FETC 2013 | Q&A

Breaking Down Technology's Barriers

Rushton Hurley proves to educators that implementing technology in the classroom isn't as difficult as they think and along the way makes the learning process fun for them.

Naturally resistant to change, human beings really don't like being pushed out of their comfort zones. That resistance is prevalent across K-12 school districts nationwide, where teachers are struggling to adapt to the new, tech-centric educational environment. "Comfort is a dangerous addiction that deprives us of opportunities," said Rushton Hurley, founder and executive director of the educational nonprofit Next Vista for Learning, "and prevents us from getting excited about new prospects."

Hurley has worked and studied on three continents as a Japanese language teacher and has served as the principal of a charter high school, a teacher trainer, an educational technology researcher, and a school reform consultant. At Stanford University, Hurley's graduate research included using speech recognition technology with beginning students of Japanese in computer-based role-playing scenarios for developing language skills.

In the 1990s, Hurley's work with teenagers at a high school in San Jose led him to begin using Internet and video technologies to make learning more active, helping him reach students who had struggled under more traditional approaches. He's trained teachers both domestically and internationally and has served as keynote speaker for more than a dozen state and regional conferences over the last two years.

Bridget McCrea: Are teachers being bombarded with too many new gadgets and software tools right now?

Rushton Hurley: Well, it's not as if we don't eat breakfast because of the many choices of cereal, right? I think the wealth of possibilities focuses us on the things that were always important and forces us to ask, what is it that I want to do in the classroom? What is it that I, as a teacher, am trying to make happen through my instruction? When you boil it down to those two key points you can more easily sift through 10 different devices to figure out what will work best for your school based on budgets, needs, and current resources.

McCrea: What promising technology do you see emerging in 2013, and how will it be received?

Founder and executive director of the educational nonprofit Next Vista for Learning, Rushton Hurley will be presenting three sessions and two workshops at the FETC 2013 conference, which starts Jan. 28, 2013 in Orlando, FL:


  • Google and More: Hordes of Free Tools 2013;
  • How to Inspire Your Staff with Technology; and
  • The Magic of Digital Video for Engaging Learning.


  • Using Google Tools to Change What Happens in Your Classroom
  • Stunningly Simple Presentations and Amazingly Easy Videos (Windows)

In his sessions, Hurley shows educators how to painlessly integrate technology in their classrooms in a way that creates a significant impact for 21st Century learners.

Hurley: Things are changing so rapidly right now. I think Android tablets will have a special place in possibilities in the coming year just because of their low cost. On the hardware side we've obviously expanded beyond desktops and laptops and into tablets and mobile. We've also seen a change in what people at the ground level are familiar with. When

I started attending FETC seven years ago, for example, I was struck by what people knew compared to other places I went. It seems to be a much tech-savvier crowd than a lot of other settings. People come in knowing about collaborative writing tools; they may or may not be using them, but they know about them. They are aware that digital media projects are powerful; they may not be doing them, but they understand their power. I think there's been a slow but steady change around the country and beyond.

McCrea: How do you help teachers see technology as a facilitator versus a burden?

Hurley: There are all sorts of technologies that are very easily learned and that inspire teachers as opposed to burdening them.

Certain tools appeal to individual teachers who are working to channel their own strengths and passions in a way that creates a better experience for kids in the classroom. That's not to say 100 apps in 12 minutes is the right kind of setting for them because that tends to be overwhelming. In my sessions I try to focus on tools that are easy to learn within a short period of time. When teachers get their hands on those tools they are truly empowered and not overwhelmed or overburdened.

McCrea: What needs to happen in educational technology in the coming year?

Hurley: School infrastructure needs have changed and if an institution is not thinking about upgrading its wireless abilities, then it's behind--not to mention those schools that are only right now saying, "Oh, we need wireless." I also think that schools are going to do a very good job of explaining why they matter. One of the huge, whopping changes is that people can learn almost anything on their own. So, what is it about any given school that adds something to a student's possibilities? Is a competitive college, for example, going to be more interested in what a child did at school or what he or she did without the direction of a school? Schools are going to have to be in a very good place when it comes to trying to get their students to see the institutions as relevant.

McCrea: How should schools tackle this big issue?

Hurley: Many are already doing it. There's a certain sector of the home schooling movement that is embracing the concept quickly.

Look at open source educational possibilities like MIT's OpenCourseWare and TED.com's podcasts on iTunes U, and it's clear that students have the ability to say, "I'm going to learn calculus on my own, and I'm going to do it via any number of sites that are out there."

The next question is, how do we know what the students learned in this type of independent study?

In a way the verification process is easier in this new realm of learning because our school accountability systems are woefully inadequate. We're addicted to the bubble tests--which aren't completely useless, but they are holding us back from getting involved with far more interesting things.

McCrea: What are some of the interesting things that we're missing out on?

Hurley: We can look at Singapore for a good example of this in action. There is a set of very powerful, independent schools there that include Singapore American School, United World College, and Stamford American International School, the [last] of which just announced it is building a world class innovation center on its new campus. [According to a school press release the center will feature a fully fitted-out and functioning trading floor where students will get to learn about the power of economics and a center for entrepreneurship and incubation that will be run in partnership with leading American universities and venture capital firms.] So, it's this wildly expensive, audacious effort to get kids in a space where they can learn to innovate. And that's something that we could arguably afford to do in a lot of places in the U.S. if we weren't sinking billions and billions of dollars into accountability systems that really don't tell us that much.