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Beyond the Curriculum: Ed-Tech Leaders Stress Teamwork, Proactivity

In a virtual panel hosted by e.Republic, the Center for Digital Education’s parent company, ed-tech leaders shared thoughts and advice on AI, cybersecurity, the looming fiscal cliff and the importance of collaboration.

A businessman stands, staring ahead, on an empty road with the number 2024 written on the pavement.
California State University Chief Information Officer Ed Clark likens his annual planning process to taming a massive digital jungle of varying systems and data sets into a navigable digital garden, with the help of stakeholders who provide more support than pushback.

In Pennsylvania, Fox Chapel Area School District Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac maximizes K-12 ed-tech improvements on a tight budget by asking department heads to submit multiyear plans identifying their greatest needs for the next five to 10 years.

And in North Carolina, Andrew Smith, assistant state superintendent of public instruction, sets aside 30 minutes each week to conduct research on which new ed-tech tools meet curriculum requirements, reaching out to professional organizations and peers across the country.

“I look for people who are searching for something just like I am,” he said.

Smith was among eight leaders from K-12 and higher education who participated in panel discussions Wednesday as part of “Beyond the Curriculum — Education Market Insights,” a virtual event hosted by e.Republic, the Center for Digital Education’s parent company. The panelists, along with e.Republic moderators and presenters, shared advice and discussed the challenges and opportunities facing learning institutions today.

On the topic of funding and the fiscal cliff school districts face with the end of post-COVID federal grants looming, the panelists noted some creative solutions. Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs, CEO and executive director of the National School Boards Association, said she advises K-12 district leaders to select vendors who understand that the massive investment in new tools must yield positive outcomes for children. North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler said she encourages educators to get free or low-cost memberships with nonprofit organizations that provide free cybersecurity guides and other resources, and to partner with colleges and universities.

“The more you look for partners, the more people seem to appear,” she said.

Higher-education IT leaders face a similar challenge when asked to do more with less. Anne Milkovich, chief information officer for the Nevada System of Higher Education, said it’s crucial to involve stakeholders in the painstaking task of reviewing and deciding on annual budget requests. In her case, her employees involved in that work produced a one-page scoring rubric that all of them can agree on and trust as a fair process.

On the topic of cybersecurity concerns in higher education, panelists traded advice for keeping their campuses safe. Standish Stewart, vice president and chief information officer for Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College, emphasized awareness, meaning education on responsible technology use for all students, staff, faculty and administrators, not just IT and security team members.

“It requires everyone to be vigilant and proactive,” she said.

On the topic of artificial intelligence across the board, panelists agreed that emerging technology is something that, if handled responsibly, will benefit students, teachers and school leaders alike. Gabriella “Gaby” Rowe, CEO and managing principal of the consulting company Grow Associates, challenged her peers to learn from other industries, such as health care, where emerging technology is helping to develop new drugs and innovative medical procedures, and helping providers to address the needs of diverse populations.

Rowe said education, unlike other industries, approaches AI more conservatively because it directly impacts the lives of children, and because there are tighter constraints. But tomorrow, AI might help school leaders deal with the financial problems that make their lives so difficult today. Imagine a chatbot, she said, that can augment the limited staff in small and low-income schools and help secure more state and federal funding.

“That moves the needle incredibly,” she said, “especially when you are fighting for equity.”
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.