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No matter where you teach or who your students are, as an educator, you must have access to technology and the ability to use it to augment all facets of instruction. Sometimes, however, access to the appropriate edtech for our students isn’t equitable, available or within our expertise — that is why it is critical to align our teaching and learning to advocacy efforts.
Whether your biggest edtech concern is about student data privacy, infrastructure, education funding or access to professional development, you can make a difference by telling your story. First, though, you need to do some homework. Here are five ways to prepare for edtech advocacy:
1. Be informed about edtech initiatives
To advocate for edtech, it's critical that you are aware of educational technology initiatives in both your state and school district. For example, maybe your district has a goal to increase the use of open educational resources or maybe your state is mandating technology literacy standards like the state of Washington has under its Basic Education Act. Informed educators make better advocates for getting both the supports and funding needed to implement the particulars of a new initiative.
2. Understand the ways edtech drives learning
When advocating for edtech — whether it's to the school board, a lawmaker or even a parent — it's important to be able to articulate how you are using technology as a pedagogical tool for instruction. I find it helpful to categorize the use of technology in the following three buckets:
- Scaffolds or tools for helping students learn. These are the edtech tools that educators use for their lessons and can typically be accessed through open educational resources, such as interactive lessons, readings, videos and simulations.
- Assessment tools and apps. These can be apps or tools you can use for formative assessments (checking for understanding). Some popular examples include Nearpod, formative and Flipgrid.
- Tools used by students to create products. These are edtech tools that students can use to create, such as writing reports, creating videos or making prototypes or models. Students can use tools like Google for Education, WeVideo, Ozobot, VEX and littleBits.
Moreover, it’s very beneficial to have resources organized by category on your school website. If your district tech department does not have a resource page, consider asking for one or, better yet, get together with colleagues to create a clearinghouse of edtech resources.
3. Gather examples of student work
For advocacy efforts, knowing how edtech fits into instruction isn’t enough — you must also be able to show results using multimedia examples of student work. Educator Jim Bentley of the Elk Grove School District and a National Geographic Fellow does an excellent job of this on both his blog and in videos by showcasing a climate change project that helped transform his students into teachers, filmmakers and advocates for wildlife conservation. Using the Weebly website builder, students shared their work with the public and also linked to professional organizations — thus creating a legacy of their easily accessible products.
4. Know your legislators and how the process works
For advocacy efforts to be fruitful, you must know how your state legislature works and who your congressional representatives are. It is also important to know their overall agenda, what bills they have passed or are currently working on and what they have supported in the past.
Before calling, visiting or writing to your legislators, be prepared. Write out your speech or prepare talking points, anticipate any questions they might ask and have answers at the ready, and, finally, make sure you are very familiar with the student artifacts you'll be using as examples. Consider talking with students in advance to gather more information.
Senator Tim Kaine has always been a big proponent of Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Virginia — both as governor and now as a senator. Therefore, I make it a point to connect my edtech and CS advocacy efforts to his agenda because high school CS classes typically fall under the CTE umbrella in Virginia. This advocacy strategy has even resulted in his staffers requesting my statement for the press release of the CTE Excellence and Equity Act — aimed at the redesign of American high schools with more career focus.
I advocate for what I deem essential to my classroom and how it can also benefit other schools — thus working for the greater good of all students.
5. Stay focused on teaching and learning
There are many important issues that impact the lives of our students. Whether you are advocating for funding for professional development, improved infrastructure or some other edtech need, it's important to emphasize the importance of equitable teaching and learning with edtech — for both students and ourselves.
This can easily be done by advocating for improved accessibility to edtech for students from underrepresented populations either in your region or school division. Therefore, know your data (who is impacted) and be able to articulate a plan for enhancing teaching and learning equitably. This 2016 Google report on diversity gaps in computer science is an excellent resource for helping to uncover data and crafting critical speaking points for legislators.
Help with edtech advocacy efforts
Need help putting these steps into practice? Remember that there is strength in numbers — so join the ISTE affiliate in your state to improve and maximize your efforts.
Also, check out ISTE’s Advocacy page for resources, tips and to sign up for alerts to take action for edtech. You can also find links to your state and federal lawmakers.
Jorge Valenzuela is an ISTE member, an educational coach and a graduate teaching assistant at Old Dominion University. He is the lead coach for Lifelong Learning Defined, a national faculty of PBLWorks and a national teacher effectiveness coach with the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA). He is also a member of the Lead Educators Team for littleBits. You can connect with Jorge on Twitter @JorgeDoesPBL to continue the conversation.