The Best… Sorta

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Back in February, Technology & Learning magazine, an industry title that has been around in paper format for decades, published it’s “Best of the Year” issue for 2021.1 The annual awards are supposed to recognize “educational technology that exceptionally supported teachers and students last year”.

Except look closer and it’s clear these awards have very little to do with learning.

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The Sad State of Digital Innovation

The National School Boards Association’s Center for Digital Education recently posted their annual national survey recognizing “school districts for innovative uses of technology”. More specifically,

The Digital School Districts Survey top-ten rankings are awarded to the school boards/districts that most fully implement technology benchmarks in the evolution of digital education, as represented in the survey questions.

Well, that’s pretty vague. So what “innovative uses of technology” did the winners exhibit?

For large districts, which is 12,000 students or more,1 the top ranked system “uses technology to encourage student and teacher engagement”.

In addition to Web-streaming their board meetings and producing a variety of podcasts for parents, teachers and students during the school year, HCS also provides digital literacy training for parents, including Internet safety and privacy, acceptable use policies and more.

A top smaller district was top rated for “using e-textbooks, online collaboration, quiz tools, instructional games, simulations, films, TV programs, YouTube segments, music, lectures and podcasts for instruction”. In another “data analysis is used to inform instruction, personnel and budgeting”.

Reading through this article and another posted by the Center about the awards, one major point stuck out: all of this technological “innovation” was being done by adults, and very little of it was really new.

E-textbooks, YouTube videos, and internet safety training don’t represent much in the way of innovation. Schools have had textbooks for centuries and were showing classroom movies long before I started teaching. Acceptable use policies are relatively recent but not really different from the long list of rules schools have always imposed on kids.

There was very little mention of kids actually using all this tech themselves. Nothing about students leveraging the power of devices and networks to direct their own learning. Almost everything highlighted is the digital equivalent of the traditional teacher-directed instruction process from the pre-digital era of schooling.

It’s pretty sad that this is what represents “digital innovation” in the eyes of the board members who are supposed to be leading our school districts.

Prize Winning Motivation

Would an award accompanied by a nice banner be an incentive for students and teachers at your school to improve the test scores?

That’s the plan being proposed here in Virginia.

To spur improvement in academic performance, Virginia plans to honor excellence with an award for what the state calls “VIP schools.”

The new Virginia Index of Performance program, debuting in the fall, will rate 1,839 public schools and 132 school systems with points for test scores and other factors. Top scorers will be eligible for a Governor’s VIP Award for Educational Excellence.

The rankings will be made based on a point system largely based on the spring standardized test scores but also including some other factors that the state already collects.

At this point, there’s no money or other stuff to accompany the prize, other than the inescapable speeches by state politicians, of course.

However, as much as high schools around here go nuts over the fallacious number spit out from Jay Mathews “challenge” index, this scheme just might work.

And it’s cheap.