4 Key Action Items for Vendors From the National Ed Tech Plan

Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology is calling on those in the K-12 space to close critical digital divides, and vendors have a big role to play.

Federal Digital Equity Advisor Ji Soo Song laid out multiple ways education companies can take action to close technology inequities during a conversation hosted by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) this week.

Vendors in the K-12 space should look to the National Education Technology Plan for ways to help close existing digital divides.

He drew from the OET’s recently released National Educational Technology Plan, a 113-page document that identified three big digital divides in K-12 — how technology is accessed, designed, and used in classrooms.

The goal is not to allow the report to “live on as another PDF on a government website,” Song said, but rather as a “catalyst for action” spurring concrete changes.

“It sets that national vision for what we mean when we say ‘effective use of edtech for teaching and learning,'” he said. “It also provides recommendations around the systems that we need to build at the state and local levels to achieve that vision.”

Here are four steps Song said education vendors can, and should, be taking:

1. Develop a ‘Portrait of a Graduate’

When looking to address the inequities in how students are using technology in the classroom, it’s important to start by developing a portrait of a graduate, Song said.

This vision should lay out the expectations for what competencies and skills students need to have when they leave the K-12 system as well as what level of agency they have over their learning day to day.

From there, Song said vendors can create a portrait of an educator and a portrait of a learning environment.

“These visions need to be interconnected so that we can start to more strategically examine how technology can serve as a vehicle for arriving at that vision and achieving each of those elements,” he said.

2. Start Asking Questions

The three divides identified in the NETP report lend themselves to follow up questions for both vendors and districts, Song said.

When it comes to gaps in access, companies should ask themselves: Can students with disabilities engage with the technology and digital learning experiences? Have students also been taught about digital health and citizenship? Are these tools accessible for students from home or outside of the school building?

For gaps in use, questions could include: Is technology being used in an active, analytical, or creative way in the classroom? Are there differences in how technology is used between districts, or even schools? Are students being asked about their experiences as a learner?

And when considering gaps in design: Are students being asked to demonstrate their learning through something static, like a quiz, or a more stimulating option, such as a presentation or video? Can professional development help teacher become more informed designers of active learning experiences? Is a product grounded in The UDL Guidelines?

3. Rethink the Procurement Process

Vendors should be ready to meet new or evolving requests during the procurement process as states and districts think about what factors they should look for before making a purchase.

Among the discussions that should happen during procurement are whether a tool is accessible and considers variability among learners, whether it considers student data privacy, and what market validators or certifications from various trusted organizations a tool has earned.

If education companies have a multi-year contract or ongoing relationship with a district, they can partner with them to update procurement policies or create consistent guidelines regarding the use of tech in classrooms.

“There’s definitely room to improve our systems here,” Song said.

4. Join Strategic Convenings and Share Wins

This week’s conversation is part of an ongoing effort by the federal department to translate the report’s findings into progress.

Over the next year, Song said his office will continue to host “strategic convenings” to help vendors, districts, and state leaders put recommendations from the NETP into action. Recently he facilitated a group of vendors and districts who came together to examine the procurement process and consider where this new guidance could be integrated.

They are also looking to continue to highlight the work that vendors and districts are doing in closing these gaps, beyond the many examples already in the report. Song encourages vendors to reach out and share any success stories.

“One of the tools that the federal government uses all the time, in addition to rules and regulations, is just spotlighting,” he said. “Highlighting examples of behaviors that we’d like to see the field.”

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Image by Getty.

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