Empower Learning Through Technology

According to Daniel Rosenweig, president of Chegg.com, the No. 1 online textbook rental company, "This may be the first time in our history that students are more experienced and skilled at the most powerful learning tool of our lifetime (technology and the Internet) than those charged with teaching them." The implications of this statement are many, but for the WVBOE, it means we must be a leader in the use of technology for instruction and learning.

Many factors point to the need for increased and improved use of technology in our classrooms, and these are just a few:

Statistics show that nearly 1 in 4 of our nation's students drop out of school, but approximately 93 percent of students are online, 78 percent utilize cell phones, and 40 percent of students own a smartphone. We must be open to supporting and utilizing the technologies and strategies that our students already are embracing. Many of our students never have known a day without technology as an integral part of their lives. Students embrace devices like tablets and smartphones as learning tools, social media and networking as a preferred communication tool, gaming as a skill builder, and the Internet as a research tool. If we reach out to all our students with these same tools and engage them in learning, perhaps they will be motivated not only to stay in school, but also to engage at a higher level.

There are any number of strategies we could address in our effort to make West Virginia a leader in digital learning, but the following are some of the most promising.

Personalize Education with Technology

Students learn in different ways and at different paces. Our traditional classroom model did little to recognize these facts, but that must change. One of the WVBOE's priorities is designing a system that meets the personal learning needs of each student. There is no greater enhancement to personalized learning for all students than the effective use of technology. Personalized learning models, adaptive assessments, data dashboards, early learning warning systems, blended learning, and electronic portfolios are all examples of tools that will assist educators to ensure that each student is learning in the most effective manner.

A critical component for the success of a personalized learning platform is for all students and teachers to have Internet accessible digital devices. The WVBOE is seeking funding from both public and private sources for 1:1 technology to support personalized learning in our middle and high schools. As we move toward that goal, the WVBOE hopes to refine this concept by developing 1:1 pilot programs in select districts, one per RESA.

Every teacher should have 1:1 access now. Until every student has 1:1 access, it must suffice that every student has ongoing access to devices and technology without having to wait. With appropriate guidelines, students may utilize their own smartphones or other devices to support learning. For many applications, this would eliminate the need for scheduling students into a lab or providing multiple new devices. Innovative strategies such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are being tested in schools across the country. These efforts, along with the disparity in technology and broadband access at home, raise serious questions of equity. These are challenges that must be addressed, but we cannot allow them to be roadblocks to quality personalized learning.

Promote 24/7 Learning

During most of the history of public school education, learning has been centered on the delivery of knowledge by a single teacher with a classroom of 20 to 30 students. Teachers were the fount of knowledge and organized and disbursed it to students. Students were expected to absorb that knowledge and in some form demonstrate recall of it. The teacher and the textbook were the primary source of all knowledge students needed to master. Memorization of that knowledge was the expectation of students.

No one could have imagined the effect of digital technology and the World Wide Web on access to information and learning opportunities. No one could have imagined its effect on the economy and the expectations of the work force. Now, any time of the day from most places in our state, students can access information across the globe, visit museums, watch a video on complex algorithms, contact a scientist, find the answer to essentially any question, or be part of an interactive learning community on a sports hero. The very thought that all important information on a topic could be housed in a single printed text now seems almost silly. We learn, communicate, create, produce our work, and interact in completely different ways than we did 50 years ago. Yet, across our country, learning is still centered in a building, with a teacher and 20-30 students per classroom, 7.5 hours a day and 180 days a year, with most students pursuing the same topics at the same time.

Public schools are filled with tradition and centered within communities that see schooling the way it has always been. Yet, to continue to use outdated and outmoded methods of teaching and learning puts our students increasingly at risk, particularly in our middle and high schools. The WVBOE will begin to release the policy bonds that perpetuate building-delivered, teacher-focused, time-bound learning. Through revised policy, leadership and creative thought, the Board can motivate schools and districts to organize, encourage and credential quality, relevant learning experiences accessed beyond the walls and time constraints of the school day.

Provide Technology Support

The WVBOE is committed to the use of technology as a tool to improve student learning, but we realize this move will require more quality staff development for our teachers and more technology support staff for our system.

The Board underlines the audit recommendation to increase technology professional development offered to all educators, including school and district leaders, to increase their comfort level with — and use of — technology. The WVBOE proposes that RESAs should take a leadership role in conjunction with the WVDE in providing ongoing, job-embedded technology professional development.

Technology professional development today will look very different from traditional professional development. Opportunities must be explored in the use of digital delivery and video conferencing to reduce classroom absences, travel and other expenses.

There is a critical need for more staff support in two key positions:

Several school systems employ on-site TISs and/or local technology support staff, and report significant successes. This only highlights the need to provide these staff services statewide.

The WVBOE underscores the importance of providing these supports to teachers and students, and encourages the Legislature to provide the funding necessary to meet this need.

Advocate for Online Access

The WVBOE and the state currently are collaborating with service providers to ensure all teachers and students have affordable high-speed broadband Internet service. The work at the national level of our elected representatives, especially Senator Jay Rockefeller, has made available the opportunity for every school to have robust broadband service and Internet access.

The increase in online resources has provided many benefits, among them:

There is little doubt that the need for broadband services will increase over time, and the WVBOE implores state government to help schools keep pace with this need.

Fully Fund West Virginia Virtual School

The WVBOE agrees that the state must continue and grow West Virginia's Virtual School (WVVS). Citing a recent report by SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute), the audit pointed out that, "many, if not most students are more comfortable learning online than by traditional methods." Although much has been accomplished to date, we must embrace a more comprehensive online strategy that provides a blend of online and face-to-face education.

The virtual school has the ability to provide our students with a wide variety of quality online course options, including credit recovery for students who fall behind in their requirements.

The WVBOE is strong in its belief that we must identify a dedicated funding stream for the West Virginia Virtual School as a designated school district, as if it were the 56th district.

Expand Digital Content

The WVBOE has modified policy to provide for advancing the implementation of digital resources in lieu of textbooks and worked with the Legislature to replace textbook terminology with instructional resources terminology to include digital resources. Our state must actively pursue replacing textbooks with digital content, including interactive and adaptive media, when advantageous for students and aligned to local needs. The Board calls upon the WVDE to ensure that by the 2014-2015 school year or sooner, all instructional materials reviewed by the state will include licenses for digital materials.

As West Virginia continues to become a leader in the effective use of technology to personalize and enrich the learning experience for students, the WVBOE will work with the Legislature to provide the necessary leadership and support.