Roundtable: Infrastructure, teacher training key to improving technology in classrooms

July 15, 2013

The future of digital learning in classrooms will require more than just getting tablets in the hands of students to be successful. Education leaders and policymakers must focus on investing on infrastructure and professional training for teachers and administrators to grow technology in education.

That was one of the major themes education technology experts, lobbyists and policy makers repeated at a Monday roundtable discussion, organized by Internet Innovation Alliance, and which focused on how private and public sectors can work together to improve digital learning in the nation’s classrooms.

Montgomery County schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr was the keynote speaker at the event in downtown Washington.

Starr said school leaders adapting to new technology should not just think about what devices and gadgets to buy. Educators must focus on physical classroom spaces, teacher training and curriculum design to ensure that learning decides what technology goes into classrooms and not the other way around.

“Learning isn’t being democratized, information is, and that is the huge shift in public education right now,” Starr said

By the start of the coming school year, every school in Montgomery County is expected to be fully outfitted with wireless access, Starr said.

Starr said the E-Rate program is one of the most important federal programs available to help schools improve Internet access and increase technology in schools. The E-Rate program was set up in 1997 and provides billions in federal funds to schools and libraries each year.

Officials from organizations such as the Committee for Education Funding and online learning giant Apollo Group, the parent company of University of Phoenix, were also at the event to hear Starr speak.

Hilary Goldmann, senior director of government relations for the International Society for Technology in Education, said it is important for the country’s classrooms to quickly change and adapt to new technology. In the process, the teachers will transform from the “sage on the stage to the guide on the side.”

As the 17th largest school system in the country, which also sits in the backyard of the nation’s capital, hearing about Montgomery County’s work provides important, “real-life applications of technology for people thinking about policy,” said Jamal Simmons, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance. The alliance is a coalition of businesses and nonprofit organizations looking to expand broadband Internet access in America.

“Technology is really transferring power from big centralized institutions into the hands of individuals,” Simmons said. “Young people are really at the forefront of that. How do you democratize that power of learning? How can we make learning more interesting and more imaginative?”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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