Shift To Digital: EdTech ‘Look Fors’

Blog Series, EdTech, Learning, Learning Design, Online & Blended, PreK-12

This blog is the fourth in a four part series–sponsored by Pearson Education–focused around the key indicators of success in a digital learning program. The first post focused on shared vision for student outcomes and learning experiences the second focused on system strategies and the third on next-gen classrooms.

In 2013, Houston ISD superintendent Terry Grier and his new Chief Technology Information Officer Lenny Schad led a charge to provide laptops to high school students in 18 schools to transform “what and how we teach.” 

Schad and Grier were determined to break the perception that big districts can’t make the digital shift. “We have an opportunity to show people,” said Schad. He understands that shift to digital isn’t about if, it’s about when. After doing their research and seeing what other districts were picking, HISD landed on leased windows laptops that included dedicated onsite support, loss and damage protection and phone/online support. (See this snapshot from TLA for details on Houston’s procurement process.)

While many other districts were going with tablets, Schad and his team found value in having a keyboard, especially for high school students. While tablets are great for consuming information, laptops and web appliances are best for producing.

Schad spent time identifying and observing early adopters and incorporating lessons into purchasing and rollout. The HISD process was featured in our Guide To EdTech Procurement. It served as the basis for other districts including El Paso ISD.

In part 2 of this series, we called the Houston approach an enterprise model–schools all use the same device, curriculum, platform and basic school model.   

In contrast, Santa Ana USD allowed schools to select devices aligned with their school model. This we called a portfolio model–one that accepts or encourages unique approaches. They are both viable approaches to aligning technology to a set of goals and school model.

EdTech Checklist

Based on the Future Ready framework, SETDA and COSN resources, and our Blended Learning Implementation Guide 3.0, following are 10 EdTech look fors:

  1. 1:1 take home production-capable devices for all grade 5-12 student.
  2. Bring your own device policies/practices.
  3. Learning platforms that help teachers manage content, assignments and assessments.
  4. Experiences and technology promoting deeper learning; students don’t just consume, they produce and present.
  5. Robust broadband infrastructure.
  6. Cohesion between face to face and online. Teachers use data to drive coherent learner experience.
    • Christensen Institute notes that “modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.”
  7. Blended and personalized learning for educators
  8. Plan for network security (periodic risk assessment, security policies, regular inventory, PD, response plan)
  9. Adequate technical assistance
  10. Formal review and replacement cycle

If you see evidence of these EdTech look fors, you know there’s a plan in place to support teachers and deliver powerful learning experiences for students.

This blog series is written as part of Pearson’s Shift to Digital Learning Campaign. Learn how Pearson supports the digital transformation of education with online and blended learning, elearning, and digital solutions to improve results, by checking out their Shift to Digital Campaign page, and:


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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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