The professional workforce has been quick to adopt new technology tools. We readily accept that tablets and smartphones, teleconferencing and social media are now essential fixtures of the workplace for millions across the globe. Yet we've been slow in extending these advances to our schools, and in particular our K-12 schools. While many children's home lives are abuzz with the same platforms and devices as the 21st century workplace, school just hasn't kept pace, and in many classrooms pedagogies are barely more inclusive of new technology than they were in the 1980s.
We desperately need to improve on this record, which is why schools need to make hiring educational technology professionals -- whether specially trained classroom teachers or dedicated staffers -- a top priority. Investment in new technologies can only move a school forward when it's supported effectively by people. Educational technology specialists provide necessary guidance to teachers and students in order to maximize the pedagogical reach of tech acquisitions.
Educational technology specialists are trained in introducing and applying technology that enhances a school's educational reach and efficacy. They work in consultation with students, teachers and administrators, who can voice their wants and needs. In other words, they're not the same as IT staffers. In reality, schools need both IT and EdTech staff, and there needs to be a cooperative spirit between the two so that IT can focus on keeping technology safe and running and EdTech can focus on effectively integrating technology tools into the curriculum.
While we increasingly assume that both children and their teachers have at least basic tech proficiency, we can't assume that either group knows how to use technology to further educational goals. Children won't know how to use technology for learning -- and teachers won't know how to use it for teaching -- unless they're shown how. Intensive, on-the-ground support by EdTech staff unites tools and training in a way that renders the marriage of technology and education feasible.
There are so many ways that today's students can and should be using technology. They can live-tweet political events, use Facebook to document a field trip, and Skype with students in classrooms around the world. On Spotify, they can create playlists of music from the time of the Renaissance or the Civil War, and e-readers such as the Kindle, with their fully integrated dictionaries, are a boon to language-learners. Their teachers have a host of new strategies available to them, including flip teaching, or "flipping the classroom," which allows students to access lectures remotely and frees up class time for review, further applications, discussion and support.
But none of these practices is likely to take hold if schools simply throw their money at new technology tools in the hopes that teachers will make the most of it on their own. Likewise, students accustomed to using technology as consumers aren't likely become fully engaged and creative users of technology by sheer intuition. Whatever a school is looking to invest in -- tablets, smartphones, e-readers -- what's most important isn't how many units they snap up, but that it's backed by EdTech support.
In an age of unprecedented digital access and connectivity, barring students from the best that technology has to offer only stands to hinder their development as learners and workers. By excluding tablets, smartphones and other devices from our educational milieu, we're depriving students of the chance to use them in service of their education and, eventually, their careers.
What education looks like has changed countless times in the past and will continue to change many more times. Throughout most of the 19th century, neither the novel nor modern languages were considered the domain of education. Eventually, however, the educational model in place was forced to evolve to fit the needs of the industrial era. We all surely realize digital technology isn't going away; it's high time we stop withholding and let that technology go to school.