ASCD Conference Talks About Troubles, Promise in Ed Tech

Whatever questions educators have about technology in the classroom and outside of it, they bring to the annual meeting of the ASCD – the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development – as they did this year for the organization’s 68th convention. More than 10,000 people attended more than 400 conferences at the session with topics ranging from the use of social media by teachers to the best practices for flipped classrooms.

If there was something that was potentially a worry about bringing together tech and education, chances are it was discussed over the course of the three-day conference. People brought their questions, their experiences and even their wares, as hundreds of vendors took the opportunity to show off their own solutions to the problems vexing educators.

Among those talking about the steps they took this year in modernizing the classroom was Linda Knier, who is the director of academic services for New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. The school distributed iPads to 600 freshmen and 25 teachers – a move that has been and will be emulated by a number of schools this year. Yet as a result of this move the school and district administrators encountered issues they didn’t expect: how to make sure that the equipment was being used to aid learning. Their resources to train the teachers on the best-use practices just weren’t there and now those who championed the move find themselves worrying about how it’s working.

A similar problem was encountered by the education system in Singapore – often looked upon as the model for Americans to emulate.

“For the first five years, we worried about infrastructure,” said Siew Hoong Wong, deputy director-general of education in Singapore, which runs a tightly organized, centrally managed national education system.

But that $2 billion project, completed in 2000, was followed by a bigger one: getting teachers to use the technology for teaching and learning, integrating it with pedagogy, learning and the needs of future employers. Those needs, he said, were about “teamwork, communications [and] solving problems together.”

Wong was a panelist in a session Saturday titled “The Future of Education in a Globally Connected World,” which attracted a standing-room-only audience of more than 200 people.

Another tool that gives schools similar troubles are the increasingly used interactive whiteboards. The technology is supposed to promote interactivity in the classroom in a way that regular blackboards do not. With that goal in view, the boards are frequently connected to the internet to allow teachers to access a wealth of material – if they know how to use them.

Another school using interactive boards is Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge, La., which installed Promethean boards about five years ago, said school principal and Istrouma graduate Robert Webb Jr.

But when Webb noticed teachers were using the interactive whiteboards solely for presentation, he realized “we needed to give the teachers some professional development.” Things changed quickly after that, with teachers handing off control of the boards to students, he said.