With 99 percent of U.S. schools accessing high-speed broadband, and devices all but ubiquitous in the classroom, the question is no longer whether teachers and students are using technology, but how.
On its face, that sounds like a good thing. But just as owning a bicycle does not imbue a child with the ability to ride a bike, using a Chromebook to complete assignments will not by itself improve a child’s learning outcomes.
The missing piece amounts to teacher training, which, for the most part, has been seriously lacking in schools during technology integrations, says Liz Kolb, a clinical associate professor of education technologies at the University of Michigan.
“What we realized in the classrooms was that there were a lot of things being done by the gut—it looked good and felt good, but there was no science behind choices teachers were making,” Kolb tells EdSurge, rifling off robots, flexible seating and Chromebooks as among the trends and tools that aren’t being used to their full advantage.
It’s not just Kolb’s observations. Teachers themselves report a lack of confidence using technology tools in the classroom. In a recent survey of 600 K-12 teachers, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Technology, less than half of teachers said they were prepared to manage and teach with technology, and just 40 percent said they were confident in their abilities to select appropriate technology tools.
After reading over 100 research reports on edtech, Kolb learned that “the key to success was not about a particular tool,” but rather how instructional strategies were used to make the most informed, effective use of that tool.
Kolb, a former classroom teacher and technology coordinator herself, understands that teachers don’t have time to pore over every piece of research that comes out on edtech. Which is why she and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have co-designed a new online certificate program for K-12 educators that uses available research to train them how to use technology with their students in a meaningful way.
The program, known formally as the Advanced Education Technology Certificate Program, is Michigan’s first synchronous online course, with seven scheduled class meetings and many asynchronous activities peppered in throughout the 15-week semester. Its target audience is K-12 teachers, administrators and technology coaches—a wider array than most tech-focused professional development programs, Kolb says.
A pilot program launched earlier this month at full capacity, with 20 different K-12 educators enrolled.
Kolb, who co-teaches the course with two University of Michigan colleagues, emphasized that the course is not “sit and get. It’s very interactive,” she says, and aims to build a sense of community among those who enroll.
Since all participants are expected to be actively working in schools and with students in some capacity, the assignments are intended to be easily embedded throughout a school day, such as teaching a lesson a different way, Kolb says.
“It’s not just hypotheticals,” she says. “We want it to be research-based and long-term, sustained edtech and technology use.”
One of the first things participants did this month was go on a scavenger hunt in their communities and document, with their phones, various events and resources that contribute to or alleviate inequity. For example, a local business that invites students to come in and use their free Wi-Fi would be helping alleviate inequity.
Participants are currently learning how to evaluate software privacy policies and make an informed decision about whether it’s right for their school. They’re also learning how to advocate for positive change in their communities, such as requesting extended hours at the library and hotspot checkouts.
The pilot course allowed anyone to sign up, whether they’re in Detroit, San Francisco, or France. The university plans to continue offering that option, but will pilot a second format in the fall, which allows a single school or district to sign up collectively. In the latter case, Kolb envisions a scenario where every teacher, administrator and tech coordinator at a given elementary school would join together to get the same foundational knowledge and understanding about how to use technology effectively in their schools.
In the future, Kolb says she hopes to hone in on cohesive groups like they’ll have in the fall pilot, as one of the hardest parts about integrating technologies in a school is getting everyone on the same page. “The crux of the problem is that not everyone has the same information to communicate,” she explains.
The program is still, at the end of the day, a college course, which means it comes with college price tags. For an individual taking a drop-in class without earning the University of Michigan credits, it’s a $699 flat fee. For a school group taking the course as a single cohort, the rate will average out to be less than that per person, though Kolb says the exact rate depends on group size.