3 ed-tech leaders share how COVID has made them key members of the team

Instructional technologists are helping teachers zero in on and master the most effective digital tools.
By: | December 8, 2021
K-12 instructional technologists are more often serving as a bridge between IT and curriculum to make sure the tech jibes with learning goals.K-12 instructional technologists are more often serving as a bridge between IT and curriculum to make sure the tech jibes with learning goals.

Teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools now have access to asynchronous ed-tech courses on using programs such as Minecraft and Microsoft Teams. Throughout the pandemic, they have also been able to participate in weekly Tech Thursday calls where they can get guidance on using learning management systems and other tech tools that have gained prominence during the rise of digital learning.

These ongoing professional development activities are just two signs of how the challenges of COVID have heightened the influence of K-12 ed-tech leaders and their teams, who are now more deeply embedded into conversations around learning, says Lakisha Brinson, Metro Nashville’s director of instructional technology and library services. “A few years ago, we didn’t have the presence that we do now,” Brinson says. “I’m able to interact with the senior leadership to really think about what future-ready classrooms and districts look like. Our value has risen because people can really see how technology is part of teaching and learning.”

Brinson’s team includes learning technology specialists who each cover 12 schools to continue to support teachers in integrating educational technology to boost student engagement. Because the district is already 1-to-1 with devices, the specialists are guiding teachers in bringing more blended learning to their classrooms with the goal of using the approach more extensively in the 2022-23 school year, Brinson says.

One key to the ongoing training is helping teachers zero in on and master the most effective instructional technology rather than adding more and more applications. “We believe, with teaching and learning, you can go deeper when don’t have 10,000 tools,” Brinson says. “We believe there is a core set of tools we should dig into.”

Beyond the classroom

Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut saw an increase in family engagement through online parent-teacher conferences and virtual events held during COVID.

This heightened focus on supporting teachers, students, and families with remote learning and online instruction was one of the biggest changes Susan O. Moore, the district director of technology, says she has experienced since the pandemic began. “This included ensuring everyone not only had access to devices, content and single sign-on but also stable internet,” Moore says. “We were fortunate to already be a one-to-one district with students in grades 6-12 taking their devices home daily. The focus turned to distribution at the K-5 level.”

Her department also launched a parent helpline and beefed up digital communications with families, with all efforts focused on equity in a district that has a 77% free/reduced-priced meal rate. “It is the reason we shifted from a bring-your-own-device program to a one-to-one device program a decade ago,” Moore says. “It is the reason we continued to distribute meals throughout the pandemic. And, it is the reason we continue to focus on leveling the playing field for all students.”

Going forward, Moore and her team will expand professional learning opportunities for teachers on everything from how to host a Google Meet to best online pedagogy practices. Technology integration specialists are providing small group, large group, and one-to-one coaching sessions.

When teachers share what works best for them, these ideas are disseminated across the district, Moore says. In her own role, she was a member of the district’s reopening team, which developed the plan for the return to in-person learning this school year. She is also a member of the district leadership team that is focused on aligned curriculum and technology. “The pandemic certainly highlighted that learning can and does take place beyond the classroom and we continue to connect students and teachers with online learning opportunities,” Moore says. “The pandemic also forced creative partnerships with neighboring districts, our local municipality, and local organizations that we continue to foster and expand upon to provide greater opportunities for our students.”

Taking advantage of the transformative

COVID convinced the Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs to expand online offerings for high school students and launch the fully online K-8 Aspire Academy, says David Jarboe, the director of instructional technology. The district has also ramped up professional development by building a team of e-learning teachers who can then train other educators to maximize the use of instructional technology, Jarboe says.

Jarboe says he and his team, by training students and staff on one LMS, are leading the charge in ensuring the district has the flexibility to toggle between various modes of in-person and remote instruction as COVID conditions see-saw. “We’re learning how to be very responsive where the mode of instruction could change overnight,” he says. “All of those are good practices moving forward.”

Jarboe also now serves more often as a bridge between IT and curriculum to make sure the technology jibes with the district’s learning goals as the ed-tech adoption curve accelerates. “Teachers who were hesitant had to jump in with both feet and are seeing the benefits,” he says. “Tech can help us accelerate some things that appeared insurmountable or very cumbersome in the past. We can now really take advantage of the transformative use of technology rather than just automating old things.”

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.