8 ways school leaders continued to innovate during the pandemic

New ed-tech exchange lets educators share insights into what works best
By: | July 23, 2021
Educators across the country increased their use of real-time data to better personalize instruction during the pandemic.Educators across the country increased their use of real-time data to better personalize instruction during the pandemic.

Schools have yet to use technology to its full potential, say researchers who have built a tool that lets educators share insights into how ed-tech works best.

Even before COVID, spending on education technology had reached between $25 and $41 billion per year, say the researchers behind the EdTech Genome Project.

But schools and districts were making these purchasing decisions without sufficient data around which tools work where or why, says a new report, which is a collaboration between the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development and the EdTech Evidence Exchange.

The project’s researchers, educators, industry representatives, and policymakers detailed several conditions that have the greatest impact on ed-tech selection and implementation. This led to the development of a new tool, the EdTech Context Framework, that will enable hundreds of thousands of educators to discuss why technologies have succeeded or failed in their classrooms.

“Until now, word of mouth and anecdotal evidence have been our best resource to determine what technology to use in the classroom,” said Melissa Collins, a second-grade teacher in Nashville. “The opportunity to learn from my peers, and to share my own experiences, will transform the way I choose and use new tools and products.”

Here are some of the variables that can impact ed-tech success:

  • A vision for teaching and learning unifies stakeholders around a clear direction, purpose, and rationale for technology-supported learning.
  • Teacher agency increases when a variety of teachers are consistently involved in shared visioning, selection processes, implementation and professional learning.
  • Infrastructure and operations—such as broadband connectivity and students’ access to remote devices—can lower barriers for implementation, facilitate uptake and support scaling.
  • Implementation systems should allow educators to determine which technologies fit with current initiatives and documenting evidence of impact on target outcomes.
  • Staff culture can supports collaboration when it is driven by trust, social capital, communication, and equity.
  • Strategic leadership support encourages teachers and staff when electing and implementing education technology tools.
  • Competing priorities—such as limited instructional and preparation time,—can take time away from new technology implementations. The presence of competing

‘Not a Lost Year’

Blended learning, however, was one of the leading innovations that gained even more momentum during COVID and the years leading up to the pandemic, another report has found.

A growing number of educators adopted an approach called “enriched virtual.” That’s a version of blended learning in which students primarily learn online, outside of school, but attend classrooms for face-to-face sessions with a teacher, says the “Not a Lost Year” report by the Christensen Institute, a think tank that studies disruption.

Educators also increased their use of real-time data to better personalize instruction and introduced new family and community support services that prioritized equity and culturally relevant pedagogy. More administrators engaged families in taking on increased responsibilities for student learning at home.

  1. Mastery-based learning helped students, teachers, and families better understand students’ individual learning progress.
  2. Staffing model changes that included team teaching and co-teaching, and the hiring of community outreach staff whose jobs depend on school buildings being open,.
  3. Mental health support comprising wellness sessions and opportunities for students to have “real talk” about what’s going on in the world.
  4. Hybrid and virtual options: At least one brick-and-mortar administrator launched a virtual charter this year to offer families a higher-quality online option.


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