Why Technology Matters in Education

In the last few years, education technology has grown from an innovative new trend to a key component of the modern classroom. Technology prepares students to be competitive in today’s workforce – and for the jobs of tomorrow that don’t yet exist – by providing opportunities to learn vital skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and digital literacy.

As superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), I’ve learned firsthand how much technology matters in education. In 2014, BCPS launched Students & Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.), a multi-year initiative to transform our entire school system into a fully digital learning environment and prepare students for success in the modern world. S.T.A.T. provided 17 BCPS “Lighthouse” pilot schools with individual digital learning devices for students, as well as professional development to help teachers create blended, personalized learning environments.

Our decision to implement a one-to-one program arose from a need to provide personalized learning to our increasingly diverse student population and ensure that our graduates are globally competitive – regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. We wanted to develop a program that would provide all of our students with access to technology and equip all of our teachers with the professional development they need to enable 21st century learning.

To develop and implement S.T.A.T., we worked closely with stakeholders and our partners at Intel, Microsoft and Daly Computers to ensure that our 1:1 initiative addressed all aspects of the education system and the unique needs of our district. We also utilized the K-12 Blueprint’s resources and planning tools to ensure a successful education technology initiative.

One year later, the results are astounding. In the words of Deborah McClintock, a teacher at Hawthorne Elementary: “S.T.A.T. has ignited empowerment, passion and joy in learning.” By using technology to support learning instead of taking it away from students, our Lighthouse schools have increased student engagement and greatly decreased student behavior problems. The benefits are even visible to parents, who tell us that they can see the difference in their children when they come home from school.

At Halstead Academy, these improvements have been particularly dramatic. Six years ago, when Principal Jennifer Mullenax arrived at Halstead Academy, it was the lowest achieving elementary school in BCPS. The school was plagued by systemic problems: instruction of inconsistent quality, tensions between parents and teachers, high staff turnover and very frequent student behavior issues. In her first year at Halstead Academy, Mullenax set forth an educational vision for the school and implemented a student-centered initiative to personalize instruction, putting Halstead Academy on a path to improvement.

With the implementation of S.T.A.T., Halstead Academy was able to take these improvements to the next level. Today, Halstead Academy is a model school in Baltimore County. In the past, students fought in the classroom or just walked out, but now they actually want to be in class because the instruction is engaging and interactive. As a result of S.T.A.T., Halstead Academy has experienced a 90 percent decrease in annual office referrals (from 10 to one) and an 85 percent decrease in annual suspensions (from seven to one).

Without education technology, Ms. Mullenax believes these improvements wouldn’t be possible: “Technology has empowered our teachers to think outside the box and develop innovative new ways to engage students in learning. It truly redefines instruction.” Before S.T.A.T., students would often be too embarrassed to ask the teacher to explain something they didn’t understand, but now students can look it up themselves or send a private message to the teacher. Students in our Lighthouse schools are using their devices to do activities in small groups and help each other learn, which is even reflected in the setup of the classrooms: the desks are pushed to the side and replaced with bean bags, making it easier for students to collaborate.

Our work with the S.T.A.T. initiative has been an incredible learning experience, through which I’ve gained some valuable insights on successful technology integration:

  • Understanding your institution’s culture is key. When we began working on S.T.A.T., there was a vocal minority that was worried about students using technology in school. To address their concerns, we reached out to them early on to make a case for the initiative, emphasizing the safeguards we planned to implement and the importance of preparing students to use technology.
  • Communication and inclusion are required for community support. It was essential to clearly communicate our vision to teachers, parents and community members in order to get them on board with S.T.A.T. We also worked to make them feel included in the process. We organized community meetings and other opportunities where they could share their concerns and provide input.
  • Education technology can be a game changer. Over the past year, we’ve seen education technology spark intellectual curiosity and creativity in our students – even in the most unruly or unwilling learners. It’s been incredible to see students so engaged in learning that they don’t even turn around when I walk into the room. Ultimately, learning is about engagement, not test scores.

While technology alone won’t improve learning outcomes, I know from experience that it has the power – when implemented and used effectively – to create more vibrant, interactive learning environments; achieve improvements throughout the education system; and prepare students for a lifetime of success. It’s my hope that the success of S.T.A.T. inspires schools around the country to embrace technology and transform education.

Dr. S. Dallas Dance is the superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). Since assuming this role in 2012, Dr. Dance has united students, staff and the community into Team BCPS, a powerful force committed to producing globally competitive graduates, and spearheaded the development of Blueprint 2.0, a five-year strategic plan focused on improving academics, safety, communication and organizational effectiveness. As superintendent of the 25th largest school system in the nation, Dr. Dance is responsible for overseeing the instruction of 110,000 students and leading and managing a $1.6 billion budget, 19,000 employees, and 173 schools, centers and programs.

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