Other countries facing common ed-tech struggles

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor


U.S. educators spend much time touting the benefits of taking a global look at classroom technology, but many countries struggle with the same ed-tech challenges facing the U.S., including dwindling funds, accessibility issues, and adequate teacher support.


“This is a challenging time today in education technology,” said Robert Martellacci, president and publisher of MindShare Learning, a Canadian ed-tech consulting, news, and events firm. “We sometimes refer to it as the Wild West. We realized there is a pent-up demand to understand what’s really working in the classroom.”


There are 15,500 K-12 schools and 5.1 million K-12 students across Canada, with 85 to 90 percent of the country’s population living within 100 miles of the U.S border. There is no national department of education, but control is segmented among 10 provinces and three territories. On average, the country maintains a one-to-five computer-to-student ratio, and Martellacci said mobile computing and BYOD initiatives are “gaining serious traction” as they are in the U.S. Also similar to U.S. schools is a strain on financial systems.


A September 2012 MindShare infographic on Canadian teachers’ views of classroom technology revealed that:

  • Only 58 percent of teachers said they have decent classroom bandwidth.
  • Only 47 percent said they receive an information and communication technology plan from their school or district.
  • Forty-one percent of teachers’ schools and districts do not have a BYOD policy.
  • The top three ed-tech tools in the classroom are projectors (70 percent), interactive whiteboards (63 percent), and document cameras (37 percent).
  • The top eLearning platforms are Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and Moodle.
  • Top social media sites include Google+, Twitter, and YouTube.
  • Seventy-seven percent of teachers attribute resources or funding as the main barrier to using classroom technology; 40 percent cited lack of professional development, and 24 percent said they lack support.


“We’ve got a real responsibility in our board to really close gaps and move students forward, and give them the same opportunities that other students in Ontario are able to quite easily achieve, “ said Scott Urquhart, supervising principal of the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board in Ontario (KPDSB).


KPDSB operates in a low socio-economic area, which has a direct impact on students’ and parents’ abilities to purchase classroom technology on their own.


“We didn’t want BYOD for a variety of reasons, given the socio-economic environment [the kids] live in,” Urquhart said. The district purchased and supports the netbooks for all students.


KPDSB staff implemented a sustainable one-to-one ed-tech strategy that it supports with sound pedagogy. The one-to-one program began with 21st-century learning research and a pilot program three years ago involving early-adopting teachers and principals. Under full implementation, all schools and board offices were equipped with wireless internet access, and students in grades 4-12 received netbooks. Every primary learning environment features iPad pods.


Early on, the district saw an increase in staff and student engagement as adoption and implementation progressed. Now, district officials hope to link these increases to real data on longitudinal achievement and improvements.


Right now, KPDSB is focusing on:

  • Continued implementation throughout the district, beyond the innovators and early-adopter groups.
  • Enhancing assessment-based instruction and pedagogical models.
  • Boosting school principals’ instructional leadership.
  • Establishing effective pedagogical models for students, including oral communication, critical thinking, higher-order tasks, effective feedback, and assessment practices.
  • Making available effective support systems for teacher learning, within a networked model.


KPDSB employs four coaches and classroom technology support teachers to help its educators apply concepts, said Lindy Henderson, who is one of those support coaches. Coaches focus on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to teacher professional development, and also work to facilitate a culture of learning.


“We want to adopt a community and a culture that’s global, where we know that our best resources aren’t always in the walls of our classroom, in terms of research and pedagogy,” Henderson said.


Next up for KPDSB are efforts to deepen engagement through inquiry-based learning, and to explore how online communities can help teachers and principals.


Also critical, said Lynn McGaughey, a KPDSB elementary school principal, is the role of the school principal and coaches. Effective pedagogical models make room for coaches to take explain those models to teachers and leaders, and to show educators how to model those concepts within their own buildings and classrooms and with existing technologies.


“We are a very small board, we’re very nimble, and we have a good capacity to do this kind of work,” McGaughey said. “Our goal is to go beyond providing technology to our students—we want to look at this as a system perspective, changing not just in the classroom but across the board.”


Next, district leaders will try to answer a handful of new questions:

  • What do effective tech-enabled learning organizations look like?
  • What is sustainable for KPDSB?
  • What are the most relevant and effective professional learning models?

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