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Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow

28 Mar 2015 by Insight Blog

K–12 schools are facing many critical issues, but among the most important — enhancing the learning experience through devices to make sure today’s students are college and career ready. More than ever, technology is at the forefront of change in schools, driven largely by Common Core standards and the need for differentiated instruction.

Just as educators once advocated putting a school book in every student’s hands, schools are aiming to put technology immediately in reach of those students.

Schools face myriad challenges to meet these changes, including funding limitations, equity of access and best practices.

As one study of the nation’s school principals concludes, “The role of technology in teaching and learning still preoccupies administrators as they search for the best devices, the strongest level of bandwidth and the digital curriculum that will best serve their students.’’

Common Core Drives Technology Decisions

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core and are moving forward with the curriculum, which proponents say focuses on critical thinking and real-world problem solving as opposed to rote memorization. Under the curriculum, students must explain their thinking in writing for both math and English classes.

Advocates say the standard is designed to better prepare students to graduate high school and succeed at work, in college and in workforce training programs.

This dramatic shift in teaching and learning, coupled with a push for online assessments, are driving new and critical technology needs in K–12 schools. Mobile classrooms overshadow computer labs. E-books compete with traditional text books. Touch screen research edges out standard resource materials.

Two recent reports bear this out.

Implementation of Common Core is dominating K–12 schools in most states and impacting new technology decisions. Among the principals surveyed in the latest Principals’ Assessment of Public Education:

  • Nearly 57% say that Common Core standards are driving their technology purchases.
  • About 63% say they are focused on increasing bandwidth and acquiring mobile devices.

Another report, “MDR’s 2014 State of the K–12 Market,” also shows a strong commitment among public schools to maintaining technology budgets and growing technology programs. The report found:

  • Nearly 90% of districts expected their 2014-2015 technology budgets in hardware, software, teacher training and technical support to stay the same or increase. Hardware/device purchases and infrastructure capacity are top concerns.
  • 1:1 and BYOD programs continue to grow, as 44% of all U.S. districts report that 1:1 computing is substantially implemented in high schools, 36% in middle schools and 20% in elementary schools. Chromebooks have become a must-have.

Acer in Education puts it this way, “For today’s education institutions, questions about mobility initiatives no longer center around whether to put a program in place, but rather how quickly to move and how far-reaching to make such programs. Mobile technology is clearly moving rapidly, pushed forward by the dropping costs of wireless networks and advances in notebook computers.’’

Success One School at a Time

K–12 schools across the country are seeing successes in the classroom every day.

Chromebook: Thanks to a strong 1:1 program, all 3,500 students at Leyden High School District 212 in Illinois use a Dell Chromebook. Administrators and students both say the technology is helping transform the learning experience — citing everything from faster teacher feedback to boosting real-world skills and new ways to engage students.

For a compare/contrast assignment in one class, students test out infographics, song writing and newly built websites to make their points. “It’s really nice that they have the opportunities to use tools that make sense to them,’’ said teacher Lizabeth O’Malley.

Tablet: At Fairfield-Suisun Schools in California, a pilot program for struggling eighth- and ninth-grade students focuses on project-based learning and 1:1 computing. The program pairs students with Acer tablets to help bridge achievement gaps, relying on easy integration of educational apps and mobility on campus for group projects.

“Using the power of technology, we improve teaching and learning by creating and modeling the use of collaborative environments that are simple to access anywhere, anytime,’’ says Tim Goree, the school’s director of technology services.

E-books: In Ohio, Lorain City Schools transitioned students to e-books, using Acer netbooks. With this decision, the district cut its budget, lightened student backpacks, and helped students build valuable future skills and career capabilities using technology.

Netbooks and e-books are now critical tools for students, and widely supported by staff and parents. “Switching a large number of our students to netbooks-based instruction was a huge step for us,’’ said Gary Brantley, the district’s chief information officer.

Challenges Facing Schools

Of course, schools face myriad challenges to meet these sweeping changes in K–12 education, including funding limitations, equity of access and best practices.

Funding tops the list of concerns. In the Principals’ Assessment of Public Education survey, principals were hopeful that after a three-year decline, funding cuts had bottomed out and overall budgets would improve. However, inadequate funding and a lack of resources are still key concerns.

Nearly 74% of principals surveyed said that overall funding isn’t any better this year compared with last year. Just over 58% are not expecting improvement next school year.

Another survey of school and district IT leaders revealed challenges with technology budget constraints and lack of resources.

While 30% of respondents reported budget increases, 54% said they don’t have enough money to “meet overall expectations of the school board/district leaders,’’ according to the 2015 K–12 IT Leadership Survey by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

As concerning as funding constraints is the disparity in access to digital tools between schools, particularly Title 1 schools where economically disadvantaged families have limited access to digital tools at school and at home.

Consider these conclusions from nearly 2,500 advanced placement and national writing project teachers surveyed about tech at home and the classroom by the Pew Research Center in 2012:

  • 56% of teachers of students from higher income households say they or their students use tablet computers in the learning process, compared with 37% of teachers of the lowest income students
  • 55% of teachers of higher income students say they or their students use e-readers in the classroom, compared with 41% teaching in low income areas
  • 52% of teachers of upper and upper-middle income students say their students use cell phones to look up information in class, compared with 35% of teachers of the lowest income students
  • 39% of teachers of low income students say their school is “behind the curve” when it comes to effectively using digital tools in the learning process; just 15% of teachers of higher income students rate their schools poorly in this area.

As more and more schools incorporate technology into the classroom, they face an added challenge of instituting best practices. A 4S strategic plan by Insight’s ON Education initiative provides a basic framework.

  1. Start with the end in mind. Educators focus on the learning outcome first — what standards will be met, what students will learn in the lesson or project — and then identify the tech and web tools to use.
  2. Setup the learning space. Determining the space takes many factors into account, including the number of students participating, the type of technology needed, the physical location for the project or lesson, and whether students will collaborate or work individually. Visualizing students working on the project ahead of time allows educators to anticipate any physical obstacles or moving that needs to be done.
  3. Solutions needed for the lesson or project. Identify what technology tool meets the requirements — tablet, interactive whiteboard, Chromebook. Do the same for apps, add-ons and programs that are needed. Consider whether students will work individually or take part in an interactive experience.
  4. Support required for the device or tool. Think hardware, software and training. Determine what kind of support the students will need, how much time is required to experiment and learn a new web tool, whether devices need to be managed before starting, and how the projects get shared or presented.

21st Century Classroom: Looking Ahead

Here are three evolving K–12 issues to watch for:

Print-to-digital transition. Despite a call by U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan in 2012 for textbooks to be obsolete in the near future, K–12 schools are far from making that a reality, the CoSN survey says. Less than 3% of respondents said that all resources will be digital within the next three years. But 84% expect instructional materials to be at least 50% digital within that time frame.

BYOD. These efforts vary greatly across the country and will continue to evolve. The CoSN survey reports that nearly 60% of respondents are in discussions, piloting or currently working on large-scale BYOD plans. Another 14% fully implemented BYOD as part of their 1:1 initiatives. The remainder currently have “no interest” in BYOD plans.

Project-based learning (PBL) and tech. Technology, a perfect fit with project-based learning, is propelling PBL efforts in schools. The PBL field — and other deeper learning approaches — will continue to grow as tablets, smartphones and laptops gain more acceptance in schools. Educators across the country are leveraging these tools to connect the curriculum with real-life applications, according to the New Media Consortium.

Amid the changing landscape in K–12 schools, one thing is clear: Engaging students in technology is vital to meet new education demands and ensure that they are better prepared for higher education and the workforce.

Learn more about how schools and districts meet the technology demands of today’s evolving classroom at Insight ON – Education. We are here to help your school with cost-effective solutions and services to address all curriculum standards in a secure environment. Additionally, we offer the tools students need for deeper engagement with instruction and college- and career-readiness.

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