CMU leads statewide discussion on the digital gap

Educators focus on teaching, technology, access

| Author: Andrea Mestdagh

When COVID-19 closed schools and forced teachers and students into remote learning, there were many noteworthy successes. But the situation largely highlighted a digital learning gap in the education system. As the pandemic continues and infections increase, Central Michigan University is taking a leadership role in advancing vital remote teaching and learning skills.

CMU and the International Society for Technology in Education brought together classroom educators, school administrators, district leaders, regional agencies and representatives from the Michigan Department of Education to address technology in today's learning environments. Full report is available online.

"As leaders in teacher education, we saw an opportunity to gather educators from all levels across the state to work together to address common issues and encourage a statewide vision," said Paula Lancaster, dean of CMU's College of Education and Human Services.

In small group sessions, stakeholders discussed the successes and challenges experienced by educators, administrators and students across the state. The conversation then pivoted to identifying recommendations to move the state forward collectively:

  1. Invest in professionals who can support teachers: Technology coaches, library media specialists and others credentialed in supporting education technology programs and initiatives are essential in helping educators adjust and adapt.
  2. Change the negative perception of screen time by identifying quality use of technology: Increase awareness of what quality tech use for learning looks like. This also could help parents and caregivers, who are more involved in students' learning than ever before, better understand online learning.
  3. Support partnerships across stakeholders: Keep open communication channels among stakeholders, and share strategies and resources while minimizing competition. We are stronger together.
  4. Train how to use tech for learning, and make it relevant, manageable and empowering: New tools and technology don't automatically equal effective learning. School leadership should train educators on the best teaching strategies when using technology. The training should include tips for communicating with parents to help students and parents feel more comfortable using new tools and tech at home.
  5. Ensure students' access to necessary tools: Students of different ages and grade levels have different tech needs. School leaders should create and provide a list of resources that includes strategies to implement immediately, such as those that explain how to check for students' understanding and age-appropriate educational strategies.
  6. Help teachers manage priorities: Teachers have to learn new technology and address the social and emotional well-being of students, all while taking care of their own selves and families. School leaders should help ensure efficient use of teachers' time by incorporating plans for teaching with technology into what educators are already doing.

"Throughout everything we've been studying and working on since the pandemic began, the question remains: How can educators make online learning more effective and equitable for students, regardless of where they live and what technology they have available," said Kathryn Dirkin, associate professor and chair of Teacher Education and Professional Development at CMU.

As the pandemic continues, access to education and resources needs to improve, Dirkin said. And teachers must be prepared for educating with technology. Programs like CMU's master's degree in learning, design and technology and doctorate in educational technology are designed to prepare educators for a variety of instructional settings.

"In all of the virtual conferences we've participated and presented in recently, the common themes are investing in our teachers, technology for students and teachers, and access for all," Dirkin said.

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