Can educators expand digital access to every classroom and home?

10th May 2016 at 10:00
'How do we move from little islands of innovation to systems of innovation?'

School systems – even the most forward thinking – might have a handful of innovative classrooms to show off. But few can show that every classroom is using digital tools to improve students’ learning.

It’s a puzzle for school officials who gathered in Washington DC at the annual conference of the Consortium for School Networking, widely known by its acronym, CoSN. Early Monday morning, before the event began, I caught up with CoSN’s CEO Keith R. Krueger, who told me about it.

One of the biggest challenges, Krueger said, is this: “How do we move from little islands of innovation to systems of innovation?”

The challenge of getting classrooms digital-ready

For the first time in several years, school leaders surveyed by CoSN no longer ranked preparing for computer-based tests as one of the top three technology concerns facing school systems, according to poll results released by CoSN. School leaders say the biggest challenges are: modern internet connections, wireless internet systems and use of mobile digital devices.

But there’s more to do. What’s next?

Balancing privacy with digital access

Helping students get internet access after school remains a big issue – even after last week’s infusion of support from the FCC. And parents and schools continue to deal with privacy, which remains an area of high concern in places that are trying to use digital tools, and personal data, to create bespoke lessons for students.

To help improve work on privacy, CoSN and a variety of partner organizations have released a new seal of approval (sort of like the universally known Good Housekeeping Seal) for schools. The program, called the Trusted Learning Environment, serves school systems and parents, Krueger said. For schools, the 40-point checklist provides guidance in so-called best practices. For parents, it’s a quick way to verify that whether a child’s school has done some work to protect privacy.

And this work on privacy has taken on a new tone, Krueger said. In recent years schools grappled with legalities – a “hair on fire moment” where school leaders had to rapidly react to the new tools teachers had begun to use in classrooms. These days, he said, the conversations are “more thoughtful and measured.”

That could be a good thing. After all, who wants to repeat the cacophony during the demise of the short-lived inBloom project?

Nichole Dobo is a reporter and 2015 AERA-EWA Data Journalism Fellow.​ She tweets as @NicholeDobo.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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