Legislators Urge Utah Schools to Embrace Technology

Legislators and educators came together at Utah's Digital Learning Summit earlier this week to discuss the future of educational technology in Utah schools. The legislators wanted to send a message about their commitment to tech to teachers and staff in the state, and the setting they picked to host the summit – Innovations High School – was not a coincidence.

Innovation High is one of the only schools in the state that uses an "individualized, technology-based approach" to education, where students cover course material entirely online, but do it in the classroom environment where a teacher is always around to assist. Those who came to speak at the summit, did so with the intention of convincing school districts to give this approach a chance in their own schools.

State Senator Howard Stephenson, one of the speakers, said that attempting to keep technology out of the classroom is turning a blind eye to how prevalent it is in students' lives outside the classroom. Some schools, he said, are so far behind in digital adoption that the technology students carry in their pocket is more advanced — and has more computing capacity — than any of the technology owned by schools. Failure to take advantage of that, according to Stephenson, is incredibly short-sighted.

If educators can't capture their students' attention because the learners are distracted by technology, he said, then the educators need to re-examine the way they're teaching. He said the answer lies in teaching students through individualized, digital teaching means.

"Individualized instruction honors who we are as learning creatures and we need to move there much faster than we are," said Stephenson.

Representative Greg Hughes said that teachers who are reluctant to implement technology in their classrooms fail to appreciate its potential. He said that when the computer carried the load for actual instruction, teachers could move about the room freely to give help to those who truly need it. That's an improvement on a model in which teachers are stuck in front of the classroom while attempting to craft a lesson plan to fit thirty kids who might all have different learning needs.

But if teachers can get over that, the legislators said, they can use technology to allow students to learn at their own pace. The students who learn faster can move forward, while the students who need extra time can do so without feeling stupid and holding the entire class back. Creating tech schools can even solve the achievement gap, according to Hughes. Students in low-income schools want technology more, work harder to get it, and appreciate it more when they have it, he said.

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