Top education and policy leaders talked about the importance of a technology-infused education during a Digital Town Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
As part of the second annual Digital Learning Day, the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted the town hall to further discussion about technology in education. The live simulcast gave government and education leaders a chance to share what they're seeing in the education technology field.
Government leaders including former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and U.S. Rep. George Miller, Calif., participated in the town hall.
Technology can knock down the barriers of time that have stood in the way of learning, said Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. That means students can learn 24/7 rather than just in class.
"We've got to move from being technology optional to technology essential," Wise said.
One way that schools are knocking down those time barriers is through cyberlearning. Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Penn., wants its students to be connected on weekends and nights, sick days and snow days through online learning, said Tom Murray, director of technology and cybereducation.
"We don't want learning to start and to stop with the school bells," Murray said. "We want learning to be constant and continuous all week and all year long."
Learning should also be personalized using technology, said Congressman Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Educators can customize teaching for each student based on the digital assessment feedback they receive in real-time. And students can work at their own speed.
Instead of being humiliated in front of their classmates for not grasping a concept, students can continue to work at understanding it on a computing device until they get it.
"The wonderful thing about technology is it's not judgmental," Miller said.
And in the right hands, the right technology can make data accessible to students and teachers to create more engaging and personalized experiences, Park said. He compared health care to education and suggested that the two sectors can share lessons when it comes to technology.
"Both are actually in the early stages of applying technology and data to improve outcomes, results and experiences," Park said. "I think there's a lot that they can learn from each other."
And they already are. Patients access their health records with the Blue Button. And now education is following suit with the MyData Initiative Button, a U.S. Education Department effort to give students access to their learning records.
But schools don't always have sufficient Internet connections to provide reliable access to student data. Digital learning advocates argue that it's extremely important for schools to be able to reach the Internet.
"Broadband is becoming — has already become I would argue — a fundamental requirement for 21st century teaching and learning," Park said.
One of the things that school leaders can do to help address this issue is to test their school's Internet speed. These test results will provide more than 50 nonprofits, foundations, associations, companies, districts, state education departments and education networks with a national picture of school broadband connections.
These organizations are working to bring every K-12 public school in the U.S. up to a 100 Mbps Internet connection. This will help teachers and students be able to work online without major interruptions.
Another national partnership announced during the town hall seeks to help districts systemically plan effective technology use and digital learning. Project 24 provides district leaders with a digital learning self assessment, an online course on transitioning to digital learning, a team of expert educators to talk with, and webinars to watch.
Education expert and teacher Jeremy MacDonald from Mills Elementary School in Klamath Falls, Ore., is enthusiastic about being involved in Project 24. "I'm excited to meet districts where they're at and help provide the support they need to move forward," he said.