Watching ed-tech innovators: What new skills are they helping students develop?

Teachers are finding new and novel ways to engage students in hybrid learning environments.

Andre Daughty is looking forward to 2019— but no, the well-known urban educator and ed-tech innovator didn’t invent time travel during COVID lockdown. Rather, he’s anticipating a first day of school in 2022 that looks more pre- than post-pandemic.

“I’m hoping for a first day of school where everybody can shake hands, high five, hug, fist bump without fear that we might shut down because of x, y or z,” says Daughty, a featured speaker at FETC© 2023. He’s also eager for teachers and educators to capitalize on the innovations that emerged from three difficult school years.

“Teachers have learned so many new tools and this is first summer they’ve had since the pandemic started that a lot of them didn’t teach summer school,” he says. “They had two to three months to relax and recover, so I’m excited to see what a fully rested educator looks like this year.”

Why teachers are phenomenal

The new technological skills teachers have developed are another source of Daughty’s optimism for the 2022-23 school year. In workshops, he has been guiding teachers in new and novel ways to engage students in hybrid learning environments. “One of the things I’ve picked up on during the pandemic is that our teachers are phenomenal,” Daughty says. “We are the most flexible professionals. We adjust at the drop of a hat, and we use whatever tools we can find at each moment.”

Shortly after COVID shut down schools in March 2020, Daughty began hosting free Zoom sessions to train teachers to use online tools such as Zoom itself, webcams, Nearpod and Google Classroom. When it comes to online learning going forward, he recalls a quote he heard on his first day as a teacher over 20 years ago: “If you observe students, they will teach you how to teach them.”

FETC 2023

The Future of Education Technology® Conference takes place live and in-person Jan. 23-26, 2023, in New Orleans. Register now!

“There were a lot of students who excelled during the online portion of COVID,” he says. “There’s a place for online learning at school.” This applies particularly to students who are strong independent learners and thrive when they are allowed to work at their own pace. This method of learning can also help many students in the transition to college, where they will be forced to be more self-motivated.

Daughty and his wife, Danielle, are also the hosts and producers of the wide-ranging “See, What Had Happened” education podcast, which they launched during the pandemic and just now completed a second season.

Each episode features a guest telling an insightful, funny or heartfelt story about their K-12 experiences. On a recent podcast, librarian Jameka B. Lewis discussed the challenges she and her colleagues have faced from a resurgence of book banning campaigns in communities around the country. “She shared how books are going to be uncomfortable at times,” Daughty says. “And she explained the important work she is doing by helping librarians around the country stand their ground and say, ‘Yes, this book is going to be a challenging read but here’s why, and here are the lessons we’re going to get from it.’”

That ties in with one of his personal goals for the coming school year, which is to continue to advocate for equity for all students. “In certain circles of school, they’re not only trying to ban books, they’re now trying to make people uncomfortable, whether that person identifies in different ways or is pronoun-affiliated,” he says. “There’s an erasure of identities.”

Real or fake? An ed-tech innovator investigates

It’s all about information literacy for Jennifer LaGarde, a longtime school librarian who now works as an education consultant and teaches pre-service media specialists at Rutgers University.

LaGarde, a featured speaker at FETC© 2023 who is known as “The Library Girl,” has lately been working with districts on teaching students to determine the credibility of the information that is bombarding them. The traditional information literacy approach has become outdated because it relies on simplistic checklists and the binary question, “Is this real or fake?,” with the presumption that there is a right answer.

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LaGarde’s approach, which has four “lenses,” starts in the social-emotional realm by helping students recognize their emotional reactions to news, social media posts and other information. Next, she encourages educators to teach with mobile devices, which is where most students consume information “surrounded by the community reading experience” of comments, likes and shares. “All of those things influence whether we trust the information or not,” she says. “When we share something and want to be part of the community, we may also be letting our guard down in terms of credibility.”

Educators should also replace checklists—which focus on URLs and publication dates—with curiosity-driven investigations that force students to consider the motivations of online content creators. “We should focus less on the right answers, and more on the right questions,” she says.

When it comes to her own college students, she finds that a growing number now are fearful about having to face book-banning campaigns and other political challenges. This environment raises the risk of self-censorship and not stocking books that might cause a backlash.

“So many of the books that are challenged and removed feature and normalize the stories of historically marginalized populations—people of color and LGBTQIA+ storylines,” she says. “Some librarians have just decided that they’re just not going to order books with those characters.”

She encourages her students to consider who is harmed when books are removed or information is censored. “The library is the one remaining egalitarian institution where you can go no matter what you believe, who you love or how much money you make,” she says. “And you can get access to resources that are magical and necessary without a transaction. A coffee shop will make you buy a latte and give up some personal information to get on the Wi-Fi.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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