investment in education technology.  Some tallies put the investment in technology at $900 million, particularly when one factors in the dollars going to the creation of new state data systems.  Those dollar signs had many people immediately dreaming of new computer labs, smart boards, and other pieces of hardware to strengthen the learning environment.
But those who have been around the block a time or two on ed tech realize that simply putting more computers in the schools does not necessarily yield the student performance gains we’re all seeking from our new education investments.  It isn’t the technology as much as what we do with the technology that matters.  Its the outcomes that are important, not the inputs.  
That point is being driven home this week at the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington, DC.  This is the 30th anniversary for both ISTE (an organization for which Eduflack advises) and NECC.  Many of those outliers in the ed tech field would say that the glory days of education technology are behind us, enjoyed in the late 1990s when we invested in broadband and one-to-one computing.  But if NECC turnout and energy is any indication, the true glory days for education technology have yet to come.
In recent months, we’ve heard how education conferences are in a downward spiral.  Shrinking budgets have resulted in school districts slashing conference budgets and eliminating out-of-district travel.  Yet NECC’s attendance this year is UP compared to last year.  More than 12,000 educators are gathered in our nation’s capital to explore ed tech topics.  And many of those educators are here on their own dime, realizing that the conference may be one of the strongest content-based professional development opportunities available to them.  For those who can’t get over to NECC, you can check out a wealth of resources at www.isteconnects.org.  
As part of this year’s NECC, Eduflack sat down with ISTE CEO Don Knezek to talk about some of the policy issues the education technology sector is facing, including:
Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT)
Established nearly eight years ago by Congress, EETT is a Title II-funded program designed to “improve student achievement through the use of technology in elementary and secondary grades.”  Much of EETT funding has gone to professional development programs and public-private partnerships designed to enhance the use of technology in the classroom.  It sounds like a terrific program, and one that closely aligns with federal priorities around school improvement and innovation.
Unfortunately, EETT has never been fully funded.  The program was intended to be a $1 billion a year effort, a vision never realized.  This year, the President’s budget allocates EETT at only $100 million, a figure that is also being offered by appropriations leaders on Capitol Hill.
“The battle for the dollar amount of EETT is not over,” Knezek said.  While he is concerned about current EETT funding, Knezek said ISTE members and educators across the country will work to get Congress to act and raise the funding for this necessary program.  (ISTE is actually sending 500 educators to the Hill this week as part of its Storming the Hill effort, and EETT is likely a hot topic for these concerned educators.)  “I’m disappointed with the [President’s] recommendation, but I hope it doesn’t represent a backing off of technology as a priority.”
Common Standards and 21st Century Skills
Citing technology’s role in “enriching accountability systems,” Knezek conceded that we are “pretty far away from addressing 21st century skills and technology” in the current common standards debate.  “It will be a long time before they get to a set of standards that address 21st century skills,” he said, ” but if they develop common standards that address change in the disciplines, yes we will see it.”
Specifically, Knezek sees a pressing demand to redefine current academic disciplines (all subjects, not just math and science) so they are framed in a 21st century environment.  If we can do that successfully, we’ll be in a position to integrate technology and 21st century skills into a national academic standards framework.
Knezek also raised some interesting questions for policymakers, decisionmakers,and influencers as we move forward.
* How does the education technology field show enough leadership for change?
* How do we demonstrate the key role technology plays in improving learning and student engagement?
* How do we successfully promote appreciate for co-learning, where both teachers and students benefit from the use of new technologies?
* What do students need to achieve to demonstrate 21st century skills?
* How do we really incorporate technology in STEM education?
It is hard to imagine we are in a position where we need to identify the relevance and impact of education technology on school improvement, but that is really where we are.  Groups like ISTE are now fighting to demonstrate that they are part of the improvement and innovation solution.  Ultimately, success may come if we move from discussions of hardware to discussions of its applicability.  How are we using new technologies to improve instruction?  To improve teacher training and support?  To better track students?  To better target interventions?  To generate real student achievement gains?  And when we do, how do we know we’ve done it?  Those are the sorts of questions we need answered for ed-tech to move from a third or fifth priority in minds of most superintendents to a first or second priority.
“We are clearly changing the structure of where are going for instruction and instructional experiences,” Knezek said.  If he is right, then those who are most able to adapt to the constant changes in standards, demands, and expectations will be those making the most difference.  Unfortunately, the best and brightest are not necessarily those who survive.  Like most fields, evolution is the name of the game when it comes to education technology in the 21st century.

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