5 Steps Educators Can Take to Close the “Tech-Spectation” Gap

Schools can make a difference in the quality of learning students receive

Elliott Levine

Most students today have been using digital tools for many years, at home or at school. Whether it’s laptops and tablets or interactive video and virtual reality (VR), students expect technology to be part of their educational experience, seeing it as fundamental to their ability to learn. 

But as they approach high school and college, many are stunned to discover that schools don’t adequately live up to their “tech-spectations.”

Educators recognize they must close the tech-spectation gap. However, they do not always know where to start or which technologies to prioritize.

Here are five steps schools and universities can take to elevate their technology expertise:

  1. Rate Your Technology Maturity

No matter how much or how little innovation your district has deployed, it is important to conduct an honest assessment of your technological maturity. To do that, consider using the SAMR Model.

The SAMR model identifies four levels of maturity: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Re-definition. With technology, most schools and universities begin by substituting or augmenting existing learning tools, such as notepads or paper textbooks, with digital alternatives like laptops and tablets.

There is nothing wrong with this approach. After all, it is typically better to have modern tools than older ones. But all these schools have really done is swap one medium for another. They have merely enhanced learning rather than transform it.

To transform it, institutions must conceptualize new products benefitting the market and implement technologies that enable students to unleash their imagination. An example would be an intuitive “immersive technology” solution allowing students to manipulate the physical and digital worlds in innovative ways with a PC, hi–res cameras and touch mat as well as 2D and 3D scanning capabilities.

  1. Gauge the Staff’s Appetite for Technology

The next step to close the tech-spectation gap is to understand your faculty’s capacity and willingness to embrace new technology. If they are eager to make meaningful changes, you can skip to the next step. If not, then there is work to do because individuals who do not understand or support the need to introduce new technology can derail your plans.

Spend time identifying likely supporters and detractors. Educate them about the need to introduce transformative technology and how failure to do so can lead to consequences for the institution, as students increasingly favor online education over attending schools in-person. Build consensus among all key stakeholders before moving on to making specific technological changes. This will be a critical step to ensuring success.

  1. Help Instructors Overcome Technology Phobias

No matter how cool or useful the technology, a percentage of the staff will invariably resist the need for it because they are afraid they won’t have enough time to learn and implement it. 

It is difficult overcoming this fear, but some schools and universities try creating cultures where risk-taking is rewarded and failure is permitted. This must start at the top with the administration making clear they are on board with this approach. Some institutions even go as far as to issue index card-sized “Get Out of Jail Free” cards that instructors can hand to supervisors if their digital learning risk-taking does not pan out.

Novel approaches such as this are not so much about embracing failure as they are about creating risk-friendly environments where important innovation is encouraged and nurtured.

  1. Raise Your Teaching Game with Simulation Technology

Adopting technology in the classroom is not just about what you put in hands of students; it is also about technology enabling instructors to be more effective.

Simulators blending artificial intelligence (AI), VR and video are beginning to demonstrate tremendous promise for dramatically improving educational quality. For example, Mursion, a San Francisco startup, has a novel VR simulator that educators in 65 universities are using to effectively hone their instructional skills through various pre-loaded scenarios, such as managing classrooms, tending to children with special needs and practicing specific lesson plans. Teachers train with avatars that look, sound and act like real children – complete with some typical disruptions they might face in class.

This type of technology could become integral for improving instruction, and there are several simulation options now available, including simSchool. Consider deploying one for your educators.

  1. Invest in Maker Spaces

Some schools are trying to expose students to technology through a concept known as “maker spaces.” These are collaborative work rooms where kids, adults and entrepreneurs alike can experiment and test new ideas using equipment that might be hard to come by otherwise. The University of Washington, for example, offers a free “CoMotion MakerSpace” where students can use tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, state-of-the-art computers, software and sewing machines (seriously) to work on school, personal or even professional projects.

The only real shortcoming of maker spaces in universities is that many institutions invest in entry level “tinker-type” 3D printers and other technology that is more appropriate for hobbyists than business applications. In many cases, schools do not realize that prices for these technologies have dropped considerably in recent years even as their technical capabilities have dramatically improved. Students know when educational institutions are investing in better technology – and when they are not. For a maker space to be successful, it needs to have the best possible equipment. 

Closing the tech-spectation gap will not be easy. It will take time. But with the right programmatic thinking, ongoing commitment to innovation and a willingness to try innovative technologies, schools can make a difference in the quality of learning students receive and the skills of their faculty.

Elliott Levine is director of education for the Americas Region of HP, Inc. and the company’s first Distinguished Technologist focused solely on education technology.

Elliott Levine is director of education for the Americas Region of HP, Inc. and the company’s first Distinguished Technologist focused solely on education technology.​

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