Today in Tampa, lawmakers, superintendents, businesspeople and state university staff will gather to talk about using technology in Florida classrooms. The summit was the idea of Senate Education chairman John Legg, R-Trinity. We asked him what he wanted to accomplish:
Q: You are gathering some school and education leaders together…to talk about school technology. Why are you doing this and what do you hope to learn?
A: Why we’re doing this is technology’s becoming a critical part of education. And in the recent years, what we’ve seen is, we’ve seen a real disconnect between the education world, the business world and the students.
What we expect our students to do is basically power down when they walk into a classroom. And what we’re trying to do is — our educators don’t want that to happen.
But to change that culture and to change the schools and to integrate technology into a classroom is not an easy task. It’s very complicated. And it involves people who speak different languages.
We’re bringing in a lot of experts…and we put together the (information technology) people at the school districts, business leaders who specialize in the tech business, folks from the university who do professional development and training, individuals from outside of Florida, such as Code.org and other areas…and are basically working so individuals can speak the same language, build connections and basically work together to improve student learning utilizing technology.
Q: There’s a lot of different state policies involving technology that are coming into play in the next year. You have Common Core Standards/Florida Standards. You have the new assessment, which will be online and puts some stress on school technology and infrastructure. And then you also have the digital instruction requirement, that comes into play at the beginning of the next school year, that half of classroom instruction is delivered digitally.
What are school districts telling you right now about what the big unknowns for them are? What kind of questions they need answered from the state in order to get these things done?
A: The need a lot of assistance. It’s a Catch-22, if you will. The districts do not want the state to interfere and tell them how to do their job. But at the same time they also recognize that they may need assistance in doing that job.
It’s my belief that we don’t want a top-down approach, telling all 67 school districts “This is how you’re going to implement the technology going forward.”
What we want them to do is we want them to have the resources – professional guidance as they need it – in order to implement the technology. But we also want it to be ground up. We want them to develop and utilize the technology that best suits that school’s, that community’s needs.
The problems that the school districts are saying is one of sheer ability…in terms of applying the technology into the schools. Your larger school districts are better equipped. They have, basically, larger budgets and they have more expertise in order to implement technology than maybe some of you small, rural districts.
The second issue is the infrastructure. While some of our newer schools may have the bandwidth, not all schools have the infrastructure in place to even implement the technology.
If you were to give every student a tablet – which may or may not be beneficial – some of our schools are not even equipped the WiFi capacity to utilize it.
What the point of this forum is, is to say we have multiple levels of discussions that we’re going to have to do. We have an expertise issue, professional development, infrastructure, devices. We have the assessment component.
And one size will not fit all. And it will not all occur in one year. You have to phase it in and adjust it. It is a long journey. But the technology is worth it and the innovation is worth it. For problem-solving. To make things more efficient. And also to increase student learning and student engagement is absolutely critical.
Q: One of the things I’ve heard from districts is they don’t necessarily know what the definition of “digitally delivered instruction” is, so what would qualify and what might not qualify in the minds of state leaders. Are there any plans to kind of define, or give best practices as to how it might work?
A: That’s what we’re trying to do with this…There is no one size fits all. There is no ‘this is right; this is wrong.’
What we do see though is that digital content is the wave of the futre, that students do know how to use technology. The gulf or the ocean in the digital divide is getting smaller. And it’s getting smaller every year.
We are not where we were five years ago between the haves and the have nots in technology. It still exists, but that divide is getting smaller and smaller. And that allows for more opportunity for students in the classroom.
But it also puts the pressure on the schools to keep up. To ensure that students know how to use that technology in the classroom, versus walking into a school and stepping backwards 20 years.
Technology changes so quickly that by the time we deploy it to the school that technology may be obsolete. So we want to make sure that as we spend high dollars, big dollars in renovating and equipping our schools, that we equip it with technology that won’t be obsolete the moment that school opens.