Idaho Launches 11-School Pilot to Test Education Tech

Eleven schools around Idaho are participating in a pilot program that allows them to evaluate a number of technology solutions for the classroom thanks to a $3 million project funded by the State Department of Education. More than 80 schools applied to participate in the program, but according to the state’s education officials, those chosen represented a diverse cross-section of the Idaho student population to make sure that the results could then easily transfer to other schools once the pilot is complete.

According to Colin Wood of Government Technology magazine, the pilot program is going to last two years and its goal, says Director of Instructional Technology Alex MacDonald, is to make sure that all the solutions tested fit with the state’s academic philosophy. The hope is that the pilot will allow the state’s education authorities to uncover tools that will aid in instruction instead of adopting the shiniest tech just because it’s shiny.

“This is a big, holistic project, because there was no cap on the amount of funds for requests,” he said. “The premise was to look at what was going to be sustainable and scalable across Idaho. We wanted to make sure we had a very diverse group of devices and strategies to study, and take a look at over the next two years.”

In some schools, each student will get a Samsung Chromebook, while other schools will give their students Apple iPads, and other schools will test Lenovo ThinkPads or interactive whiteboards.

The pilot program isn’t the only tech-related experiment undertaken by Idaho. According to MacDonald, schools are also experimenting with the open education platforms like the type offered by the Khan Academy. In short, the state is keeping tech in mind as it maps out the future of education.

MacDonald hopes that the way the experiment is set up will allow solutions to bubble up from the school and district level rather than be handed down as a mandate from on high.

Overseeing the pilot will be a 15-member panel made up of teachers, representatives from the state’s higher education system and state board of education members.

As lessons are learned during the next two years, MacDonald said, he anticipates seeing many changes in how these education technology rollouts happen and what’s considered smart.

“I foresee that there most likely will be instances of improvement,” he said. “And what we want these grant schools to do is document those changes.”

Maybe getting teachers to become familiar with the technology before deploying anything to the students will become a strategy, he added, and perhaps certain education fundamentals will need to be adjusted or abandoned to allow the technology to be effective in supporting education.