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By Tatum Travers • July 11, 2016

ISTE 2016: Educational Equity, Lifelong Learning, and a Simpler Approach to Edtech

At the end of June, eSpark joined the thousands of district and edtech leaders headed to Denver, CO to meet innovative educators and discuss the current state of technology in schools. Over the course of the week, three themes dominated the conversation.

ISTE 2016

Working Towards Equity with Edtech

Successful classroom technology should challenge and support every type of learner without widening the digital divide that’s often found in low-income and rural districts. Recognizing that public education can be an important site of social and political change, ISTE 2016 presenters and attendees spent much of the week discussing how to use technology to help students that are often underserved by traditional methods of instruction catch up with their peers.

During the Department of Education update session, Joseph South elaborated upon this theme; "We talk about technology as a tool for education, which it absolutely is. But it’s also a tool for equity,” he said, going on to explain that technology can expose students of all backgrounds and skill levels to resources and experiences that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Classroom devices can streamline differentiation for students, even if a school or district has limited resources to spend on edtech. When each student is being met on his or her level with engaging, scaffolded digital content, teachers have more time to work with high needs or disinterested students who might benefit from additional support and attention. Edtech allows educators to track student data and identify students who need additional support or are who aren’t being challenged by their coursework. Tools like Future Ready’s Interactive Planning Dashboard can allow administrators to identify an implementation plan that will allow their district to meet the needs of every type of learner. Throughout ISTE, Future Ready announced that over 2,200 superintendents have pledge to use technology to prepare all students, regardless of background, zip code, or skill level, for future success.

ISTE 2016

Keeping it simple

Throughout ISTE 2016, we had a chance to share a booth with JAMF Software, a company that’s reimagined mobile device management for educators. Operating with the goal to make app deployment as easy as possible for tech teams, teachers, and students, JAMF’s Casper Suite features zero-touch deployment, meaning that districts can enroll devices and distribute apps automatically.

Simple solutions prevent valuable class time from being wasted on troubleshooting and prevent students from being frustrated or distracted by technology that’s supposed to enhance their learning. Technology that streamlines complex but effective instructional methods like differentiation and project based learning encourages teacher buy-in and maximizes the amount of time in the school day.

 ISTE 2016

Bringing real-world experiences into the classroom

During his keynote address, Dr. Michio Kaku predicted that in the not-so-distant future, the majority of today’s jobs will be taken over by robots. Rather than fearing a world in which the “internet is everywhere and nowhere,” Dr. Kaku advised that teachers prioritize project based learning and creative activities. Jobs that require higher order thinking, innovation, and collaboration, are the jobs of the future, he suggested, whereas roles that require memorization or simple calculation are rapidly becoming obsolete. During the panel “Equitable Digital Leadership in Urban, Suburban, and Rural School Systems,” administrators from Ashbury Park School District agreed that makerspaces and activities that required creative, complex thinking were essential to both narrowing the achievement gap and preparing students for real-world success.  

Dr. Kaku stressed that experience will be a crucial to today’s students’ success in a unknown job market. Throughout ISTE, a number of solutions were proposed about how we can narrow the opportunity gap and ensure that as many students as possible gain the sort of real-world experience and context that inspires a lifelong love of learning and promises stronger postsecondary outcomes. Virtual reality can allow students to take field trips to remote locations, video conferencing can connect students to experts from all over the world, and the Cloud makes it easy for classmates to collaborate within a shared document. Across the board, the consensus at ISTE 2016 seemed to be that when we block or limit our students access to the internet and 21st century tools, we reinforce the opportunity gap.

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