The power of any organization’s technology infrastructure is not simply in its hardware and software solutions, but rather an effective combination of equitable access, availability, and utilization by the user base to enhance current practices and establish new programs. In the early years of instructional technology, schoolhouse technology usage was mostly dedicated to students learning and practicing typing skills and playing computer games loosely described as ‘educational’. While tangentially beneficial, these uses were more about finding a way to utilize the sparse amounts of technology in the building rather than leveraging it to help students reach their learning goals. For teachers, planning a lesson that fully harnessed the power of technology was not a reality due to limited time and access. These constraints, in turn, meant that the use of the technology was at best on surface level and usually an add-on. Over and over this cycle would repeat.
"Meaningful learning experiences can be created on the fly for each individual student and pushed to them directly with pertinent resources and timely feedback"
Even in somewhat recent history, factors like cost, computing ratios, and compatibility have made it incredibly difficult for school administrators and teachers to fully realize effective 21st century learning environments. With one computer lab and a smattering of machines throughout the building, there is, often no way to create a meaningful learning experience, that allows for all teachers and students to simultaneously leverage technology for teaching and learning.
The good news is that, in the past few years, a great deal of work to create robust 21st Century Learning Environments has been underway. More school systems have created equitable opportunities for technology access, providing a level of consistency that has allowed administrators and teachers to begin rethinking what technology use looks like in the building, while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of what was previously thought possible in and around the schooling experience.
The learning environments created by large scale technology initiatives help to ensure that the teachers are not simply limited to presenting things digitally because the
technology is available, but that they can now rethink how instructional content is delivered and create learning experiences to meet the needs of all students. For years, programs like ‘Home and Hospital’ and ‘Credit Recovery’ maintained the status quo by dropping off textbooks at homes, delivering lessons over the phone, and offering night classes. Despite computer and Internet access becoming more prevalent, access issues related to any number of factors meant that innovation could not occur for fear of creating fractured programs that leave out chunks of the student population. As large-scale technology initiatives reach institutionalization and stakeholders’ comfort levels with the supplied technology, fostered by comprehensive professional learning opportunities are raised, the evolution of existing programs like ‘Home and Hospital’ and ‘Credit Recovery’ can begin. When a school district provides a personal computing device for each student and partners with public and private organizations to make Internet access easier to obtain either in or near home, different educational options can be provided to students participating in these programs. Meaningful learning experiences can be created on the fly for each individual student and pushed to them directly with pertinent resources and timely feedback. During the school day, either remotely or on campus, students can participate in credit recovery programs to put them back on track for graduation. Blended learning opportunities – which have existed for years – can now be accessed by the entire student population instead of a selected few who have the necessary resources.
With the increased availability of technology, comes the responsibility of providing students the knowledge and skill sets to successfully and safely navigate our increasingly connected world. When every student has access to a device, programs can be put into place that will teach all students to recognize the importance of being safe, secure, and responsible when using technology for learning or for fun. Conversations and campaigns around the topics of data privacy, digital citizenship, and online safety – with students at the center of this work – become critical components of the work happening in schools in a way that wasn’t necessary just a few years ago.
At its core, the purpose of any large-scale educational enterprise initiative is to support the achievement of all students. By centralizing the purchasing and decision-making, the fiscal and organizational burden on each individual school administrator is lessened, allowing them to focus on utilizing what they have - both in terms of technology and available funds - to create innovative programs that meet the specific needs of their students’ population. For example, with the reduced burden on each school’s budget and rapidly decreasing costs of tools like 3D printers, CNC routing machines, and broadcast media equipment, administrators can now move technologies typically reserved for professionals or Career and Technical (CTE) program students into the general academic environment. The development of makerspaces and television studios in schools around the world has led to a renewed focus on creation instead of consumption, empowering all students to bring their ideas to life. While these programs can certainly be put into place without a large-scale technology initiative, they are much easier to establish when all other technology purchases and the accompanying professional learning are considered part of the baseline.
Headquartered in Towson, Maryland, Baltimore County Public Schools is a school system focused on creating a culture of deliberate excellence. It provides quality education to 108,376 students.