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With students across the region either back in class or readying to return soon, we consider the role of technology in classrooms from kindergarten to 12th grade. Many districts are grappling with decisions about whether to spend money to boost tech infrastructure or to provide students with the laptops and tablets parents are coming to expect. We consider changing ways technology is being deployed by teachers, administrators and students.
- Elizabeth Hoover Chief Technology Officer, Alexandria City Public Schools
- Brian Lewis chief executive officer, International Society for Technology in Education
- Michelle R. Davis Senior Writer, Education Week/Digital Directions
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition" here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo. Classroom technology has come a long way. The slideshows, filmstrips and overhead projectors of yesterday are making way for smart boards, online courses and tablets in kids' hands today.
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYAnd as the technology available for using K-12 classrooms continues to change rapidly, school districts have to decide how to spend their often limited tech budgets in order to best serve their students, train their teachers and appease parents. Here to help us better understand what kind of technology is being used in classrooms today are Michelle R. Davis, a contributing writer for Education Week and a senior writer for Education Week Digital Directions, of where her specialty is educational technology. Thanks for being with us.
MS. MICHELLE R. DAVISThanks, Matt.
MCCLESKEYAlso Elizabeth Hoover, the chief technology officer for Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia. Thank you for being here.
MS. ELIZABETH HOOVERThank you.
MCCLESKEYAnd joining us from a studio in Eugene, Ore., Brian Lewis, chief executive officer at the International Society for Technology and Education. Thank you for joining us, Brian Lewis.
MR. BRIAN LEWISThank you, Matt.
MCCLESKEYWell there's so much to talk about this hour, how teachers and students are using technology, also how school systems decide what to buy, what infrastructure they need, what technology means for testing on the Common Core Standards. And we wanna cover all of that. But first, I wanna take a look inside the classroom of 2013. When I was in school, the debate over technology was about when it was OK to start using a scientific calculator.
MCCLESKEYOf course we're way beyond that now. Elizabeth Hoover, I'd like to start with you. If we were to walk into, say, an elementary school in Alexandria today, how would we see technology being used?
HOOVERWell, first of all, you would see technology as part of the infrastructure of the classroom. We have -- the majority of our classrooms have interactive whiteboards. They have document cameras. They have installed projectors. We have mobile devices throughout the building. We no longer have computer labs. We eliminated our computer labs about five years ago not only for some logical capacity issues, but really for more integration issues, bringing technology into the classroom instead of having an isolated place.
HOOVERSo you would see devices pulled in by students throughout the day, depending on the lesson or the content area. And it's really -- we're working to make it just an integral part, not a certain special topic or a time of day or a time of week that kids look forward to.
MCCLESKEYWhat are the challenges you face in trying to figure out which devices you need and what infrastructure you need?
HOOVERWell, you know, technology is moving so quickly. And as a school division, especially a technology department, we take the infrastructure very seriously, and not only talking infrastructure as servers, but also we're talking about devices and technical support.
HOOVERSo we have to make sure that we're equipped with the technical knowledge to support all the devices, and sometimes that's a challenge because teachers are -- students are finding things quickly, and they wanna move them into the classroom. So that's always a balance of being on the merging edge of devices and strategies and making sure that you can actually support them well.
MCCLESKEYSure and, of course, devices, computers, tablets are often the glamorous side of computers, whether it's in the classroom or anywhere else. The infrastructure side, though, perhaps less glamorous, but very important as well. Brian Lewis, for those who perhaps aren't familiar with that side of things, what are some of the main challenges districts are facing around the country?
LEWISWell, I think, you know, it's a wide spectrum. You know, there's no one-size-fits-all. Every district is in its own unique circumstances in terms of basic access to the Internet, which is, you know, we talk about E-Rate and, you know, universal access. The notion that access to the Internet, in a very short period of time, has become almost on the same level as electricity, water, as a utility.
LEWISAnd so we're, I think, having to cope with that not only as a society, but absolutely that's mirrored in the school, so technology in terms of new construction, remodel construction, Internet access. As Elizabeth says, it's no longer what it was a few years ago and put in a lab. It's integrated into the classroom. What does that mean in terms of capacity? What does that mean in terms of the rate, of speed and change of specific technologies?
LEWISI mean, you know, we think now that tablets have been around forever when the first one -- was it really only introduced four or five years ago. And so how is that technology going to change? And so it's not only the physical infrastructure that we have today, but how do we build capacity and infrastructure to address what we don't even know as coming down the road?
MCCLESKEYYou mentioned something a moment ago called the E-Rate. Right now, schools and libraries pay a lower rate for telecom services, and that is called the E-Rate. How does that program currently work? What proposed changes might be on the horizon there?
LEWISWell, you know, E-Rate was born in '96 out of the FCC to help schools connect. The demand is really about $5 billion a year with a B, and funding is about half that. And so there's a whole conversation going on right now with the FCC. They're looking for public comment about how that program might continue to be refined and really how we can expand the availability of E-Rate funding to more and more schools to get high-speed broadband access because we know now that the need for this access is -- it's got to be ubiquitous.
LEWISWe need all of our students to have this access. And so there's a whole conversation about how can we continue to find ways to expand the resources, to connect more schools, to provide more kids with this what, like I say, has really become a utility.
MCCLESKEYAnd indeed, it seems like on the horizon in the next couple of years, a very important reason that broadband will be necessary in schools across the country is because of Common Core Standards and testing that's gonna need to be happening online. I'd like to turn to you, Michelle Davis. And, first, a recent survey found that most Americans have no idea what Common Core Standards are, so we'll take a brief, brief step back from the technology.
MCCLESKEYMany of those who do know what they are tend to misunderstand them. Before we talk about the tech part of the Common Core Standards, what exactly are they?
DAVISWell, the Common Core Standards are sort of a national set of standards that the majority of states have signed on to, and I think the goal is to promote sort of higher order of thinking, more in-depth thinking on a number of these topics. And like I said, the majority of states have signed on to them. There are two coalitions -- PARCC and Smarter Balanced -- that are developing the tests, the sort of interactive, computer-based tests that will be used to test the Common Core.
DAVISSmarter Balanced is developing adaptive tests that sort of change, and so each student would have a different test based on how they answer the questions, that type of thing.
MCCLESKEYAnd in terms of the Common Core Standards, we're not talking so much about how technology is used in the classroom to teach kids, but rather for evaluation.
DAVISYeah. In this case, schools will be required to test students online by 2014, 2015, and that is a huge concern for districts out there.
MCCLESKEYIt's very soon.
DAVISYeah. In terms of having the devices they need to do that, having the infrastructure, the broadband, the wireless, that type of thing. You know, we've heard -- I've reported on schools that when they have online testing, they have to ask all the teachers not to use email. If they're not used -- you know, when the kids are taking the tests online, they can't access the Internet for teaching. So it's a big strain on the infrastructure for districts.
MCCLESKEYOf course, thinking back, to when I took tests as a student, it's already a fairly nerve-wracking experience. You work. You prepare. You're there to take your test. And then I can only imagine if your computer crashes, that's gonna -- it can affect performance.
DAVISWell, that actually happened earlier this year. There were a bunch of states, including, like, Indiana and Oklahoma where students were taking tests online with test providers that are also gonna be working with the Common Core, and thousands and thousands of students, their tests crashed. They were locked out. They couldn't get back in. And it caused a great deal of anxiety not only for the students themselves, but for the districts who had to extend testing windows. It was just chaos.
MCCLESKEYDoes that have to do with broadband in the schools, or was that on the side of the companies running the tests or both?
DAVISIt was on the side of the companies running the tests, what they think is to date, and the servers were overwhelmed. And so, you know, that gets to another point, is that the districts can be prepared. The districts can have the infrastructure they need, the devices they need. And then the test, you know, providers are the ones that didn't have the infrastructure they needed. So it's very complicated.
MCCLESKEYAre the indications point to systems around the country and states being ready by 2014, 2015? Elizabeth Hoover, you'd jump in here?
HOOVERWell, Virginia has not signed on to the Common Core, but we have been doing online tests since 2003. So we have completed 10 years, and this past year was the first year we did all of our tests. We did over 26,000 online assessments between end of May and early June, and it is quite the production. And, yes, you have got to be very prepared with your devices and make sure they meet the specifications.
HOOVERWe have issues with the vendor who creates the test, changing the specifications, which no longer met our model specification. So we -- you know, there are some financial implications not only with the devices, the bandwidth and the personnel 'cause there's a lot of people that come together to make this a successful event. And we have had a couple of issues in the last 10 years.
HOOVEROverall, we -- it has gone very smoothly, but there's a lot of anxiety from parents, students, teachers, the technology department. It's really all hands on deck event.
MCCLESKEYIt seems like it's trying to get several different entities, be it the testing organization, the school system, perhaps the state, the board of education, all working hand in hand to coordinate something pretty complicated.
HOOVERIt is, and Virginia has really invested in the infrastructure. They have provided funds over the last 10 years to help us prepare and get ready. So I think that's been a huge advantage, and why we've been set up for success is that we have had the opportunity to invest in our infrastructure.
MCCLESKEYYou mentioned Virginia is not one of the states in the Common Core, but I believe it's 45 states and the District of Columbia that have signed on to this, Michelle Davis?
DAVISI believe that's correct. But what I would say is, I mean, you know, Elizabeth was just saying they've been working on this for 10 years, and they still have issues. I mean, there are some districts that, you know, are still really not using a lot of devices, don't have high-speed Internet, don't have wireless capacity. I mean, this is, you know, an ongoing process, and some districts and some -- even some states are at the very beginning of this process.
MCCLESKEYWell, Brian Lewis, I'd like to ask you, is there some entity looking more nationally at this in terms of getting some of these systems that perhaps aren't as prepared, up to speed, and getting everybody on track?
LEWISWell, I think, you know, one of the great things about the education system in the United States is that there is such a great degree of state and local control. The flip side of that is unlike some of the countries that we work with on an international level where things are very much sort of decided at the government, country level and enforced countrywide, we have a strong history in this country of local control.
LEWISEvery state's funding mechanism for education is unique and different. Every school district has a different set of circumstances within those states. And so what you see is the challenge of the environment that we have and how we operate our schools. As both Michelle and Elizabeth have said, every school is in a different set of circumstances. What ISTE tries to do and what we offer is, you know, many years ago is to establish the definitive education technology standards, a set for administrators, a set for teachers, a set for students.
LEWISThey're used throughout the country. They're used internationally. And what we try to do is go out as a nonprofit and support districts around the country and educational programs around the globe, but certainly the United States, to help them consider what -- to take that first step, which is this conversation about what is our ed tech plan for our district? I had an email a few months ago from a school board member in upstate New York.
LEWISAnd she wrote me over the long weekend in February, and she said, you know, I'm a school board member. I'm in a great district. It's kind of medium to small. We got a great soup. We got great teachers. We got great IT staff. We've got a really great community. We're about to make a major ed tech investment, and I'm not sure that I've done everything I'm supposed to do in my role as a governing board member in terms of putting the plan in place.
LEWISI just wanna make sure that we've done the right thing. And I think -- so part of what ISTE wants to do is we wanna go out, and we wanna help folks. We really advocate for integration of our ed tech standards, along with Common Core Standards, as a way to more successfully implement them. And we're a big advocate of helping folks take a look at it from a systemic perspective. A lot of districts -- you know, you talk about the devices.
LEWISThere is a charm, there is an attraction to the device. But like one of my colleagues said to me, you know, several months ago, he said, I was here at the front end when we were talking about getting the PC in the classroom. And as Elizabeth said, you know, we don't have labs anymore. It's integrated. He goes, it isn't about the technology anymore. We are talking about ed tech.
LEWISIt's not about the technology. It's about what are we trying to do pedagogically in the classroom? What are our local goals for supporting our students? How do we put a plan together to accomplish that goal? And how does education technology and everything that goes along with that, including infrastructure, fit into that goal? So we like to say it's really about what are we trying to do for the students pedagogically and then the technology flows to support that.
MCCLESKEYBrian Lewis, chief executive officer at the International Society for Technology in Education. I'm also joined this hour by Elizabeth Hoover, the chief technology officer for Alexandria City Public Schools and Michelle R. Davis, a contributing writer for Education Week. We like for you to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. You can also email us at email@example.com.
MCCLESKEYYou can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet to @kojoshow. We're gonna take a short break now and then continue our conversation about technology in the schools. I'm Matt McCleskey, sitting in today for Kojo Nnamdi.
MCCLESKEYWelcome back. I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition" here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about technology and education. I want to go right to the phones now and hear from Laura in Arlington, Va. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead with your question, please.
LAURAYes. Hello. I'm so happy you're having this discussion today. There was a very interesting editorial in this Sunday's New York Times about this very topic. And what the author said was basically that, you know, this -- technology is very expensive and does not advance education as can be seen by our low standing in the world ranking of education scores. The countries at the top of the list don't have any interactive whiteboards or laptops or tablets in the classroom.
LAURAThey concentrate on paying their teachers Wall Street-sized salaries. The best of the best in those countries, like Finland, North Korea and I forget the other top -- the top three all are, you know, like what we would consider Harvard grads and, you know, they're the best of the best. And that's where we should be putting money, this writer wrote. And I would like to hear what your guests think about that idea.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks for your call, Laura. Elizabeth Hoover, let me go to you. More spending for teachers' salaries or more spending on technology? How do you know where you should be putting money?
HOOVERWell, I -- something I always say to my staff and the teachers. It's always about the thinking, not the thing. And technology as an isolated topic is not the solution for education. And the best use of technology is using the best talents of our teachers and gets into the needs of our students and matching them together. So I really don't think it's a valid argument to talk about technology being isolated.
HOOVERTechnology allows us to do things differently. And we can also use technology very poorly in classrooms. Often, I look at technology and I call it drill in disguise. That's not the type of technology we're promoting. We want technology to be used for helping with critical thinking, doing collaboration, doing global projects, communicating, collaborating ways with students in different environments around the world. So that's my response.
MCCLESKEYMichelle Davis of Education Week.
DAVISWell, first, I would say I'm very in favor of increasing teachers' salaries since my husband is a teacher. But number two, I would also argue that, you know, all -- almost all of the jobs that these students today are going to be getting involve technology. I mean whether it's email, whether it's taking online training, pretty much any job that you have is using technology. And I think, you know, it's kind of unfair these students are using technology like crazy outside of the classroom already.
DAVISIt seems very short sighted for them to walk in the doors and put all that away, you know, to do something else. And then the minute they exit, they pick up their phones. They pick up their devices. And when they go to college, there's a lot of online courses. I don't think it's setting them up for success. But I agree with Elizabeth that, you know, it's really not about the device. It's about what you're trying to do with it. And if you think about that way, it's a tool like any other tool that you would use.
MCCLESKEYBrian Lewis, with the International Society for Technology and Education, Laura mentioned other countries' performance. Since yours is an international organization, can you give us a sense of where the U.S. overall fits into the big picture of technology deployment in classrooms?
LEWISYou know, this is a frequently raised conversation. And I would agree with both Michelle and Elizabeth, and I would say, Michelle, my wife just started her 33rd year of teaching. And I'm absolutely convinced that she's not making what she should as a professional after all these years. I've served as a school board member locally. I've had to make those hard decisions and choices. When you're having to make cuts, how do you focus those resources in the right place?
LEWISBut again, I agree with Elizabeth. It is -- it's a tool. The notion, you know, we -- there's a decades-long conversation about U.S. education versus other countries and looking at the resources that different countries have, an allocation of certain dollars for certain things.
LEWISYou're talking about the complexity of the student populations in some countries versus other countries, diversity of student populations and diversity of expectations. And so when we talk about the technology engagement around the world, it's as complex as the best program in this country. And there are many, many wonderful programs, where it's being used, as Michelle and Elizabeth are talking about, as a tool within the context of what we're trying to teach our students.
LEWISAnd then there are places in very remote parts of the world where they're lucky to have a single mobile device connected to a very inexpensive and flexible projector so that that device can bring in technology for a group of extremely rural, poverty-stricken students to try to import knowledge and share knowledge in that environment. It's all over the world.
LEWISOne of the things that we try to do as an organization is partner with other countries, other organizations and other countries, to reflect on best practices, places like Singapore and Australia and around the world where there are best practices.
LEWISAnd it is a case where we're very much engaged in the process of sharing what we know and trying to learn from other countries, other school systems and what they're learning and implementing and sharing that through our organization that reaches out to about 100,000 people around the world, again, trying to share best practices in what will always be a continuum or learning. There will never be a place where we get there and say, oh, we've gotten there. This will always be an opportunity and a challenge for us.
LEWISBut again, going back to the original question, this isn't about one or the other or one's better than this. Every country is different. Every -- you know, I worked in California for many years in public education, and we have upwards of 1,000 school districts, the majority of which are 2,500 students or less. And every one is a unique microcosm of community, of learning expectations, of resource, and every circumstance is different. We know that one size doesn't fit all within a state or a school system.
LEWISIt certainly doesn't, you know, isn't comparable between countries, but what we're trying to do as organization is facilitate this constant flow of information. And as I said, RSD standards for administrators and teachers and students are not only widely used in this country, but were -- are used globally as a place to start the conversation within a school system to talk about, again, as a tool, how is it that we're going to use technology to support what it is we want our students to learn.
MCCLESKEYSure. Well, obviously, with those limited funds, schools are trying to figure out how to allocate budget dollars. Michelle Davis, from your reporting, where does spending on tech for classroom use fall in the spectrum of what gets saved versus what gets cut?
DAVISWell, I think one of the things that Elizabeth mentioned earlier is this idea of infrastructure, and I think for a lot of people, they don't think about it. They just want it to work. They want to stream a video in heir classroom. They want access to the Internet. They want it to work when they're doing a lesson. And sometimes districts don't end up putting the money that they need to into this infrastructure because it's kind of like electricity or the plumbing.
DAVISYou don't think about it until it's not working. So I think sometimes districts are tempted to invest in sort of the shiny new toy rather than the infrastructure. I think Elizabeth can probably follow up on that.
HOOVERNo, I agree that it's much easier to talk about the tangible items that teachers and students can expect in the next school year. But that's why I believe it's my job to work with the school board and educate our needs. And we have been very fortunate and have very supportive school boards. But we also, as a division, we've worked together. We've had shrinking budgets. And I can't always say a computer is the better decision in something else. So it's really about collaboration within the division and supporting strategic goals.
MCCLESKEYYes, Michelle Davis.
DAVISAnd I will say I sometimes think that districts who are struggling financially are often the ones that are more creative with technology. They're kind of forced to do that because they don't have the resources that some of the larger and wealthier districts have. So they often can get creative with technology in ways that other districts aren't.
MCCLESKEYWe got an email from Nora in Annandale, Va., who says, "Would you kindly explain what an interactive whiteboard is?" And she writes, "For the sake of us seniors. My family recently made a donation to a primary school in which our late aunt served as principal for decades. They chose to use it for an interactive whiteboard for the library." And she asks, "Is this essentially a big computer monitor?" Who wants to handle that? What is an interactive whiteboard?
DAVISSure. An interactive whiteboard, often known as SMART Boards, are promethean boards to the larger vendors. They allow students to come up and manipulate objects on the screen with their hands and move things. And now they're multi-touch. So we can have multiple students coming up to the front of the classroom demonstrating with a computer application, very much what you're seeing on CNN during political election coverage...
DAVIS...or weather events.
MCCLESKEYSure. OK. We'll let's go back to the phones. Milton calling from Columbia, Md. Milton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MILTONGood morning. Thank you for taking my call. About eight years ago, that shiny new toy made an appearance at my son's private school in Takoma Park. They issued brand new Apple laptops to all the students in the school. However, that shiny new toy was a mystery to most of the teachers in the building. The laptops did not have curricula on it. It did not have books on it.
MILTONAnd the students knew how to run circles around those teachers, and it became a huge problem within the school because half the time the kids were on Facebook. They found backdoors on the Internet while they were sitting in class. And the teachers had no clue. I think that bringing -- introducing technology is a wonderful thing.
MILTONHowever, if that infrastructure as well as being able to adequately train the faculty on how to use those toys properly to integrate it into a daily routine for the students, it becomes yet another toy in the students' hand and not a constructive tool for education. We ended up pulling those laptops. The kids ended up buying them used and keeping them for term papers and so forth. But they ended up having to pull them out of the school simply because it was more of a distraction than it was useful to them.
MCCLESKEYWell, thank you so much for your call, Milton. In a way, that gets back to Laura's question from earlier about the effectiveness of tech in classrooms. How do we make sure that teachers are prepared to use the same technology or perhaps to know how to use the technology better than kids these days who know how to -- my son is 5 and he's already using the iPad.
DAVISI think this is a huge issue. I mean, it's part of thinking through a tech project. You have to start with your goal, what you wanna do academically and what tool is the best fit. And then you've got to invest in professional development for teachers because if teachers aren't adept at using it, it's not gonna be successful. If you don't give them time to learn and the training to learn, it's not gonna be successful.
DAVISI've been talking to several districts that have successful one-to-one programs, and in some cases, they gave the teachers the devices a year ahead of time and spent the entire year training them before they gave them to the students. But I would also say that students can be an asset. I mean, you know, they're really good with technology. And people my age are not digital natives and the students are, and I think it's OK to ask the students for help and to have the students, you know, as a resource too.
MCCLESKEYBrian Lewis, I heard you're trying to get in there a moment ago.
LEWISWell, you know, it's a great question Milton asked, and it makes me think of a couple of things. One is profession development, as Elizabeth says, is foundational. It's got to be part of an overall plan. I was talking to someone recently who said we got -- we applied for this grant. We got this terrific grant. We were gonna do our planning. But we got the grant and realized that the timeline imposed by the grant meant we had to buy the technology before we put our plan in place.
LEWISAnd so part of the message has to go back out to those foundations and others who are wanting to support this and say, you need to support it in a way that when you provide those grants supports, the planning is as important, if not more so, than the technology itself. And the other piece is this whole notion about this balance between the teacher and the student. One, professional development for teachers is critically important. Elizabeth talks about providing the teachers with the technology a year in advance, really important.
LEWISThe other piece is what's happening in the classroom is changing and certainly technologies facilitating that where the teacher is really -- the role of the teacher is evolving so that he or she is no longer the sort of singular fount of knowledge in imparting this knowledge, you know, via lecture in the classroom but really rather is facilitating -- teacher as facilitator of learning, student as generator of the question as well as the answer.
LEWISAnd so technology provides this sort of shift to take place in the classroom. So that, as Elizabeth says, students are then empowered to not only address the adoption of the technology but to engage in learning in a very different and deeper way that provides deeper learning and supports a whole transition of what it is to provide or empower education in the classroom, whether that's virtual or real.
MCCLESKEYBrian Lewis, chief executive officer at the International Society for Technology in Education. We're also speaking this hour with Michelle R. Davis, contributing writer for Education Week and a senior writer for Education Week/Digital Directions with a specialty in educational technology, and Elizabeth Hoover, chief technology officer for Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia.
MCCLESKEYAs we talk about teacher training and students using new devices and technology in the classroom, I think back to when I was in school and this is issue of when you could use a calculator. Teachers didn't want you to be overly reliant on the machine. They want you to understand what was happening underneath with the math. How do teachers today strike a balance between students being overly reliant on technology but also making sure they're proficient in using it as a tool? Elizabeth Hoover.
HOOVERWell, I really think that talks about one of the powers of technology because it changes the type of assignments you're giving students. And if you're giving students something that they could easily use a calculator possibly to solve, maybe that's not the right assignment be giving them. Maybe it's assignments of higher level of critical thinking and they have to decide which types of problems to solve in order to impact a larger problem.
HOOVERSo I think it gets to, you know, earlier I said a lot of the technology is often drill in disguise. We wanna be using technology the best ways. If a calculator is the best way to solve the problem and the quickest way, why not let them use it? But why are we teaching them that, and what is the ultimate purpose of learning that algorithm or a problem?
MCCLESKEYI guess sort of the analogous situation today, perhaps, will be learning code. And what's under the hood of the computer as opposed to just how to use it. Now, there are instances where kids, I believe in high school, perhaps even before, are learning coding, and, of course, computer science, an increasingly lucrative field for people just out of college, a lot of new jobs with computer science, of course. How are we seeing kids get under the hood of the computer as opposed to just using different apps? Who would be -- Michelle Davis.
DAVISI just wrote a story about this for Education Week. And I think there's a whole movement in coding to get kids coding younger, to get them started with basic programs like Alice and Scratch. And I think one of the ways that schools are drawing these students in is they're saying, we're gonna have a video -- build a video game class. So they're drawing students in with the hook of you can build your own video games. Figure out how these games program their characters and all that.
DAVISAnd to do that, they need to learn some basic coding. And so once they get them hooked with that, then they can kind of move on, and it's not so daunting. It's not a scary thing when they say computer coding. It doesn't seem as scary to the students.
HOOVERI actually have a second grade teacher on Thursday doing a Web conference for other teachers on how she is using coding in the second grade classroom. And they're using Scratch. So, you know, we used to be a logo many years ago when I was in a computer lab, and it's the way that kids are learning geometry. So I'm glad to see coding back on -- back at being a trend.
DAVISIt's a big movement. There's also an organization -- well, there's code.org which is really pushing this, but there's also an organization that I find really interesting called CoderDojo which is it organizes coding classes after school for students, and often, it just takes some volunteers from the community. And it would have elementary students mixed with high school students, and they'd work together at various levels. It's pretty cool.
MCCLESKEYMichelle R. Davis, contributing writer for Education Week. Also with me here in studio, Elizabeth Hoover, chief technology officer for Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia and joining us from a studio in Eugene, Ore., Brian Lewis, chief executive officer at the International Society for Technology in Education. We're talking about technology in the schools. We're going to take a short break now, but we'll continue our conversation on the other side. We'll take more of your phone calls. Stay with us.
MCCLESKEYWelcome back. I'm Matt McCleskey, the local host of "Morning Edition" here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about technology and education. We do wanna get right back to the phone calls now. Some of you have been waiting for a while patiently. We appreciate you staying on the line. Let's go to Doris in Arlington, Va. Doris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DORISGood afternoon. Thank you for a great show. I'm wondering if you could explain and describe how the testing services are going about ensuring access for students with disabilities to the automated testing that's being done so that blind students have access to speech and magnification output and so that other students have access to other forms of -- access software or peripherals when they're doing the testing so that there's inclusion.
DORISAnd I'm also wondering if you could explain how an instruction in the classroom that you were talking about as well as students doing research in libraries whether the facilities are equipped with accessible computers and access software and peripherals.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks for your call, Doris. Let's turn to Elizabeth Hoover with Alexandria City Schools. You've been doing online testing in Virginia, although not part -- as we discussed earlier, not part of the Common Core Standards that are gonna be moving across much of the country -- much of the country in the next couple of years. But have you encountered in Virginia, over the last 10 years, issues of accessibility?
HOOVEROh, absolutely. And we address those accessibility issues through larger monitors often or read alouds or audio. Software has become more sophisticated. So much more of the software can be read to the student wearing headphones. So there are always adaptations made for students who need them.
MCCLESKEYWe also -- first, Michelle Davis, you're gonna have something to add?
DAVISYeah. I do know that both PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two coalitions developing the Common Core tests, they say that there are going to be a lot of built-in sort of assistances that will help all students. Whether it's translation services or read-aloud services, that should be available to all of the students but also help students with special needs.
MCCLESKEYWe have an email from Rick in Arlington, Va. He says, "Are poor and minority students being disadvantaged by computer testing since experience with using computers seems likely to affect performance? Are schools trying to make sure those students have access to computers outside of school hours as well? This gets in to the issue of the digital divide." Elizabeth Hoover.
HOOVERIt's always an issue for us. We have about 58 percent free and reduced lunch. We have only one high school, T. C. Williams, and we have had a one-to-one there since 2003. So for our high school students, all of them have a laptop. However, that does not address our issues of access at home. And we did a survey a couple of years ago, and we know about 24 percent of our students at that time did not have Internet access wildly available at home. So it continues to be an issue.
HOOVERHowever, we do use computers frequently and instruction and assessment all year long, so online assessments at the end of the year are not a new experience for students.
MCCLESKEYWell, Brian Lewis, chief technology officer -- or rather, chief executive officer at the International Society for Technology in Education, have you seen this issue of the digital divide come up on a national level?
LEWISNational, local, regional, you know, it's a huge issue. And a couple of things, we've seen districts try pilot programs to try to partner with the community to provide wireless broadband access for students who may not have it home. These are pilots that have been tested and experimented with. This gets back to this issue of it being this utility, how are we as a society going to embrace the need for this access? What does it look like?
LEWISWe know, for example, if you look at the manufacturers of the devices themselves, if you just look at the cost and power of devices over the last five to 10 years and you project out another five or 10 years, the cost of these devices are gonna make them that much more widely available, which is a good thing. But the other challenge is going to be the likely required demand for broadband access is going to increase because the number of devices is going to increase. The power that they demand is going to increase.
LEWISSo we're -- we are gonna continue to deal with this issue of the divide in different ways. I think there is good news and that the devices, the technology are going to become more ubiquitous. They're gonna be more powerful. But again, it gets back to this ability to provide the Internet access where some folks might have it.
LEWISAs one speaker said recently, in fact, it might have been the president who said, you know, if we can go down to a local coffee shop and have broadband access, why isn't it possible to have it at the school? So it continues to be an issue, and this is why this whole issue of equity of access to broadband is so huge for us.
MCCLESKEYYeah. I believe I'd seen the president talking recently about speaking in favor of setting the goal of giving 99 percent of the nation school's access to high-speed broadband and wireless Internet access within five years. How realistic does that seem? Brian Lewis.
LEWISWell, it's a huge challenge, obviously. It gets back to the E-Rate issue that's, you know, on fire right now, a major conversation about it in Washington. The FCC's pursuing public comment on it. We're very strongly advocating for continuance and expansion of the E-Rate program so that we can address this issue that (word?) raises relative to equity of access, increasing -- finding ways to increase the resources necessary to provide this access. But it is a huge issue.
LEWISIt's a huge conversation, and the time is now for us as an organization on this E-Rate, you know, there are some great advocates who are working to make sure that this issue of equity of access is addressed now. The president is saying, you know, we wanna achieve this. I think it's doable. It's like anything else that we put our minds to as Americans, as human beings, as citizens and say, look, we have to do this. It's not going away.
LEWISYou know, earlier, Matt, when you referenced coding, I was thinking about when I was in college, and I'm gonna date myself. My computer class in college was drawing out a flowchart, punching it on a card, dropping the card in the basement of the computer center and coming back in two days after they ran it to see if it really worked. Now, the good, old days were not always so good.
LEWISSo part of what we have to imagine is what does that future look like. What student are we willing to say doesn't deserve to have access -- broadband access so that he or she can supplement their learning? None of them. We can't afford that. So whether it's doable or not doable by whoever's estimation, we have an obligation, a duty to ourselves and to our students to make sure that we provide this Internet access, and the E-Rate conversation happening right now is critically important.
MCCLESKEYMichelle Davis with Education Week.
DAVISI do think districts are really concerned about this because they don't -- when they're testing for the Common Core, they don't wanna be testing students on their technological skills. They wanna test students on their academic skills. I wrote a story earlier this year about a superintendent in Garrett, Ind., and he said he wanted his low-income district students to be -- have Internet access.
DAVISThey have a one-to-one program there too. So when he was renovating or rebuilding their high school, he ran a broadband cable to the nearby community center so that they would have broadband access too.
DAVISHe made sure the Wi-Fi was really strong and extended out into the courtyard or -- and sort of outside the school grounds so that students, you know, if they needed to drive up at night, they could get the Wi-Fi access that way. He's also keeping the school open until 10 o'clock at night so students could get Wi-Fi access that way.
MCCLESKEYA moment ago, you mentioned the Common Core standards. Once again, we're still getting some question about Common Core. Let's go to Bernie now in Owings, Md. Good afternoon, Bernie. You're on the air.
BERNIEHey, Matt, the very first question you asked is what is the Common Core, and you did not get a very good answer. What exactly is it? Does that mean we're gonna teach chemistry before biology, which makes more sense, than doing it the way we've been doing it for years? Does it mean that everyone's gonna be exposed to the same history curriculum, the same English literature -- you did not get an answer to that question. And I think -- oh, gosh. I have three sons. I lived in Alexandria for 30 years.
BERNIEThe Alexandria school system is deplorable. And the state would agree with that. So I think asking the representative from Alexandria a question like this may have been misdirected. However, we don't know what this Common Core is supposed to be. And if we're gonna test everybody based on it, it would be reasonable for us to understand what's in it.
MCCLESKEYThanks, Bernie, for your call. You know, that's a whole other show in and of itself. I would say today, we are focusing on the technological aspects of it, and I certainly can't run down through the list of everything that's gonna be included in those Common Core standards. And if any our guests wants to take a bat at that. Perhaps Brian Lewis?
LEWISWell, you know, again, there's a wealth of information available online about Common Core standards. It is controversial. The truth is 45 states have adopted them and they're moving forward with it. There are some that have concerns about whether or not that's a good thing or a bad thing. And that's for people to decide as individuals and states.
LEWISBut the issue really comes down to an effort to try to have some level -- the basic theory behind it is some level of core elements of education that this country believes that should be adopted and pursued on behalf of all students. Again, not -- it's a state decision. Forty-five states have decided to do it. Within -- whatever state you're living in, there's a local and regional conversation about implementation. And then layered on top of that then, as you just said Matt, is the technological implication of trying to implement and assess the Common Core standards.
LEWISThere are two different things. It's not to diminish the point that the caller has relative to whether or not you value the Common Core standards or not. That's a whole, lively, ongoing debate and conversation even as 45 states have adopted them. Assuming that's the case then, what -- the conversation that we're having today is, what are the technological implications of that, and how can we support schools and school districts to successfully get there?
LEWISAnd what we would say as an organization is it's certainly is about assessment for Common Core, but it's also about the points that Michelle and Elizabeth are talking about relative to how is it that we're integrating technology. Again, it's not about the tool. It's about what you want the tool to do for you.
MCCLESKEYAnd I should say, 45 states and the District of Columbia since we're, of course, broadcasting from D.C.
LEWISThat's right. Thank you.
MCCLESKEYI wanna thank Bernie for that call, and perhaps we can revisit that in another show on another day. Today we're getting back to the tech issue. I'd like to turn now to Sheila in Mount Airy, Md. She's been waiting patiently for the last few minutes. Thanks so much for your call, Sheila. Good afternoon. Well, we've seem to have lost Sheila. Perhaps she's not there.
MCCLESKEYWe made her wait a little too long. So apologies to Sheila for that. I do know a little bit about what she was gonna ask. And she said her 13-year-old son has terrible handwriting and attributes it to tech. Is handwriting something we're gonna not teach anymore as we get more and more into keyboards? Perhaps we can send that to Elizabeth Hoover with the Alexandria City Schools.
HOOVERThat is a great question. There's lot of conversation around that. Actually for our state online assessments this year, the writing portion was done for the first time online. And keyboarding became a big conversation in whether or not our students had the skills for keyboarding. So it's a push-pull with how much do we wanna actually spend time on teaching traditional keyboarding.
HOOVERThere's a lot of different opinions on that, especially as keyboards tend to change. We're not -- when we talk about a keyboard, we're not even talking about the traditional keyboard of a stand-alone computer exactly.
HOOVERSo I do know that I want my children to be able to have cursive and legible print, but I would also like them to be productive on the computer.
MCCLESKEYIn particular, I guess as we're working with the whiteboards. Moving things around, you don't even need a keyboard to that necessarily. Let's go to Walt from Fairfax, Va. Walt, good afternoon. You're on the air on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
WALTYes. For 20 years, educators have promised that technology investment was going to improve learning in our schools. And as far as I know, that has not happened. You have to ask the question, has Alexandria's tremendous investment in technology improved learning in Alexandria? What has to happen to make sure that our investments in technology improve learning in the schools?
MCCLESKEYWell, that's sort of the fundament question regarding tech. Does it improve student's ability to learn?
HOOVERAnd my answer to that is that it's really in the hands of the teacher and the teachers that are using the technology and how they're using it with their students. I believe I said earlier, it's just -- you are correct. By purchasing devices and putting them in the classrooms, it's not going to change the way students learn. However, with good pedagogy by the teachers in engaging assignments, I think that's where the technology right now more than ever is really changing the opportunities for students to learn.
MCCLESKEYLet's turn to Brian Lewis, chief executive officer at the International Society for Technology in Education. Now when you look at tech and how it can improve a student performance, what are the benefits? How do you measure that?
LEWISWell, you know, there is ongoing research, and there are -- there is research that supports the effective use of technology in the classroom relative to student learning, the different way students need to learn. The reality of the technology, as I think Elizabeth said earlier, is a part of their life. It is ingrained in who they are and they connect with the world around them. So again, I'm gonna go back and say -- and Elizabeth said it -- it's very heavily dependent on the teacher.
LEWISThat means that we have to invest in ongoing professional development. We've talked about that before. And before that, I'm gonna say again, it is not about the tablet or the laptop or the mobile device, it is about a strategic conversation that engages all the players at the local school level. And that includes the community. That includes everybody in the system, the teachers, the principal, the superintendents, everybody, the IT, curriculum people, the school business officials who are putting the budgets together to make those investments.
LEWISLet's have a conversation that talks about, what is it that we want technology to do? Have we looked at like school systems and seen how they're implementing the effective use of technology? Have we reflected on plans that other districts have used to embrace technology and put a thoughtful strategic approach to how it is we're going to use technology in our district?
LEWISHave we held up our curriculum standards and said, this is what we want our students to know and put in place a very thoughtful plan that says, this is how we're going to use technology? We don't wanna just go out and buy technology and have what was mentioned earlier, where the teachers got the laptop and we ultimately just sort of turned our head from it because it wasn't able to be used effectively.
LEWISIt's about planning. It's about thinking about what is it that we wanna do. It's about looking at like school systems and saying, look at what they're doing over here, here's the best practice. That exact way may not work for us, but if we take this from them and this for them -- this is why the government -- the president went to Morrisville and talked about what was going on there. I don't believe the president was saying everybody should be in Morrisville.
LEWISWhat he was saying was every school system is unique and every school system and service to its students need to take a step back, look at best practices and implement technology in a way that will impact student achievement. We know it will, we know it can, we know it does, but it's about planning and thoughtful strategy in advance of implementation.
MCCLESKEYAnd we are coming up now on the end of the hour. So much more we can continue to talk about on this conversation, both on technology and the classroom and the Common Core standards, a lot to unpack here. But we've had a very good talk this hour. I wanna thank all our guests for being with us in studio.
MCCLESKEYMichelle R. Davis, a contributing writer for Education Week and a senior writer for Education Week/Digital Directions of where her specialty is educational technology. Also, Elizabeth Hoover, chief technology officer for Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia. And joining us from a studio in Eugene, Oregon, Brian Lewis, chief executive officer at the International Society for Technology in Education. Thanks to you all for being with us this hour.
MCCLESKEYI'm Matt McCleskey, sitting in today on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks so much for listening.
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