Must-Have Technologies

Today’s educational leaders are confronted by a barrage of new and emerging technology options on a daily basis. The challenge becomes, how do educational leaders make decision in times of limited resources on which technology to invest our time, energy and resources? Below are some of the must-have technologies that are needed in every school district to improve student achievement.

Systems That Increase the Capacity of an Organization’s Ability to Improve Student Learning
Systems such as shared calendars and notification systems can help improve efficiency and communication. These types of technologies build capacity within the school district so that more energy can be spent focusing on improving instruction.

Another powerful system that has the potential to improve how instruction is delivered is curriculum management systems. These systems make it possible for curriculum to become real-time. In other words, as lesson plans and units are developed, they can be shared across the organization immediately instead of having to wait for curriculum guides to be updated, published and distributed. They also make the task of aligning curriculum and assessments easier, making it possible for school districts to deliver standards-based content to students.

Along with curriculum management systems, school districts need data management systems that allow users to obtain usable and accessible data to inform practice. These systems facilitate data analysis and dissemination of appropriate data to students, teachers, parents, administrators and other stakeholders. Accessibility to this type of data is helpful in supporting school reforms and focus on student achievement.

When considering purchasing student information systems or data-mining systems, look for systems that are interoperable with other systems you have in place, such as your curriculum management system. End users should be able to create customized reports with just a few clicks of the mouse. At a minimum, your data management system should be able to break down data by ethnicity, gender, special needs, attendance and discipline. It should also allow you to disaggregate data by school, grade level, classroom and standards.

Another important function when considering data systems is the ability to collect both summative and formative data. Summative data typically only demonstrates how groups and subgroups have performed, and only gives a snapshot of how the student has performed. This information often comes too late to be useful. It is important that your data management systems also allow teachers to add formative assessment data or locally developed assessments to gather data on students to guide their instruction.

End users should not have to export it to Excel or Access to manipulate the data. This allows users to truly take ownership of their data, and in a timely manner.

In order for these systems to be fully utilized in the ways they were intended, leadership and ongoing professional development, beyond just the technical skills of manipulating the system, are needed. J. Panettieri, who presents webinars on this subject, suggests four things that teachers need to fully realize the full potential of these powerful systems to change instructional practice;
  1. they need the technical skills of getting data in and out of the data warehouse system;
  2. they need facilitation skills to talk about data with their colleagues;
  3. they need research based teaching strategies to adjust their teaching; and
  4. they need ongoing support during implementation.

Minimal Technology Standards for Classrooms
Almost every classroom in America has been wired to have Internet access. However, if we don’t equip our classrooms with some very basic technologies, we don’t fully capitalize on this investment. Every classroom should have a minimum of one computer that can connect to the Internet and has full multimedia capabilities.

While an interactive whiteboard is nice to have, at a minimum, every classroom should have ready access to a projector that can connect to the classroom computer.

Technologies That Have the Ability to Personalize Learning

One of the great promises of technology is the ability to personalize learning by addressing diverse learning styles and student needs. This may begin with technologies that have been developed to assist students with particular needs, but that are now being adapted more broadly to engage all students in many different ways to promote learning.

Portable devices, such as Netbooks, iPod Touches or even jump drives with specific programs, are one way that this can be achieved. For example, some districts use portable jump drives with specific programs to help individual students. Students can insert these jump drives into any computer and have the applications they need.

Another powerful tool that is becoming more and more prevalent in classrooms is Moodle. Moodle is a learning management system. It is modular and allows teachers to design their own online learning environments. The fact that it is free makes it accessible to every school district. Coupled with ubiquitious access to the Internet, Moodle can become a powerful tool for personalizing learning.

Martin Dougiamas, the founder of Moodle, describes it this way, “Moodle allows both teacher and learner to construct environments in their computer within which they can construct representations of their understandings of the subject and share them with others in a variety of ways.”

Technologies That Build Community
The emergence of cloud computing allows users to store and collaborate and access these tools in real time. According to CoSn’s Adolescent Literacy - Hot Technologies for Education: What's Happening Now and Later?, these technologies “allow people to work on different hardware platforms, brand-name devices and software applications with fewer barriers to transferring from one to another and sharing work with others.” The New Media Consortium’s 2009-Horizon-Report-K12, states, “Collaborative environments exist in a myriad of forms. They can be simple Web-based tools for collaborative work, social networking platforms, community Websites, classroom management systems, multiplayer gaming environments or even virtual worlds.” Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis are killer applications for building learning communities.

However, with these new tools comes the requirement that schools negotiate the complex balance of providing access to these tools and promoting student safety online. An article in The Journal by Andy McDonough, entitled “More Is More,” advocates taking a multi-layered approach to Internet security.

A multilayered approach should include things such as up-to-date policies that include uses of Web 2.0 applications, admin rights and computer passwords, safe e-mail programs with anti-spam filters, Internet Content Filtering and ongoing Internet education for staff and students.

In order for schools to capitalize on these tools, they need a strong infrastructure base. School leaders need to be proactive in planning for the bandwidth that will be required to capitalize on these types of Internet-based collaborative tools. A great resource to help school districts with planning for their infrastructure needs is the CoSN Broadband Knowledge Center.

Technologies That Promote Creativity, Innovation and Higher-Order Thinking
Podcasting and movie-making are examples of tools that promote creativity, innovation and higher-order thinking skills. Free tools, such as the iMovie suite or Windows Movie-Maker or Audacity, are available to students to download.

Students need ready access to digital cameras, digital-video cameras and recording devices to engage in these type of projects. The use of these tools can make learning more authentic, improve motivation and give students multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge.

Tammy Stephens is the CEO of The Stephens Group LLC, a technology integration consulting firm for K-12 Schools. More information is available at