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Learning Library Blog Member Voices: 3 ways districts can support learning with meaningful tech use
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Member Voices: 3 ways districts can support learning with meaningful tech use

By Matt Hiefield
December 24, 2019
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As disparities in technology and connectivity continue to shrink in U.S. schools, another significant edtech divide is opening up related to opportunities for all students to experience meaningful instruc­tion. One cause of this “opportunity gap” is the lack of adequate teacher professional development.

When new devices gather dust in the back of a classroom because a teacher isn’t sure how to use them effectively, the invest­ment in devices – as well as buy-in from stakeholders and the potential for student learning – is squandered.

Even in classrooms where students regularly have access to technology, if stu­dents aren’t using those devices to enhance learning in meaningful ways, the tools become nothing more than a substitute for chalkboards and pencils.

Figuring out how to support all teachers regardless of budget constraints – and not just applaud the few great examples of tech use within a district – is critical to provid­ing high-quality, relevant education for all students and preparing them for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Students deserve directed, collaborative and engaging experiences with technology, and high-quality PD can help teachers inte­grate tech in meaningful ways. Here are three ways districts can support educators:

1. Make equity the framework

Too often, schools acquire a cool new innovation and the central question is, “How can we use this in a classroom setting?” Although a new platform or strategy can be engaging, we must focus on whether it provides meaningful experiences for all learners. Does it make provisions for second language learners or students with disabilities or other barriers that may impact learning?

During PD sessions, be intentional about addressing equity and the com­mitment to give all students the same opportunities to learn.
PD should integrate five central equity ideas:

Building relationships: Create and maintain a brave, warm, welcoming and collaborative learning space grounded in relationships.

Establishing the why: Use explicit language to articulate the why of PD and its connection to eliminating access, opportu­nity and expectation gaps.

Valuing cultural capital: Elevate your learners’ personal, social, emotional, familial, linguistic and navigational expertise, and their impact on teaching and learning.

Assessing learning: Ask “Where do I go from here?” to assess the impact of your learning.

Practice self-reflection: Examine personal values, beliefs and assumptions and their impact on teaching and learning.

2. Align PD content to the ISTE Standards

Whether you’re sharing a lesson, strategy or tool, make sure the content you’re present­ing addresses the ISTE Standards. Using this framework will ensure that all teach­ers are on the same page about how to use technology to create meaningful learning experiences. For example, the ISTE Student Standards direct students to work with peers, experts and community members to examine problems from different view­points. So if you’re presenting about a collaboration tool – be it Google Docs or Seesaw – find ways to incorporate the ele­ments of the Global Collaboration standard.

Cultural relevance is also important. When presenting about a game, app or les­son plan, make sure the content is inclusive and appropriate for all students. Blog­ger Sarah Gross shared a cautionary tale of a widely shared lesson that “gamified the oppression of the indige­nous people who already lived on that land.”

3. Evaluate and plan for the future

In many districts, evaluating the efficacy of PD is often an afterthought – if it hap­pens at all. Evaluations should be standard practice at the end of every PD session, and responses (usually a Google form) should be read, acted upon and stored in an accessible folder as a guidepost for future sessions.
If PD focuses on a tech tool that the district has purchased, it should be routine practice to run reports on the use of that tool in the months following the PD to de­termine its effectiveness. Several years ago, I spent an hour learning about a video library tool with 20-30 teachers. When we were asked about the tool months later, it was ap­parent no one had used it.

Conversely, last year we analyzed Seesaw and Dreambox data to see if site-based PD had increased use. As it turned out, gathering this data and checking back with teachers led to more thoughtful integration.

PD hours should focus on equity, structures, intentionality, collaboration and evaluation to ensure a connection to mean­ingful and inclusive instruction. It shouldn’t be an afterthought that’s planned a few days before a designated PD day.

Matt Hiefield is a digital curriculum specialist with a passion for investigating digital equity issues with Beaverton

School District in Oregon. He’s a member of the ISTE Digital Equity PLN  Leadership Team.

Follow him on twitter @matthiefield.

Matt Hiefield is a digital curriculum specialist with a passion for investigating digital equity issues with Beaverton School District in Oregon. He’s a member of the ISTE Digital Equity PLN Leadership Team. Follow him on twitter @matthiefield.