‘What does the 21st-century classroom look like?’ Georgia leaders are modeling it, says Keith Osburn

When you have a leader that is passionate about education technology and its role in your school or district, you will immediately see results from teachers and students alike. But when the entire state is supporting its educators through innovative technologies, you being to see everyone working in one accord, truly understanding how edtech can impact academic achievement. In the state of Georgia, this has been the reality for years.

“It’s really allowed us to achieve a greater point of supporting the teacher,” says Keith Osburn, deputy superintendent for technology services and chief information officer for the Georgia Department of Education.

And educators themselves understood their role in supporting students through edtech and bought into it like never before, he explains.

“We realized that so many of our teachers learned some things during the pandemic,” he says. “When the pandemic was over, they didn’t put them back on the shelves.”

Even before the pandemic, Osburn believes Georgia was already in a pretty good spot in terms of leveraging innovative technologies in the classroom. So by March 2020, teachers and administrators already had a variety of tools in their wheelhouse.

“So many of our schools were already being very innovative with technology and we had very good experiences with that,” he explains. “They were able to pick that up and find ways to innovate and use those effectively.”

If that’s truly the case, then what’s left for Osburn and his team to do? His answer: Continue supporting educators and the great work they’re doing.

Looking ahead to 2023-24

This school year, Osburn and his team are excited to embark on several endeavors. But most of all, he’s eager to see educators and the agency continue to carry out the innovations previously set forth.

“We’re hearing from our teachers and our school and district leaders that they believe that the Department of Education is really focused and is listening to them,” Osburn says.

Actively listening to district leaders throughout the state, he adds, has been crucial to the department’s success. He recalls a statement from the State’s Superintendent, Richard Woods, that he expressed during the pandemic and has challenged other leaders to carry on since.

“It’s the concept of passion over compliance,” says Osburn. “As we still try to rally around what the new normal is, the idea is for us to find ways to support them and really celebrate this innovation that’s happening within that. That’s what we’re excited about.”

But most of all, he says his number one priority this year is to ensure student achievement exceeds expectations.

“At the end of the day, it’s about student achievement,” he declares. “Whenever we have that, we know that teachers, parents and communities are saying, ‘That’s what we should all be about.’ And I think they actually see that in the work that we’re all doing here in the department.”

Preparing the next generation of educators

When you talk about student achievement, you must consider whether students are actually set up for success—and that comes down to ensuring each classroom is assigned a qualified and prepared teacher. That’s why Osburn and his team are leveraging partnerships with local universities to help future educators transition seamlessly into the profession with a plethora of edtech tools under their belt.

In late August, Osburn will be traveling to Kennesaw State University where he will be visiting the teacher college to show them some of the tools the department has developed for the K12 teacher workforce.

“That is just an effort to get those who are aspiring to be new teachers and those who are in their teacher tenure to become aware of those tools,” he says. “That’s going to be one more thing in their repertoire of tools when they become first-time teachers. We think that’ll help lessen the shock.”

These resources include the department’s academic standards, which Osburn and his team have worked on tirelessly to ensure they’re as easily digestible as possible.

“We’ve been really big about making sure that we have packaged those in such a way that they’re more palatable to our teachers,” Osburn says. “At the same time, we understand that digital ecosystems are significantly on the rise. Making sure that they can interface with these systems in such a way has been a huge endeavor for us since before the pandemic.”

Identifying the challenges

What does the 21st-century classroom look like? That’s Osburn and the department’s greatest challenge, he says. But it’s also an expectation that they strive to meet.

Understanding which edtech tools best support teachers in delivering high-quality education to students is a daily task. However, as the number of edtech tools continues to multiply, so do the risks and problems associated with them, specifically in terms of cybersecurity.

“Before the pandemic, our state ratio of devices to children was literally about 1.2 children per device,” Osburn explains. “That completely flipped during the pandemic so that we now see across the state almost three devices for every two children.

“While children have access to that, that means they also have greater exposure on the public side of things, and you can see now why our cybersecurity and those types of things are critically important.”

Similar to his point about preparing the next generation of educators, he notes that we’re also seeing the number of college students graduating with tech-related degrees dwindle. While there’s certainly an ongoing shortage of workers across professions specific to the education industry, Osburn ponders how the department can help bolster the pipeline of tech experts in K12.

“The technology workforce has not been spared, as has none within the education business of attrition,” he says. “Obviously, we’re going to have to figure out ways to begin to grow our own. These are going to be challenge points and are things we’re already thinking about.”