By Madelynn Coldiron
A digital learning expert reached into the past to review some of the goals in the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act to show how technology today “can help us get back to some of those goals.”
Juxtaposing a photo of a library room full of card catalogs with an image of Google’s home page, Dr. Justin Bathon asked attendees at KSBA’s Summer Leadership Institute, July 10-11 in Lexington, “So are your classrooms more like this, or are they more like this?”
“We live in a digital world but we have mostly analog schools,” said Bathon, associate professor and director of Innovative School Models at the University of Kentucky. “There’s no one to blame here, but it is someone’s task to help get us forward – school boards seem like a good place to start. My concern is that if we continue to be local and analog, we’re increasingly irrelevant to kids’ futures.”
He had recommendations for school boards on how to lead a digital school district, starting with “Ask the kids.”
“They know a lot about what’s going well or what’s going poorly in those schools … They really can help you,” he said.
Boards also should have an aligned technology vision, Bathon said, progressing from technology that simply uses computers to do the same task that was being done pre-computer, to the highest level of use, in which technology supports student learning, and makes new tasks possible.
“What do you want to achieve together in your district with technology?” he asked. “And as you talk about technology, if you think of the Internet as a place to find information, to look things up, you’re missing the best part.”
Bathon’s other recommendations for school boards:
• “Up the board game,” he said, and there are ways to do this beyond funding, which he acknowledged is tight. Boards can look at their policies, making sure they are updated to account for use of the newest high-powered computer: the cellphone. Boards also can take the base-level policy on technology and customize it to meet their district’s needs, and also ensure that their technology policy and procedures are aligned.
Bathon also suggested condensing the acceptable use policy into an easily understood document. In a workshop following his plenary talk, he in fact recommended phasing out the acceptable use policy, which he said is based on the premise that technology is “an extra thing.” But, he said, it’s actually “central to what we do.”
• Make sure teachers get professional development in technology, and identify and reward those who are innovators. Bathon also suggested letting students help teach.
• When spending money on technology, boards should measure and evaluate whether the project is successful. Sounding a familiar theme, he said, “The best way to know whether or not something is working in your district is ask the kids.”
• When launching a technology project, “‘Which device’ is the last question you should ask,” Bathon said. Instead, the first question to ask is what is the learning goal and then what are the best learning tools to support that goal. “(The device) is not going to do the teaching for you. It’s what we do with it that matters,” he said.
• Shift to a learning management system, which is a software application system to manage learning.
• Make sure the software purchased helps teachers. “Vendors want to sell you software that teaches; that’s usually bad,” he said. “I promise you, technology will never replace teachers – never. But teachers that know how to use technology – they’re going to replace the teachers that don’t.”
• Promote student-led digital projects, such as the Student Technology Leadership Program. “Tech can help you reach these kids,” Bathon said. Similarly, encourage educators to be involved in personal learning networks, such as KyEd Chat on Twitter.
“My plea to you is help us lead this;” lead the digital transition, Bathon urged board members.
“The goals that we set forth 20 years ago are fine,” he said. “We don’t need to do KERA all over again – we need to remember what we did. The goals are perfectly fine. But if we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we will rob them of tomorrow.”