Shifting Focus from Technology to Student Learning


Shifting Focus from Technology to Student Learning

I was recently reminded of a very simple lesson: sometimes, you just have to ask. Ask for help, ask someone to listen, or ask someone to work with you. In the world of education technology, we are often guilty of preaching to the choir—the believers who know in their hearts (and now more often with data) that technology can improve teaching and learning.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) recently took a big risk and asked many individuals beyond our typical community to engage in a discussion around education’s role in America’s competitiveness.

With the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the Partnership for 21 st Century Skills, and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) as supporting partners, 300 teachers, state and district superintendents, principals, students, corporate representatives, district and state technology directors, parents, US Department of Education officials, and state legislators gathered for the Education Forum: What It Takes to Compete. Each stakeholder group was highlighted in some leadership role throughout the day, and all of the people were called upon to share their perspectives.

I was very proud to be part of the education community that day for many reasons:

  1. We are optimistic. Despite challenges, including dropout rates, tight resources, and teacher shortages, education stakeholders believe we can improve student learning. Michael Golden, deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, described our reform efforts as trying to build an airplane while flying in the air. While this is a frighteningly apt metaphor, he also shared a systemic plan for how to ensure ownership among education stakeholders to do this job, which we cannot afford to overlook.
  2. We share many common beliefs and goals. We believe education is key to America’s competitiveness and that change is needed. We agree that all students deserve a high-quality education, and that we must listen to the changing American students to better understand what will work for kids. Kenneth Stewert II, a student from McKinley Technology High School in DC Public Schools, described to attendees the database certifications he received this summer and his internship that involves working on the American Red Cross Web site. He and his friends are excited about and proud of their school. His advice, “Once you have us, don’t lose us—keep us engaged!” Every person attending the conference wants to keep all kids engaged and learning.
  3. We view technology as an accelerator, an enabler, and a critical tool. The conversations, although focused on teacher quality, workforce development, 21 st century skills, and teaching math and science, continually returned to the role of technology in improving teaching and learning. Hudson LaForce, senior counselor to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, described technology as an “accelerator of change.” Whether providing AP or science classes to students in rural West Virginia or conveying difficult chemistry concepts in an interactive, visual way, technology opens doors. Others noted that technology is the tool that provides opportunities for individualized instruction for all students.
  4. The job is not done. While many incredible examples of teaching and learning were shared—highlighting the significance of partnerships and working together—participants agreed that we have a long way to go. Some students in some schools in some districts and states are receiving this high-quality education that we know can exist. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. We have an important responsibility to share what works and to help others overcome obstacles and challenges, including identifying resources and creating ownership, to truly ensure America’s competitiveness.

What Did You Learn Today?

As we often recommend to teachers and students, it is important to reflect on what we learned. The bottom line is that we do need to ask others to engage in discussions around education—not education technology. We need to take the risk to put ourselves out there, with the hope of improving education for all students. It was very encouraging to hear the buzz throughout the day of the conference, and I was reminded that almost all education stakeholders were there because they truly care about students. When we focus on the students, we are all part of one community.

For more information on the Education Forum, including a PDF of the conference program, click here.

Mary Ann Wolf is executive director of SETDA.