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How Technology Can Provide Every Student With Transformative Learning Experiences

Joseph South

Chief Learning Officer, International Society for Technology in Education

Imagine students in a rural school having access to the same electron microscope as their big-city peers. Or a student who’s legally blind working side-by-side with classmates to design a functional electric car. Or all students in a classroom learning at their own pace, whether they are trying to catch up or are way ahead. These are just a few of the ways technology is transforming education.   

And it’s happening today in schools around the world. 

Bridging the gap

But even as the future we envision starts to appear in our schools, there remain gaps that must be addressed so that every learner has the opportunity to thrive. The smart use of learning technology can accelerate the right solutions.

Our schools still struggle to provide an education that’s equitable – learning environments where every student has the resources they need to be successful regardless of their neighborhood or zip code.

Ten years ago, there were vast gaps in which classrooms had broadband access to digital resources and which did not. Today, 98 percent of classrooms are wired. That’s a huge step forward, but when we look closer, we see that in under-resourced schools, students are more likely to be asked to use technology passively: to watch or to listen. In contrast, in wealthier schools, students are more likely to be given access to digital tools for active learning: to create, to communicate, to design, and to solve. As a result, the better-off kids learn more and learn more deeply, increasing achievement gaps instead of decreasing them.  

Reimagined tech

We need to ensure that students everywhere have opportunities to use digital tools actively for creative problem-solving. And that takes more than wires and devices. It requires us to rethink what it means to teach and learn with students at the center.

We can only accomplish this if every teacher is prepared to thrive in tech-enabled classrooms from day one. Connecting students to devices and software means nothing without trained educators to help them navigate those tools. 

Teachers matter

Research shows that 96 percent of teachers think education technology increases student engagement in learning, but 43 percent say they haven’t received the training they need to teach with technology. We can do better. Across the country, ISTE-certified educators are leading the way. 

They know to put learning first and technology second as they plan for classroom learning. They know that the four walls of their classrooms don’t have to be barriers to connecting with experts, mentors, and community members who want to be a part of students’ learning. And they know that student voice and choice can be encouraged and enhanced when technology is used to increase learning options rather than limiting them to one choice on one screen. 

When we have connected students in every school who are actively using technology to learn and create with teachers who are skilled in using technology in transformative ways, our education system can play a powerful part in closing equity and achievement gaps. Many of the necessary tools are already here.

As educators, parents, and citizens, the power is with us to use those tools to give every single student a transformative learning experience that meets their needs. We decide. 

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