FETC 2018: EdTech – Thoughts and Strategies

Hear more from these and other innovative analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC), January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. Learn more here.

In this week’s special series, presenters from the upcoming Future of Education Technology Conference will share their best insights, advice, and strategies in response to key EdTech questions. What should educators think about when planning for education technology implementation that will meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s students? What new leadership skills or strategies are needed to take EdTech – and other aspects of education – to the next level? Read on below for insights:

If you could convince every school to adopt one new strategy for engaging with their community, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to meet students in their world: web and mobile. We do it for academic learning. Now, it’s time to use technology for character development and social-emotional learning. Privacy, convenience and interactivity – these are the key tenets that drive student engagement. Help students better engage in success and wellness content by meeting them in their world.

~ Peter Kraft, co-founder and CEO, Evolution Labs. See Peter’s FETC schedule here.

I’d suggest focusing on expanding the quantity and quality of conversations about learning for every student by involving not only parents but also every adult that is invested in that child’s success. This might include extended family, coaches, teachers from extracurricular activities, counselors, community mentors, administrators, and more. If a student doesn’t naturally have a strong “tribe,” caring school and community adults can be recruited to help.

Technology, particularly digital portfolios that let students and teachers capture evidence of learning through images, video, audio, and all kinds of artifacts, makes it much easier to provide visibility into every child’s experiences and achievement. Imagine a child uploads video of a bridge building project that instantly is received on the phone of her parents, grandparents in a different country, Boys and Girls Club leader, and youth pastor, all of whom can comment, question, and support, instantly and in their own language, and continue that conversation outside of school. Involving more members of the community at a personal level can bring a deeper understanding and support for education.

~ Andrea Keith, Director of Market Strategy & Engagement, FreshGrade. See Andrea’s FETC schedule here.

Can technology help create equitable access to education in a global society?

Much of our conversation on “access” has shifted in recent years when referring to the digital divide. We are moving to a better understanding of the importance of quality access and use of technology as opposed to making sure everyone has a device in their hands. I think this point is crucial in regards to the question of creating equitable access to education across the world. Technology can definitely create opportunities for learners around the world once they have physical access to a connected device and access to resources that support their learning. Quality resources and connection to mentors, experts and peers are all needed to ensure equitable access to education in different parts of the world. It’s been amazing to see how a cell phone with SMS or text messages can share information instantly and how tablets can change the way we think of the word “textbook.”

~ Monica Burns, EdTech and Curriculum Consultant, Class Tech Tips, LLC. See Monica’s FETC schedule here.

Technology has great promise to ‘level the playing field’ and increase equity for all students, of all abilities.1 Students now have access to a host of input methods, output options, scaled cognitive supports, multimedia, and often 24-hour access. However, two key ingredients can not be overlooked:  the teacher or the authentic instruction and the level of accessibility of content.

The use and implementation of technology in isolation from quality instruction, relevant feedback, the cultivation of collaboration, and personalized learning alone cannot meet the needs of all learners.  Access alone does not provide equity in educational outcomes.  Secondly, technology as a tool for access is dependent upon the accessibility of the target content.  Ensuring that all content meets accessibility standards for those with visual, hearing, or other sensory impairments, print text reading disabilities, access barriers, etc., is key when looking at technology to provide equity.

~Kindy Segovia, Assistive Technology Supervisor, Kent Intermediate School District (Mich.). See Kindy’s FETC schedule here.

Technology can be a great equalizer for our diverse learners, but only when it is implemented in support of sound pedagogy. Michael Fullan expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator.” By itself, technology can help remove barriers and allow all learners to enjoy greater access to information. However, access to information is not the same as access to learning. Access to learning requires a focus on a deeper engagement that goes beyond the novelty and temporary excitement the introduction of a new device can provide. This kind of deeper engagement is only possible when, to quote instructional design guru Michael Allen, learners are provided with lots of M&Ms: learning is meaningful, memorable, and it matters because it is personally relevant and connects to the learner’s interests and passions.

~ Luis Perez, Inclusive Learning Consultant, Eye on Access. See Luis’s FETC schedule here.

What is one of the most promising uses of education technology to support learners with special needs?

While the recent proliferation of educational technology tools in classrooms has focused on students in general education, many of these tools have significantly improved access and independence for students with special needs.  One of the most promising of these has been the shift toward cloud-based applications and supports.  From software, such as word processing, or online assessments, to browser-based supports, such as text-to-speech and voice dictation, a single login now allows a student access across devices and environments.  Technology in the cloud allows for access outside of the traditional school day, as well as customization to meet varied individual needs.  Additional, but important benefits include the cost effectiveness and increased acceptance of solutions targeted at all students, not just a small minority.

~ Kindy Segovia

Technology for diverse learners used to be specialized, expensive and designed to highlight how these learners were “different” from their peers. As universal design gained traction, accessibility features became integrated into many of the devices learners already own. This not only reduced the cost of “assistive” technology, it also removed much of the stigma associated with it. As a result, many more people like me were willing to accept assistive technology into our lives so that it could have an impact on how we access learning.

Going forward, the maker movement has the potential to be a  natural continuation of this trend toward greater ownership of technology. People with disabilities and their allies are no longer willing to always wait for the big companies to develop the technologies they need. They are taking a proactive approach, prototyping and developing new devices using 3D printers and other emerging technologies. A great example is the AT Makers initiative at www.atmakers.org, which has provided 3D printed switches, mounts and adapted toys to a number of people with disabilities at a fraction of the cost of existing commercial alternatives.

~ Luis Perez

When it comes to new education technology tools that support learners with special needs, I’m very excited about wearables. This includes the Apple Watch, which has been used in a variety of settings to support learners in their educational technology. From voice commands, haptic responses, and monitoring of movement and rate,  it really has the potential to be a game changer for students with special needs.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the chance to visit with a school in New Jersey composed of students with low-incidence special needs. Students at this particular school use voice commands to access information they would be unable to search for by typing into a device. They also monitored their movement throughout the day and had conversations about the way that data collection could tell a story.

~ Monica Burns