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How schools can overcome two major hurdles in innovation

Source: Shutterstock

A report by the CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) was recently released, where two major hurdles schools face when it comes to technological innovation were identified by an international Advisory Board of 111 renowned educational technology experts.

These hurdles are more than simply pesky obstacles that get in the way, but are actually “significant organizational and human capacity challenges that force educators to slow down, prepare themselves and—with sufficient practice, knowhow and tools—make the leap to innovation.”

The Driving K–12 Innovation report was based on the premise that  K12 schools must apply technology strategically to make a more meaningful impact on students and their education.

It stated that, “When schools offer visionary leadership, equip educators with the skills and know how to integrate technology meaningfully into learning, and foster cultures where students can create and experiment, they can engage learners of all kinds.

“Discerning the megatrends that could help or hinder and teaching and learning, however, can be challenging even for the most technology-savvy leaders.”

The report highlighted the fact that too often, technology is used as a “proxy” for innovation in K12 education, instead of a “strategic asset designed to support inspired vision”.

In other words, are schools capitalising on the full potential of technology in education, or merely using them as props to support teaching?

The report provided insights into these pressing educational challenges as well as the thoughtful, intentional use of technology to address them.

Hurdle #1: Scaling hurdles and sustaining innovation

According the report, many school systems are lacking in “agility, strategies and mindsets to
move innovative technology practices from a few classrooms to multiple settings across schools and school systems.”

This hurdle is based on a perennial challenge: the tensions that arise when the impulse to adopt new technologies becomes more important than using them effectively.

Schools are racing to adopt technology, but must make sure they effectively support teaching and pedagogy. Source: Shutterstock

Technology is advancing a breakneck speed, and schools are hurrying to catch up so they’re not left behind in all aspects of education – from purchasing decisions to planning and implementation.

According to the report, this race often creates “disconnects between the needs of students and the skill sets of teachers.”

How to overcome this? Work together and include everyone in decision-making when it comes to the use of technology.

The report suggested that the challenge must be addressed from the top-level, where school system leadership, technology or curriculum departments tend to be the decision-makers.

“This requires a culture of collaboration across departments. A leadership team that champions a unified vision builds trust and “empowers the masses” to work together toward that vision and keep the focus on student learning.

“School systems can build their capacity to innovate by operating as innovation labs—innovating at a small scale, evaluating the impact with applied research and scaling only after matching 21st century pedagogical methods to the piloted technology.”

Including students and teachers in purchasing decisions for technology equipment is important, too. For example, Farmington Area Public Schools in (MN) developed a community-driven strategic plan for its district that allows students to become an “agent of his or own self-paced learning, with more hands-on, project-based learning.”

The district encouraged schools and their teachers to create a new learning space, such as a science lab or media centre, and equip the space with the technology they want to use.

Another important highlight of this hurdle outlined by the report was that “it’s not just teachers who need professional development. To be effective champions and monitors of educational technology use, school system leaders, principals, coaches and other school leaders are equally in need of professional development.”

The report argued that while school systems may provide training that show teachers how to use technology, they are not providing enough training on why they should use technology to support teaching.

The advisory board suggested that “schools should give teachers opportunities to “reason their own way through the “why” with exploration and reflection, as this  “struggle” is valuable to their learning process. Deeper professional learning enables teachers to more effectively support student learning.”

Anna Baldwin, Director of eLearning and Integration, Anderson School District Five, SC said, “It is so important that educators are supported by sound pedagogical practices within professional learning. Helping teachers to improve their craft by leveraging technology to improve the success of our students is crucial.”

Hurdle #2: Technology and the future of work

The future is here, and it’s filled with artificial intelligence, robotics, and “deep learning” – all game-changing technologies that are altering how people think, learn, live and work.

Educators must ask themselves and seriously consider how technologies on the horizon will
impact teaching, learning and the world that awaits students in coming years.

“Digital fluency is rapidly emerging as critical for workforce preparedness. Digital citizenship is important as well, as students must understand how to live ethically and responsibly in the digital world.”

Jonathan Nalder, Educator, FutureWe.org, Australia said, “I see this as a key question that sits above almost all of our other hurdles. It is the ultimate real-world issue when the stats report a range from 30% to 50% of today’s jobs will be affected.”

The challenge for educators lies in developing and anticipating the relevant skillsets in students that will stand the test of time.

“Giving students ample opportunities to practice with emerging technologies could stir their interest and excitement about designing tomorrow’s technologies. Tying these tools to real-world and deep learning outcomes is essential.”

Allowing students to get hands-on experience with technology such as AI will help prepare them for the future world of work. Source: Shutterstock

In particular, students should learn and be aware of the basic skillset of ‘digital literacy’, meaning the ability to interpret, create and strategically use digital information.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already being used in many industries, performing tasks that normally require human intelligence, as well as in education, where many schools have incorporated the technology.

“AI has the potential to micro-personalize learning with perceptive, adaptive digital tutors and enliven learning experiences with mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual and artificial reality technologies, for example.

“With technologies like these, educators will be able to design learning environments that mimic working environments—and partner more easily with employers to provide students with authentic, virtual learning opportunities.”

The advisory board acknowledged that unlike other hurdles, it’s difficult to fully grasp just how the next generation of technologies will alter the future of work and education.

For now, they suggest educators pay close attention to developments in the technology sphere, and begin discussions on how emerging technologies will impact life and work, along with what that means for preparing students for a happy and productive future life in that world (the “what” of education)”.

Educators should also look into the different digital learning materials and environments, analyse learning behavior and interactions between learners, as well as take note of individual learning experiences for each learner (the “how” of education).

Later this year, CoSN plans to release two additional reports; Accelerators, which will identify  megatrends that drive change; and Tech Enablers, on tools that help manage the change; as well as producing a toolkit to assist school leaders and practitioners with putting their plans into action.

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