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Recap: Robyn Howton’s EdWeek Webchat

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Last Tuesday, Robyn Howton, Rodel Teacher Council member and English teacher at Mount Pleasant High School in Brandywine School District, together with Wendy Drexler, ISTE Chief Innovation Officer, hosted a live webchat on Education Week to discuss the recent article “Why Technology is not Transforming Education.” Benjamin Herold, who wrote the original article, moderated the discussion.

Robyn and Wendy addressed a flood of questions from the public. I’ve captured some of the major themes of the discussion, along with responses from Robyn and Wendy, below. The discussion thread centered on the observation that technology has not changed classrooms into the student-centered, personalized instruction hubs many had hoped. According to Howton, we are only at the start of a long progression toward optimally integrating technology into classrooms to benefit students. Full transcript of the chat is available here.

Why hasn’t the use of technology been transformational in classrooms?

“[Though] we feel that we are transforming,” Howton wrote, “it is just a process”—one that could take up to ten years to implement successfully.”

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Removing the Barriers: Access to Resources

Howton acknowledged that there are some teachers who feel uncomfortable using technology or lack the equipment to transition their curriculum to a digitized student-centered model. She suggested some strategies to overcome these obstacles, for example, finding “early adopters” within the school to create interdisciplinary projects and share their success.

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Addressing Teacher Buy-in

During the chat, commentators questioned whether research supports the theory that technology investments actually improve student achievement. Wendy Drexler agreed with the concerns, and wrote that there is “no significant difference” when technology is “simply introduced without change to the learning process.” However, Drexler added, “There is other research that shows significant change, especially in student engagement, when technology is used authentically to solve problems, collaborate, construct knowledge, etc.” Before making the investment in expensive devices, teachers must “stop and carefully define the change we want to see happening,” Drexler wrote.

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One commenter wrote that most classrooms today solely replace old technology with newer devices without changing the learning process: “The teacher dominated model affects the technology’s ability to reform.” The greatest challenge discussed during the chat was teacher confidence and support to change the methodology.

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Living in an age where new technology is constantly redefining our social interactions, we tend to expect that digitized learning will quickly result in more student engagement and learning. However, creating a classroom with truly integrated technology is a gradual process. Transformational change, which can drive student-centered learning, requires access to training resources and equipment, teacher buy-in, and defining the change we want to see happening.

To one commenter, Howton emphasized, “Time and resources are key.”

Introducing Sophie Lin: Policy Fellow

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I am very excited to join the policy team as a Policy Fellow at the Rodel Foundation this summer. I was born in France and grew up in Kentucky, Philadelphia, and Shanghai. I became interested in education after taking one class my junior year of college, which changed my view. In an economics course at SciencesPo in Paris, I researched the post-generational links of education attainment. I was shocked to find that an individual’s years of education strongly correlated to not only his own health, but also the health of the individual’s child when that child turned 40 (even when we controlled for income). Unexpectedly, the link between health and education convinced me that the enduring effects of education could either perpetuate the poverty cycle generation after generation or break it. For better or for worse, the number of years of education someone has frequently reappeared as the variable that has the strongest correlation with specific life outcomes. I realized that the most powerful lever to enact lasting change is by improving the education system.

As a result of this realization, I joined Teach For America in 2013 and just finished my first year as a middle school math teacher in Wilmington. In the classroom, I observed constraints that did not set my students up for long-term academic success. My students were one to two years behind in math content. Without having mastered foundational concepts, my students needed to learn newly implemented Common Core standards. There was much more that needed to be done to support my students. I told my students about my own education experience. I told them about how I flunked out of third grade at the French school, then moved to America over the summer and excelled in fourth grade at another school. What changed was not the rigor of the content nor my academic ability, but my access to resources. The teacher’s role is to serve as the bridge between students and academic achievement. As this year has taught me, it is not only the teacher, but so many other factors that are needed to build this bridge.

From a statistics standpoint, education as a socioeconomic indicator is messy. It is interrelated and affected by many different variables. From a policy standpoint, these interrelated factors are the very mechanisms that need to change in order to improve the quality of education. This summer at the Rodel Foundation, I am excited to have the opportunity to be on the other side of education, beyond the classroom. I am looking forward to being involved in impacting the classroom from the policy side.

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