At Discovery Education’s Future@Now: Roadmap to the Digital Transition on February 26, educators—from principals to superintendents to teachers—all voiced the urgency in building a well-thought-out strategy before making a digital transformation in schools.
“I think planning is the hugest thing you can do,” said S. Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, at the event. “You can’t just focus on the device. What do you want to do through the device?”
Dance was just one of several educators who took part in Discovery Education’s second annual education summit, a full day event held at Discovery Education’s headquarters in Silver Springs, Maryland. The event was broadcast online globally from Canada to the Philippines and shared on Twitter using the hashtag #futurenow.
Topics included how to develop teachers as leaders to specifics on how to integrate digital resources into the classroom. Those in the audience took part in interactive exercises, while those online could voice their questions over email. The event’s theme, this year, was around how to implement a digital strategy in school systems—and why districts and states should be making a case now.
Dance described in detail his district’s decision—and path—to his school district’s digital transformation from the school system’s budget reprioritization to its creation of a “brand” around the change.
Dubbed STAT—or Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow—the new brand attracted students who liked the fact the acronym also meant ”immediately,” says Dance.
Also, he explained the effort Baltimore County has made toward integrating technology successfully into the curriculum and the time, as well as the resources, that have been invested into carrying out the integration.
“It’s not taking a textbook and putting it into PDF format,” says Dance.
Audience members appeared rapt throughout the event, however at least two audience questions brought up the issue of professional development around the digital shift. One question came from a teacher who works at an independent school, frustrated about the lack of time allocated to educating teachers on how to stitch devices, tools, and materials into classrooms effectively.
Panelists during a mid-morning session “Planning Your Transition” agreed, even admitting that professional development may have been an afterthought when districts first began rolling out digital tools. The panelists admitted that attitude is not effective today.
“It’s imperative that we rethink professional development,” says Linda Clark, superintendent for the Meridian Joint School District No. 2 in Idaho. “Many of us were guilty of drive by-training, and we know it doesn’t work.”
Another push around professional development is engaging with teaching programs at the university and college-level, particularly those programs where schools districts hire teaching graduates. The goal is to have students studying to be teachers be prepared before they receive their degrees. And Dance added that he has worked with Towson University—a school where he recruits many of his teachers—to prepare them to be digitally-fluent before they graduate.
“We also need to train student teachers… before [they’re] coming to us,” he says. “We want to make sure we’re not doing triage every year with professional development.”
Of course, it was the voice of students who seemed to carry the most weight at the event. Six students from Maryland’s William Wirt Middle School helped launch the event with a skit explaining how they’re using technology today and what their future-selves might say about digital materials affecting their later career choices.
“Technology gives us the tools to be who we want to be,” says one of the students, Vanessa Avila-Ramos. “And the fuel to accelerate our path down the road.”