For the next two years, many educators in Idaho will spend time evaluating the utility of new devices, websites and applications in their school districts, thanks to a $3 million technology pilot involving 11 schools across the state.
More than 80 schools applied for about $20 million in funding to participate in the Idaho State Department of Education (ISDE) project, but the limited schools that were chosen represent a cross-section of the state that will allow officials to accurately evaluate the success of future widespread technology deployments, said ISDE Director of Instructional Technology Alex MacDonald.
Source: Boise State Public Radio
“Technology’s role in education is to support the educational outcome,” MacDonald said. “We want to make sure here in Idaho we don’t make technology the focal point or use technology for technology’s sake.”
It’s for this reason, he added, that the ISDE selected the schools it did.
“This is a big, holistic project, because there was no cap on the amount of funds for requests,” he said. “The premise was to look at what was going to be sustainable and scalable across Idaho. We wanted to make sure we had a very diverse group of devices and strategies to study, and take a look at over the next two years.”
In some schools, each student will get a Samsung Chromebook, while other schools will give their students Apple iPads, and other schools will test Lenovo ThinkPads or interactive whiteboards.
“We need to take a step back and look at what devices work at what grade levels and what content areas with the premise of looking at full integration models,” MacDonald said.
In the spirit of looking to the future of education, MacDonald says Idaho isn’t just making new technology available -- it's rethinking the traditional models of education, too. Digital resources like open education platforms (think Kahn Academy and portals where teachers can share best practices) are also an important part of what the state is doing with education, he said.
“When we started this grant, I wanted to make sure this was not state department driven," he said. "This was driven from the districts and, again, taking that focal point of we want to be at the supporting role of what works in education.”
Overseeing the pilot is a board of 15 educational stakeholders that come from higher education, teacher groups and the state board of education. “None were part of the state department of education,” MacDonald said. “We wanted to make sure we had a very diverse group of reviewers to look holistically at the project -- not just the educational impact, but also the fiscal responsibility.”
As lessons are learned during the next two years, MacDonald said, he anticipates seeing many changes in how these education technology rollouts happen and what’s considered smart.
“I foresee that there most likely will be instances of improvement," he said. "And what we want these grant schools to do is document those changes.”
Maybe getting teachers to become familiar with the technology before deploying anything to the students will become a strategy, he added, and perhaps certain education fundamentals will need to be adjusted or abandoned to allow the technology to be effective in supporting education.
“It’s moving forward beyond where education is [now],” he said. “We want to make sure these students have not just 21st century skills, but they’re able to have the right device to create the right content, to communicate appropriately and really [have] all those lifelong skills they need to move into college or career readiness.”
Idaho’s school districts reported that their students needed better problem solving skills, better critical thinking skills and digital citizenship skills, MacDonald said, and this pilot is a step toward doing that.
“The purpose of the grant was to move schools to a full integration model in the next generation learning environment,” he said. “Part of what we’ve driven for the grant to do was districts move toward what that may look like. It may no longer be the traditional classroom where students are in rows. They’ll most likely be doing activities, rotations, getting out in the community -- so that’ll be exciting to see what those full integration models look like.”