Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Going digital with Race to the Top

Teachers across the nation are enjoying the benefits of digital learning. Thanks to the federal Race to the Top-District grant, school are given grants in order to provide digital tools to their students, as well as fund blended learning initiatives that combine traditional teaching with digital instruction. "This is about changing the way we instruct students in order to meet the needs of every student," said Patrick Abele, the grant's executive director. "This is about having teachers be highly effective and highly engaged with students to close academic gaps."

Race to the Top's purpose seems to be at play, as evident with schools from North Carolina who received the grant. To ensure success with their new laptops, Iredell County administrators sought advice from a neighboring school district whose digital conversion in 2009 emerged as a national model for building the 21st century digital school district. Furthermore, the county hired 15 full-time blended learning coaches for each school to ensure that teachers were successfully transitioned to digital and personalized instruction; instead of focusing just on devices and software, Iredell focused on blended learning and how to apply digital instruction to lessons. Thanks to Race to the Top, administrators and teachers in Iredell County have seen an increase in student engagement and recount stories of once struggling students whose grades have improved.

However, the digital project was not completely welcome at first. Several parents were originally against it, saying they worried about their children having easy access to unsafe places on the web. In order to combat these concerns, the schools have been working on finding a balance between independent learning and digital discipline in order to teach students how to be good digital citizens. While it is still too soon to declare the program a success, many educators are convinced otherwise. Given Iredell's detail to their blended learning program and their Race to the Top - District grant, followed by an increase in student engagement and improved grades, it's safe to say that the addition of laptops was a good choice.

Interested in learning more about Race to the Top? Check out the original article, "What it actually takes for schools to ‘go digital’" (The Hechinger Report) and Race to the Top's website.

Our Speak Up surveys feature questions about blended learning and students' accessibility to digital devices. Here's a question that we've asked administrators in the past:
Some districts are considering adopting a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to School program which would enable students to use their own mobile devices within instruction. What is your current policy on the use of student owned mobile devices (smartphones, tablet computers) within class? 

Speak Up provides an easy way for students, parents and educators to participate in local decisions about technology, as well as contribute to the state and national dialogue about educational technology. Data from the surveys - including data regarding online classes - will be released in February 2015. Click here to register for Speak Up 2014 and mark your calendars for the survey's launch date on October 6!