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Creating An Effective EdTech Ecosystem & Making the Best Use of Tech Tools

FETC Registered logoThe 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) will take place in Orlando, Florida, from January 27-30. In this Presenter Q&A Roundtable, a number of conference presenters share their perspectives on some of the compelling education questions of today. Read below to see what they shared, and to find out what sessions each will present at FETC.

What is one common edtech mistake and how can educators overcome it?

The single most common edtech mistake is this: Believing that using edtech in schools will automatically result in transformational teaching and increased student achievement. Sadly, the evidence doesn’t support the hype; the average impact of edtech on student achievement is both dismal and unchanged for the last 50 years (Hattie in Magana, 2018). The edtech space reverberates with unsupported claims on the impact of simple digitization, making it difficult to isolate a signal from the noise. To reverse the epidemic of low-impact edtech use in schools we need to go meta: We must follow the clear guidance provided by meta-analyses which are based on thousands of studies. Educators and leaders who follow the clear guidance and direction provided by the highest quality meta-analyses on educational technology use will not only overcome common mistakes, but will succeed in doubling student achievement by judiciously implementation edtech to support highly reliable learning strategies (Magana, 2017; 2018; 2019).

When an athlete begins to train for an event, they select a coach who not only has been where they want to be, but also brings with them the knowledge, skill, and resources to help the athlete achieve their goals.  A coaches job is to help, support, guide, and most important remind.

A good coach helps make sure that an athlete has everything they need so they can focus only on the task at hand.  They are always close at hand to support with trainings, business decisions, and are always around to guide important decisions that are made about each and every part of the athletes journey.  Lastly, a good coach is dedicated to that athlete both in the good and difficult times of a training regiment. They are there to remind the athlete why they are on the journey and make them aware that both in the short and long game, things will get bumpy but the payoff will always be worth it.

In education, we have coaches just for those same situations in the classroom.  An educational coach helps teachers become better teachers, they are there to help discuss lessons and activities and when needed help prepare materials alongside the teacher.  Coaches are constantly supporting both content, curriculum, and creativity and are there to remind teachers that even though the pendulum often swings back and forth, they must always remember that both the short and long game are always in sight when student achievement is the payoff.

One of the biggest and most common edtech mistakes a teacher can make is to NOT lean on those coaches when they are reaching out to be supportive.  A teacher not using a coach is like a boxer not heading to the corner when the bell rings at the end of the round. The relationship between the teacher and the coach should be one of trust, loyalty, and above all, respect.  

So how do teachers open themselves and their classrooms to be coached?  This is a simple answer … it starts with a conversation. A good coach always begins by asking questions and a good coaching session always ends with questions.  Is is by asking questions that a coach can begin o put together a strategic plan to help the teacher achieve his/her own goals in the classroom and then and only then can the coaching begin and a classroom turns not just into a place for student achievement, but educational achievement.

I have a few ideas that relate to the way we use technology in the classroom, as well as the general way we go about teaching and learning in 21st century education. The mistake that happens frequently is that we divide thinking into two categories: inside and outside the box. Typically outside the box is considered a creative approach, but there are still restrictions: it is still defined by its relationship to “the box” and its stifling parameters. What we advocate at the Conrad Challenge is taking a “no box” approach that changes the paradigm. No Box Thinking invites students’ unfiltered ideas to develop solutions to address some of the most pressing global challenges. It empowers students to truly be entrepreneurial problem-solvers.

Here are a few ways to facilitate No Box Thinking:

  • Be a guide on the side, not “sage on a stage” - Instead of “leading the charge” in the classroom, educators can position themselves as at-the-ready support systems when students are in need of their guidance. While educators are instrumental in providing direction and structure, students will lead their own journey: brainstorming, creating, and innovating.
  • Empower students to explore what matters...to them! - Empower students to seek out solutions to challenges they are truly passionate about. It’s amazing what students create when there are unlimited possibilities, and their interests drive the creation.
  • Help students see the real-world relevance of their solutions - Give students the opportunity to iterate on their projects. Whether it’s a global entrepreneurship competition or a classroom project, this idea holds true! When students learn how to improve upon something they’re developing and consider its effectiveness in addressing a real-world challenge, they are engaged, they gain the right perspective, and they display amazing creativity.
  • Nancy Conrad, Founding Chairman, Conrad Foundation

What are 1-2 things leaders should understand about creating an effective school- or district-wide technology ecosystem?

When looking at an effective technology ecosystem, leaders should think about touchpoints and flow. The technology will change as upgrades come through, but the influences technology has will not. Leaders should understand (and plan for) where and how technology touches the academics and operations of their organization. They should also recognize that the life blood of technology in education is the flow of data. Planning for the effective, safe, and efficient workflow of information is key to a successful technology ecosystem.

  • Matt Harris, International Education Consultant, International EdTech

I always say, if you want to know what you’re using that works, you first have to know what you’re using. For me, getting organized is the first step toward creating an effective organization-wide technology ecosystem. Too often,districts “hack” their way through edtech management, with sporadic emails and shareable spreadsheets — this creates a “wild west” atmosphere that feels overwhelming. There are a research-based set of best practices to save time, save money and improve outcomes within your edtech ecosystem.

By centralizing information in an easily accessible location, districts can create insights and eliminate headaches for teachers, administrators and students. When it’s centralized and thoughtfully automated, it’s easy to to analyze which tools are being used, how often, if they’re driving desired outcomes, and at what cost. Really, organization leads to optimization, and that allows districts to personalize learning at scale.

For technology to support learning objectives — rather than appear as an add-on, cost center, or distraction — consider these suggestions:

  • Start with a Purpose: Use technology to support student mastery of skills and content that equip them for college and career. Always tie your efforts back to and communicate that vision.
  • Invest in Planning and Stay the Course: Take the time to plan, using a template such as the Future Ready framework. If you engage your learning community, allow for changes along the way, and stay true to your student achievement goals, you will build not just a digital ecosystem but also a digital learning culture.

Encourage Bounded Innovation: Educators and leaders need to model and ensure effective use of data and technology. Take the time to find safe and effective tools that support learning and capitalize on your prior technology investments. Encourage experimentation, but only with resources you can trust.

  • Doug Casey, Executive Director, Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology

What are two questions all teachers and/or school leaders should ask themselves to ensure they are making the best use of available edtech tools?

There are many important considerations for effective edtech use and, when educators get access to the right tech and have a chance to use it with fidelity, it can support teaching in powerful ways. Ultimately, educators are the experts and they know what works best for students. When they are able to answer the following two questions, teachers and administrators can feel confident that they have tools they can use to drive meaningful student achievement:
a) What does successful “Fidelity of Implementation” look like for the EdTech tool?  
b) What efficacy evidence is available that demonstrates the EdTech tool contributes to positive student outcomes?

  • Ken Tam, Executive Director of Personalized Learning and Assessment, Curriculum Associates. Visit Curriculum Associates at Booth 731 in the FETC Expo.

What are some of the most effective ways to use edtech to support students with IEPs?

The most effective ways to use edtech for students with IEPs is to find apps that address the student’s specific learning style. Many students benefit from edtech apps that assist their writing through word prediction, speech to text and sentence completion prediction.  Students also benefit from apps that highlight, chunk or read text to them. There are also many apps that make learning fun through educational games or challenges. Often times students don't even realize they are learning because they are engaged in the activity in the app.  Another way that edtech is effective for students with disabilities is through video. There are video apps that allow teachers to create questions within existing videos so students can be quizzed immediately on the information they have just viewed. Other edtech software allows teachers to create interactive questions to test new material in a fun and supportive style. There are so many options- just know your student’s needs and find the right match.

Data tracking, increased accessibility to content for students requiring additional support.

  • Robin Williams, Human Resource Development Specialist, FDLRS Action Resource Center

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) exist to ensure that every person has access to a free appropriate public education. Is it possible to design instruction in such a way that renders the need for a legal document to outline individual learning needs moot? Could educational experiences be designed so universally that any student, regardless of ability, could access the content, curriculum, and their own learning? Could consideration for the accessibility and usability of the educational materials presented be a woven into the very fabric of the instructional design process?

One of the most effective ways to use technology in education to support students with disabilities is to use principles of Universal Design for Learning when crafting educational experiences. Use technologies to represent content in multiple ways. Provide opportunities for students to use technologies to express what they have learned and know. Use the options provided by technologies to design instruction which engages and empowers each student to take ownership of their learning.

The most effective way to use technology to support students is to design instruction which meets everyone’s needs, including those with disabilities.

  • Chris Bugaj, Inclusive Design Coach, Loudoun County Public Schools

I see it as a 3 layer sandwich of edtech effectiveness. First and foremost, using and modeling the use of edtech features for your entire class - like turning on Closed Caption while playing videos, using speech to text, screen readers, highlighting tools, screen masks, organizational tools, on screen timers, visuals, etc. will reach and teach not ONLY students with IEPs, but also those who haven’t yet been diagnosed, and the rest of your class! This universally designed approach for learning is USABLE by ALL students (but necessary for some).  The second layer is the meat of the IEP, which is to feature match the edtech tool(s) with the effect of the disability(ies) of the student. Trial the edtech, determine what’s most effective for the student, and teach it. The final layer is the use of edtech for streamlining data collection and analysis. It finishes the edtech sandwich by helping teachers effectively collaborate, track, analyze, and visualize IEP goals. Educationally App- etizing!

  • Mia Laudato, Technology Resource Specialist, FDLRS Action Resource Center

What are two questions administrators should ask themselves when deciding which edtech tools to purchase?

First, “Are my organization’s instructional and operational tools supporting our strategic and learning goals?” Considering factors like SIPs, personalized learning objectives, student data privacy compliance, Title I/ESSA reporting, and other state and federal regulations can help districts ensure their strategy is driving how they select, approve and purchase the right edtech tools for their goals. Second, the best bang for your buck will be in asking “Where can we streamline our processes across departments to save time, save money and improve outcomes?” It’s a great way to ease headaches for your team, and identify where dollars are being wasted (i.e. streamlining product vetting or purchasing, or identifying which paid licenses are never used or are failing to drive desired outcomes).

What are two reasons why AR and/or VR are useful technologies in the classroom?

Student engagement is a much easier target when tapping into the immersive nature of VR/AR content. These multi-sensory experiences provide students opportunities to hear, watch, and “touch” content using technology that is still scratching the surface of its potential.

These next-gen technologies do not need to be held back by pending content development, because students can create their own! Be it student-created 360 video, computer-generated spaces, green screen imagery, etc., students can create and watch their very own VR/AR content with a modest budget and a few quick online tutorials.

  • Michael Auerbach, Co-Founder of Kinful. Visit Kinful at Booth 856 in the FETC Expo.

This article originally appeared on The Ed Tech Round Up

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