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Will EdTech excel in America’s classrooms?

By Chelsea McCullough / January 8, 2014

Will EdTech excel in American classrooms?

The US spends more than $8 billion annually on K-12 education. That’s more than the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Finland combined. However, despite this hefty price tag, the results don’t justify these staggering figures. The US spends $7,743 per school-aged child (compared with UK’s $5,834) but math and science scores are third worst as compared to other developed countries.

Frustrated and anxious to find a solution, educators and parents are looking to technology to better engage students while simultaneously preparing them for the future workforce. Educational technology, often referred to as “EdTech,” is defined by Marlboro College as “the study and practice of designing effective instruction using technology, media, and learning theory.” By experimenting with the power of wireless technology, students are gaining the skills required to flourish in the 21st Century economy.

One app company, Famigo, puts vocabulary exercises into the hands of users through a partnership with the United Way. The Play to Learn program improves education in high-need areas by providing non-native English speakers with mobile devices full of family-friendly and school-relevant apps to help them become more proficient in the use of technology and the English language.

After an 18-month evaluation, the Austin-based program demonstrated notable increases in reading and confidence related to digital media. Parents reported being more likely to read books, tell stories and sing to their children, as well as use community resources like the local library.

EdTech is bigger in Texas

The EdTech movement is taking off at educational institutions all across the country, and few states are making a larger investment than Texas. In the South Texas Valley’s Edinburg Independent School District, educators are creating wireless classrooms containing everything from tablets to wall-sized touch screens. In Austin, Westlake High School has implemented a 1:1 device program that equips each student with an iPad. The EdTech impact has even spawned entirely new schools, like Manor New Tech High School. Since 2007, MNTHS has been “[preparing] students to excel in an information-based and technologically-advanced society” so effectively, they even earned a spot on President Obama’s Middle Class Jobs & Opportunities Tour.

These Texas-based educators are part of an entire community that’s reaching out to technologists and app developers to collaborate, create solutions and discover the best methods of mobilizing the classroom. Sean Duffy, founder of EdTech Austin, hosts a monthly meetup for educators and developers to learn from each other and discover best practices. Duffy proclaims:

“Schools are taking vastly different approaches when it comes to integrating mobile technology. Many schools struggle with implementation and I imagine many class sets of iPads or Android tablets don’t get fully integrated because there’s not much in the way of training for teachers to use them effectively, especially in language arts and social studies classes. It’s one of the goals of EdTech Austin to help schools in this regard. Stay tuned!”

Aiming to find solutions to this very issue is the Texas Computer Education Association, a member-based organization that focuses on integrating technology into the PreK-12 environment. Whether you’re a card-carrying member, or just an individual who cares about the future of education, registration is still open for the 2014 conference taking place in Austin on February 3-7.

Student approved

It’s no surprise that students are on board with digital classrooms. A Pearson Ed Student Mobile Device Survey released in 2013 revealed that 70% of students would like to use mobile devices more in school and that 90% believe wireless technology will make learning more enjoyable. Jennifer Fargo, a middle school teacher and graduate student at American InterContinental University recently commented:

“Students construct their own understanding of the world and they do so using technology. The average middle school student has direct access to this information on a daily basis and interacts with others around the world using interactive video games, social media, and mobile technology. Technologies that students use daily at home can become the tools that educators use to guide students in constructing knowledge in the 21st century and beyond.”

According to Pew Internet, 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half of them own smartphones. In a recent TechCrunch article, Apple boasts that more than 20,000 education-related apps have been developed and that 1.5 million mobile devices are at work in classrooms across the country.

These figures don’t even account for Android apps or non-Apple products. This is clearly more than a fad, and adoption will continue to skyrocket as devices and software becomes even more powerful and affordable.

Keeping students safe in the digital age

Today’s students access an unlimited amount of information 24/7, which brings us to another important topic related to the proliferation of technology; understanding the risks for school-age children and the importance of emphasizing digital safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a health initiative entitled Media and Children, which provides guidelines for “screen time,” and helps children become wise users of technology.

As the average age of digital consumers drops, developers are responding by creating apps and games that ensure today’s students get the safest and most advanced educational opportunities available. Engineers are designing networks that will enable future technologies to continue to flourish. As tech innovators continue to transform the way we communicate, gather information and learn, there is no question that education will increasingly depend on wireless, just as we do in other aspects of our daily lives.

Where in the world is the wireless spectrum?

These new tools are only as good as the efficiency in which they can be delivered. Connecting young minds with new learning requires unprecedented access to wireless spectrum, which is the limited resource of airwaves that carry wireless Internet signals. The technology-enabled education revolution depends on all of these pieces working together.

In order to reach the full benefits of wireless innovation, the federal government must allocate more spectrum for consumer mobile use. Once that spectrum is available, wireless providers can put it to work through investments that deliver even more benefits to wireless consumers, like students. Without access to more spectrum, wireless networks become congested, compromising reliable service for students, educators and consumers.

More and more, educating the workforce of the future is going to require wireless technology, and members of the educational community agree that mobile devices are promising new learning tools. However, without a wireless infrastructure in place that supports the best educational instruments available, digital classrooms will never reach their full potential. And without teaching methods geared towards modern markets, neither will our students.

Chelsea McCullough serves as Executive Director of Texans for Economic Progress, a statewide coalition that advocates greater access to tech education, entrepreneurship and infrastructure.