Leveraging Technology-Enabled Instruction To Improve Student Outcomes
By Dr. Bill Daggett, founder, International Center for Leadership in Education and Successful Practices Network.
The first full school year of remote, in-person, or hybrid model of instruction during the COVID-19 era is finally behind us. Now that the dust is settling on that tumultuous time for students, teachers, parents, and administrators, we need to reflect and dissect the cases of perseverance and success and how they came about so that we can be ready to grapple with the challenges that we will surely meet going forward. Indeed, there are many lessons to be learned from the past year, but possibly the most critical is the need for school systems in every community to have a plan to deliver technology-enabled instruction to students.
Leveraging technology to improve student outcomes is not a new concept but it is a practice typically done in isolation and at the maximum comfort level of the teacher. Many instructors to this day reject the full capabilities of what advanced technologies can provide in favor of a twentieth-century model of manual computing and labor because that is “how it has always been done.” In reality, new and innovative technologies, coupled with the ability to digitize and deliver content remotely, has expanded the capabilities of teachers to personalize instruction based upon a student’s interest, learning style, aptitude, and countless other factors because no two kids are the same. In essence, the traditional paradigm has been flipped from “students go to school to learn” to “learning goes to students wherever they are.”
A May 2020 study examining the impact of school closures on student learning demonstrated that students in schools using technology-enabled instruction, in this case a reading software that helps teachers differentiate instruction for student in grades 2-12–Achieve3000 Literacy, continued to attain similar levels of reading growth during school closures as they had earlier in the year.
A more recent study from June of this year showed that students using this same software from Achieve3000 achieved accelerated reading growth at similar rates across the last three years. Who would have thought that students could continue to engage in learning and achieve growth during a worldwide crisis? While we hope not to be faced with another pandemic any time soon, we can’t miss the opportunity to expand students’ possibilities for learning.
Artificial intelligence (AI) will increasingly impact how, when, and where students will learn, engage, collaborate, and ultimately work. For education systems to be successful at improving student outcomes, our efforts need to be as future-focused as the workplace is. A recent report by McKinsey & Company indicated that jobs that require physical and manual skills increasingly require less time and pay lower wages while the time that workers spend doing technological skills is increasing along with the pay to apply those skills.
These findings alone reveal why the “how it’s always been done” mindset is so counterproductive. In schools today, students are instructed to leave their smart phones in their locker or at home during assessments for fear that they will use them to cheat. What benefit is there in willfully using a tool or process to complete a task when a more ubiquitous and efficient one is available? Any other workplace would not tolerate such a practice, so why do schools continue to?
Engagement is central to an enjoyable and impactful learning experience. Advancing technologies all allow for a more personalized and dynamic learning journey that students and teachers can develop and adjust together. The emergence of dynamic learning engines makes it possible and relatively simple to accelerate growth for every student. During the COVID shutdowns, digital delivery was haphazard, especially at first, but ultimately became a lifeline for students in the remote learning setting. Teachers and students both needed to upskill and adapt rapidly to Zoom and Google Classroom, but by the end of the 2020-21 school year, it became apparent that e-learning is here to stay.
Certainly, changing the culture to where students co-author their learning experience will take many years to implement and require a substantial commitment to professional development and financial support from federal and state departments for high-needs districts. For it is students with special needs, many of whom are in high-needs districts, who stand to lose the most by being left behind if we do not follow through and bring the full capacities of AI, e-learning, and modern student data management systems to scale in every district in the nation.