Challenges with high-quality virtual and blended learning continue to impact schools across the country. However, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, we continue to learn about opportunities to leverage this moment to design the future of learning empowered by technology. For example, some districts are using digital tools to double down on efforts to build student competencies necessary for higher education and beyond, including leadership, collaboration and digital citizenship.
However, such efforts are not the norm as educators across the country continue to seek additional support in effective virtual learning practices; and early data points to inequitable learning losses that could widen in 2021 for Black, Latinx and Indigenous students who are most impacted by the pandemic. Joseph South, chief learning officer at ISTE, recently remarked that “the implementation of ed tech practices across the country is all over the place — from completely dismal to astonishingly good.”
As districts continue investing in technology resources, resulting in rapid increases in the number of tools accessed by educators, state leadership is essential to ensure that these will be used in ways that accelerate and enhance effective and equitable instructional practices. During the “Building Educator Capacity for Digital Learning in Wyoming” session at the 2020 ECS Live! event, State Superintendent Jillian Balow shared her state’s efforts to meet this need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Insights from Wyoming
According to Balow, this work began long before the pandemic, as the state education agency solicited detailed feedback from stakeholders, which informed the development of their 2017 digital learning plan. The state found that educators needed additional opportunities to learn about strategies to best integrate technology into students’ learning experiences, so state leaders engaged in coordinated efforts to build capacity. This involved adopting digital learning guidelines that show the progression of technology-empowered competencies grounded in the ISTE Standards from early grades to graduation and building a free, credit-eligible course for educators on using this progression in practice.
Superintendent Balow added that Wyoming is building on this foundational work and collaborating with partners to focus even more on educator supports during the pandemic. All of this work, she remarked, serves to narrow the “divide in digital learning … between the students and teachers who consume technology and [those] who leverage technology to innovate and solve problems.”
Considerations for States
With this example from ECS Live! in mind, how can states provide visionary leadership beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to build essential educator skills and competencies necessary for effective instruction and student empowerment?
ISTE explores our key considerations for state leaders and evaluations of state reopening and/or remote learning guidance along with interviews with leaders that informed these suggestions in a new report: “From Crisis Management to Sustained Change: States Leading the Future of Learning With the ISTE Standards.”
- Set a shared vision for the future of learning enabled by technology. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique moment for state and local leaders to collaborate with stakeholders on a shared vision and guiding framework for effective, empowering learning practices enabled through technology.
- Build the capacity of educators to lead and implement effective learning strategies enabled by technology. With a shared vision in place, states can invest in preservice programs and professional learning aligned to the ISTE Standards, which ensures all educators develop the skills and knowledge to effectively integrate technology into instruction, rather than technology serving simply as a passive, supplemental medium.
- Develop policies and structures to guide schools and districts equitably and sustainably toward the future of learning through technology. States can fund critical instructional support staff and rethink policies around instructional time and assessments to ensure that all educators are prepared and supported to design and lead effective learning strategies with technology.