Key takeaways

  • Edtech can improve student learning outcomes and increase equity, as well as alleviate some of the contemporary challenges of education, such as teacher shortages.
  • To compete in a tech-driven global market, students must be technologically adept.
  • Effective integration of tech in schools requires thorough training of educators and alignment with educational outcomes.
  • Technology is an essential tool for schools to communicate internally and with the community. Ensuring digital literacy and responsible online behavior is paramount.
  • Schools must adopt stringent security measures and partner with companies and products prioritizing security.

Welcome back for the fourth installment of our blog series focusing on leadership and decision-making in schools. We invited Dr. Alicia Thompson and Mike Poore, two of the country’s leading educational experts and the former superintendents of major districts, to participate in our discussion on leaning into technology.

Our expert panel

Dr. Alica Thompson | Former superintendent of Kansas’ largest school district. She worked as an educator at Wichita Public School for 31 years and received a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. Her honors include a Leadership in Diversity Award and a Martin Luther King Education Award from the Kansas African American Museum. She’s recognized for contributing to career and technical education by building pathways from kindergarten through to post-secondary education.

Mike Poore | Former superintendent of Little Rock School District. He also served as superintendent of Bentonville Public Schools, Arkansas, and Sheridan School District, Denver, Colorado. He was recognized for enhancing post-secondary options for underserved students and was pivotal in obtaining a Ford NGL designation for Central Arkansas academies.

Tech has already made a difference

The edtech revolution encompasses a shift from traditional teaching tools to digital technologies, such as tablets, interactive whiteboards, and online platforms. These tools have enhanced personalized learning, broadened resource access, and allowed real-time progress tracking.

Beyond providing educators with interactive, engaging, and time-saving tools, tech has helped to alleviate some of the contemporary challenges of education. For example, Dr. Thompson described how tech has addressed teacher shortages by allowing “teachers to be in one location but deliver instruction across multiple campuses.” She also emphasized the importance of tech in unique learning experiences for students, like “workplace shadowing” and the exploration of AI tools like ChatGPT for lesson planning and communication.

Mike Poore recalled the early days of tech in classrooms and referenced the Oregon Trail software from the ’70s as an early technological success that impacted students’ learning. More recently, his main excitement revolved around the advancements in 3D tech and how it’s igniting students’ creativity and imagination. He was especially enthusiastic about collaboration with companies aiming to integrate tech tools into the curriculum, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) tech, which offers students insights into construction.

Section summary
  • Educational tech can enhance personalized learning, expand resource access, and enable real-time progress tracking.
  • Tech has helped alleviate teacher shortages, provide unique learning experiences, and improve lesson planning and communication.
  • Advancements in tech have helped captivate and inspire students.

Preparing students for a tech-driven future

In today’s tech-centric world, superintendents and district leaders must ensure students are technologically adept. If educators fail to prepare students adequately, there is a chance of widening the skill gap and leaving some students underprepared for a competitive global marketplace.

Thompson points out the need for schools to provide essential tools, noting that many students lack access to tech and the internet. Schools must partner with city and state entities to ensure every student has a device and high-speed internet access. Thompson also stresses the importance of integrating parents into the learning process for security and safety reasons. She calls for creating infrastructures to protect students and staff while using tech. She suggests ongoing research and policy-making are crucial for effective and cautious tech integration.

Mike Poore builds on these points, highlighting the positive strides made by school districts during the pandemic to achieve a one-to-one classroom. He underscores the importance of community, state, and federal collaboration to secure resources for tech advancement, especially as there is a significant gap in broadband access across the U.S., with rural communities facing particular challenges. He believes that professional learning communities are essential, emphasizing their role in sharing resources, techniques, and tech integration strategies among educators. Such communities can help unite early tech adopters with those more reluctant, fostering a cohesive approach to integrating tech in classrooms.

Section summary
  • Educators should prepare students for a technologically advanced global marketplace.
  • There is a need for broader community collaborations to secure tech resources in the future. Success requires all students to have tech access, parental involvement, and the establishment of protective infrastructures.
  • There is a notable broadband access gap in the U.S., especially in rural areas. Professional learning communities are pivotal in sharing tech resources and strategies, bridging the gap between early adopters and skeptics.

Implementing tech successfully

The aphorism, “Great tech implemented poorly is outperformed by mediocre tech implemented well,” is as accurate for education as it is for business. Schools investing in tech to support staff and students must also invest in the training required to ensure educators and leaders can utilize tech to its full potential.

Dr. Thompson emphasizes the importance of aligning acquired tech with educational outcomes. For her, while the allure of new tech tools is undeniable, keeping an eye on the bigger picture is essential — equipping students for future academic and career opportunities. Before embracing new tech tools, Dr. Thompson suggests that educators consider factors such as the tool’s lifespan, its usage in other institutions, and the training requirements that come with it. Moreover, it’s crucial to ensure that these tools are compatible with schools’ existing data management systems.

Adding to Dr. Thompson’s insights, Poore emphasizes the significance of teacher involvement in technological decisions. Their role in the adoption and effective utilization of new tools is pivotal. Without their support and proactive involvement from the beginning, the tech integration process could face significant roadblocks. Poore also highlights the crucial role of students in this equation. As the primary users of these technological tools, their feedback and involvement in the decision-making process are invaluable.

Poore further elaborates on the necessity of collective decision-making in the tech integration process. He cautions against decisions made solely by the top echelons of educational leadership. Given the enduring presence of teachers in educational institutions, their insights and buy-in are indispensable for the long-term success of any technological implementation.

Section summary
  • Schools must ensure that educators and leaders receive adequate training to harness the full potential of edtech.
  • It’s essential to align tech tools with educational outcomes. Educators should consider the tool’s lifespan, its usage in other institutions, and its compatibility with the school’s data management systems.
  • Decisions around tech should not be made solely by leadership but should involve insights from teachers and feedback from students, as they are pivotal for long-term success.

Tech as a communication tool

In today’s educational landscape, tech has emerged as a tool for learning and a vital communication medium. Schools increasingly leverage digital platforms to foster connections, share narratives, and engage with the student body and the wider community. While the potential of tech is vast, its efficacy as a communication tool hinges on its thoughtful implementation. The challenge for educators lies in choosing the right tools and strategies to ensure that communication is effective and responsible, bridging gaps and amplifying voices.

Dr. Thompson stated, “Safety is always on the forefront of any superintendent’s mind,” emphasizing the importance of digital literacy and responsible online behavior. As educators navigate the digital realm, tools like Common Sense Media provide valuable resources on media balance, online privacy, and the lasting impact of one’s digital footprint. Dr. Thompson highlighted the long-term consequences of online action and believes students must know that “whatever they put out there, when future employers look them up, it’s still going to be there.” For her, integrating tech in schools goes hand-in-hand with foundational education on digital citizenship.

Poore offers a complementary perspective, focusing on the narrative potential of tech. “If we don’t tell our story, somebody else surely will,” he remarked, stressing the proactive use of social media to highlight the positive narratives emerging from schools. By actively engaging with the community through platforms like Twitter town halls, schools can foster a dialogue that is both inclusive and constructive. Poore also underscores the universality of digital literacy. “Let’s not just think about this as a high school thing,” he advises, advocating for foundational tech education as early as kindergarten.

While tech presents vast opportunities for enhanced learning, its successful integration hinges on a comprehensive understanding of its nuances. Dr. Thompson and Poore emphasize the collaborative approach required, involving educators, students, and the larger community. As schools navigate this digital frontier, the guiding principle remains clear: tech, when implemented with foresight and responsibility, can be a transformative force in education.

Section summary
  • Tech’s effectiveness as a communication tool in education depends on its thoughtful implementation.
  • Digital literacy and citizenship are crucial, including education on responsible online behavior and the long-term consequences of online actions.
  • Mike Poore advocates using tech to share positive school narratives and for digital literacy education to start as early as kindergarten.

Keeping schools safe

In the evolving realm of educational tech, safeguarding data and ensuring robust security measures has become paramount. As schools rapidly adopt digital platforms for administrative tasks, teaching, and engagement, they also become potential targets for cyber threats. The challenge for school leaders is not only to adopt tech but to do so with an emphasis on data security and protection.

Poore expressed his concerns, recalling an incident where Little Rock Schools faced a data breach and had to pay a ransom. “This happened right before Christmas,” he noted, shedding light on the vulnerabilities that even well-established institutions can face. Poore emphasized the nuanced nature of online security, mentioning, “Every social media channel has different privacy settings. Parents need to understand that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat each have their unique protective measures.” He believes schools must handle their security protocols with the same rigor as businesses, drawing parallels with banks. “We shouldn’t be afraid to hire professionals from outside the education world,” he suggests, recognizing the specialized nature of cybersecurity. Additionally, Poore highlighted the value of tools like Kami, which not only enhances teaching but also bolsters security and collaboration. “If you’re in a district that doesn’t have a Kami district contract, you might be surprised to find out how many educators are using it,” he added.

Dr. Thompson echoed Poore’s sentiments, emphasizing the importance of partnering with companies prioritizing security in their product development. “Kami is one of those companies,” she pointed out. Thompson stressed the need for a systematic approach to tech adoption, advising districts to “go slow” and ensure that every tool they integrate has robust security measures. “Whether you’re a large or small school district, you can get breached in any way,” she cautioned. Thompson’s guidance underscores the value of due diligence and ensuring secure connections between various tech systems.

Tech offers countless benefits to the educational sector, but it also brings challenges that require foresight and meticulous planning. Poore and Dr. Thompson underline the significance of robust security protocols, responsible partnerships, and continuous learning in this domain. As schools journey through the digital era, the emphasis on data protection and security remains paramount.

Section summary
  • Educational tech’s growth demands rigorous data protection due to increased cyber threats targeting schools.
  • Mike Poore emphasizes the need for schools to adopt business-level security protocols and highlights the value of tools like Kami for enhanced security and teaching.
  • Dr. Thompson stresses partnering with companies prioritizing security and advocates for careful, systematic tech integration in schools.

The future of edtech

Edtech provides endless potential for reshaping the classroom experience. As tech becomes an integral part of teaching, learning, and engagement, the focus shifts towards creating a collaborative learning environment. The challenge for educators is not just integrating technology but doing so in a way that fosters meaningful connections, collaboration, and inclusivity.

Poore reflected on the dramatic transformation of classrooms over the years, reminiscing about his educational journey. He envisions a future where technology bridges the gap between distant communities, allowing students worldwide to collaborate on projects. “Imagine students in Wichita, Kansas, working alongside those in Great Bend, Kansas, on impactful projects,” he mused. Poore’s enthusiasm extends to integrating the business community into the educational realm. He sees immense potential in students pursuing their passions, honing their skills, and collaborating with professionals from various fields. Poore suggests there is a shared responsibility between educators and edtech companies to empower parents “regardless of their socio-economic status, to help their children navigate the challenges of subjects like math.”

Dr. Thompson, on the other hand, places teachers at the heart of the educational experience. She stresses the importance of keeping technology from overshadowing the irreplaceable role of a dedicated teacher. “While technology offers tools that can unlock creativity and problem-solving abilities in students, it should complement, not replace, the human relationship between a student and teacher,” she asserts. Thompson is optimistic about the future, believing that as systems and security infrastructures improve, the seamless integration of tech will pave the way for innovative learning experiences. She emphasizes the necessity of a balanced approach, where schools use tech to enhance learning while ensuring the core values of education remain intact.

Poore and Dr. Thompson’s insights shed light on the promise and potential of edtech. Their shared vision underscores the importance of collaborative efforts, inclusivity, and the pivotal role of educators. As classrooms transform in the digital age, the focus remains on creating enriched, holistic learning experiences for every student.

Section summary
  • Edtech revolutionizes classrooms by promoting collaboration and inclusivity, with challenges in its meaningful integration.
  • Mike Poore envisions a future where technology facilitates global student collaboration and integrates the business community.
  • Dr. Alicia Thompson highlights the irreplaceable value of teachers, advocating for technology to complement, not replace, human relationships in education while maintaining core educational values.

Despite the challenges of successfully implementing tech, Dr. Alicia Thompson and Mike Poore see it as an essential part of the modern classroom. Edtech has the potential to revolutionize classrooms, bridging gaps and fostering inclusivity. Schools are not merely adopting tech but leveraging it to enhance communication, address contemporary challenges, and, most importantly, prepare students for a tech-centric future. As we navigate this digital era, the emphasis on a collaborative, secure, and holistic approach underscores the promise of a brighter, technologically adept future for learners worldwide.