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.