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Ed-Tech Leaders: Embrace Changes Caused by Pandemic

Academic and technology leaders at a recent webinar spoke about the role media and technology played in education during the pandemic, arguing that embracing change and discussing the future are necessary.

old way, new way, embrace change, digital transformation
Several leaders in education and technology sectors gathered virtually Thursday to discuss the post-pandemic future of education, with a unanimous outlook: Don’t snap back to the old way of instruction. The COVID-19 global pandemic caused a massive shift in the way teachers, students and parents experienced instruction, and in a virtual panel discussion hosted by WNET Group, panelists by and large felt the one thing that could be spun as a positive from the virus-related shutdowns was how it forced a shift toward digital technology and away from less flexible learning models.

“There are so many more programs that have emerged to support learning at home,” said panelist LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, the education program director at Carnegie Corporation of New York, of how the pandemic has changed instruction.

Journalist and talk-show host Hari Sreenivasan moderated the webinar, “The Role of Media and Technology in the Future of Education,” which was hosted by WNET Group, a media company that provides educational content and programming across several New York and New Jersey-based public broadcasting service stations. In addition to Srinivasan, panelists included Digital Promise President and CEO Jean-Claude Brizard; Dr. Angela DeBarger, program officer of education for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Michael Preston, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center; and Salesforce Vice President of Education Initiatives Ron Smith.

Preston concurred with Srinivasan’s estimation, saying that the pandemic led to many positive changes — an ongoing and evolving change, he said — from which people are seeing benefits.

“I don’t see this going away,” Preston said.

Smith noted that the pandemic highlighted how certain communities lacked technological devices, broadband accessibility and other essential tools in a digital environment. He said it’s important for companies like Salesforce to be a partner with school districts and to speak with superintendents, principals, teachers, students and parents to ensure that every student has what they need to be successful.

Brizard noted that digital equity is a long-term problem for which people have offered temporary solutions. The pandemic highlighted these issues, said Brizard and Smith, and now companies and schools have to leverage awareness of the problem to find solutions.

“With digital learning, it’s about access to broadband, but also teachers and students' ability to learn to use technology,” DeBarger added. “When they can use technology, it makes more equitable learning possible.”

Now that schools are going back to more conventional in-person learning, each of the panelists emphasized the need to stick with some form of digital instruction, which Brizard said allows for more dynamic content.

“Kids are thriving (with digital learning) during the pandemic. How do we stick to that?” Brizard said.

“I think putting pressure on the school system to keep going forward with this is what should be done," Srinivasan said. "We don’t want school to look like it did in the last century. The pandemic showed that we don’t have to."

Reiterating the point that U.S. education can't and isn't likely to "go back," Smith said going forward must involve listening, learning and partnerships.

“(Tech companies) can’t just dictate change. It comes down to listening and be a partner in making the change,” he said.
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.