Tech Enablers 2020

For the past two years I’ve worked on the advisory board for the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) report on Driving K-12 Innovation. I also serve as the co-chair of the Emerging Technologies Committee for CoSN. In both roles I’m looking at how educational technology can impact the delivery of curriculum and instruction. The Driving K-12 Innovation project starts by identifying the obstacles for learning in K-12. Then the advisers from around the world examine the accelerators, the ideas, programs, and projects that increase the speed for solving a problem in a classroom. Finally the international team highlights the educational solutions, the tech-enablers, that address the Hurdles and at the same time tap into the Accelerators. 

This past week CoSN released its latest Driving Innovation report on Tech Enablers. The report explores the top five technology tools improving education this year by enabling innovation and facilitating adaptation during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the international advisory board of edtech experts, the most important Tech Enablers for schools to leverage in 2020 in order to surmount Hurdles and embrace Accelerators advancing the digital transformation are: Digital Collaboration Platforms; Tools for Privacy & Safety Online; Analytics & Adaptive Technologies; Cloud Infrastructure; and Mobile Devices.

“In today’s COVID-19 world, the importance of effective virtual learning environments has significantly increased. CoSN’s Tech Enablers report will help school systems determine the technology advancements that are critical for teaching and learning in 2020,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “The two-part Driving K-12 Innovation series provides educators with a holistic view of the current edtech landscape and allows them to lead technological change in their districts and beyond.”

According to the CoSN site: The report delves into two Tech Enablers that are particularly salient given the COVID-19 pandemic-fueled transition to virtual learning and provides related anecdotes from school leaders across the country:

  • Digital Collaboration Platforms: Digital collaboration platforms can enable a broader range of learning opportunities on both the global and local level, help students develop digital and career-relevant skills, and support professional development and learning communities. To leverage this Tech Enabler, educators and school systems must prioritize safety and privacy, develop stakeholder competency, and address issues of equity and access.
  • Tools for Privacy & Safety Online: Tools for privacy & safety online, such as privacy settings in apps, administrative/parental controls, filters and education/support resources, can help school systems, educators and students protect themselves in digital spaces. To effectively leverage this Tech Enabler, educators should utilize communities and resources, craft relevant policies and processes, and build stakeholder understanding and capability.

CoSN issued the 2020 Hurdles + Accelerators report in March and will also be releasing a Toolkit to help its members navigate the interconnected Hurdles-Accelerators-Tech Enablers ecosystem. Last year I developed a workshop with Susan Bearden from CoSN to share the Toolkit at the ISTE Conference. It looks like this year that won’t happen. However, the toolkit is just another excellent reason for all educational technology leaders to consider joining CoSN

You can learn more about the Driving K-12 Innovation initiative at

Reimagining not Resuming Learning

There are several themes coming out of recent virtual conferences and articles. This year Schools that Can pivoted and made its annual forum an online event in May 2020. At one session around “Radical Changes in Educational Systems” Paul LeBlanc, the President of the University of Southern New Hampshire (SNHU), outlined how his university is rethinking the higher education experience with related changes in the cost structure. One of the keys for LeBlanc is to untether the academic and social experience of attending a higher education institution. SNHU and other universities have discovered that students do not want to pay for an online experience without the rituals and benefits of living on campus. SNHU has taken an innovative approach. They have offered the incoming class for 2020 reduced tuition in exchange for providing guidance and feedback on redesigning the learning experience at SNHU.

According to the SNHU website:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the great uncertainty facing higher education, SNHU is accelerating its work to redefine the traditional campus-based learning model and provide more affordable, flexible, and accessible options for students and families…. We are bringing tuition down to approximately $10,000 per year for all new SNHU campus-based students.

As a result, SNHU will offer for Fall 2020 incoming freshmen:

  • An Innovation Scholarship that covers 100% of the first-year tuition (effectively making the start at SNHU tuition-free)
  • The ability to apply federal financial aid and non-SNHU scholarships to room and board costs if students choose to live on campus (room and board costs still apply)
  • A new lower annual tuition of approximately $10,000 per year to finish a degree (a 66% reduction in the current SNHU tuition rate)

Students will take their courses online, but they are still able to live on campus and participate in all campus clubs, activities, athletics, leadership development opportunities, and other vital coming-of-age experiences.

Hybrid seems to be the key for K-12 institutions as well. Stanley Thompson, the Senior Program Director for Education at the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, explained on the Schools that Can panel how his organization was launching the Pittsburgh Readiness Institute (PRI). The new venture originally was scheduled to start this summer, but the Coronavirus has altered the trajectory, but not the vision. According to Stan in an article from NextPittsburgh, ““When you were in math class or chemistry class, you might have dealt with a series of problems that teachers had assigned to you, and you asked yourself, ‘What’s the relevance of this?’”

The Pittsburgh Readiness Institute is focused on applying skills and concepts to real-world problems that will be relevant for today’s learners. The concept is designed around a partnership between education, industry, and the community. According to Stan, “For example, students could apply their chemistry expertise to a community with lead in its water, or in the paint in old houses. They could test water quality, engage with researchers on the issue, learn about mitigation strategies and devise a plan for solutions.”

Students will participate in a Learn and Earn model. They will receive a stipend for attending the institute and for the related work that they do with an industry partner. “They’re going to be paid to think, and to come up with solutions for some very real problems,” says Thompson. “They’re going to be paid to collaborate. They’re going to be paid to know the importance of coming up with a prototype.”

In the process, Thompson wants to get students thinking about questions such as Who am I? Who do I want to become? How do I get there? How do I continue to grow? How do I give back to my community? The PRI experience will help students to develop the skills, attitudes and values students need for a productive life at school, on the job and in society.

In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments summarized the goals: “The idea with the readiness institute in pulling all of those elements together — including the perspective of industry and exposure to real-world problems and academic learning as part of this — is that this program is designed to help students navigate this critical transition from high school to either a job or to a learning path that will prepare them for that job.”

The New Normal

For many educational leaders during this pandemic there is no time to think about the future. The imperative for now is the struggle to meet the immediate needs for remote learning as we struggle through the COVID-19 crisis. However, planning for the future is one of the most critical needs during this time. Coronavirus has undermined our entire educational system. We are not meeting the needs of many students. Learners across the country (and world) cannot access necessary resources. Many students are falling behind and they will fall further and further behind as the crisis continues. Public policy has to be adjusted to meet this new reality. Systems need to be reexamined. This is actually the time to think about how we deliver, schedule, and assess learning in a K-20 world. To help me better frame these problems, I enlisted the help of some colleagues. I used some guiding questions and insights from KnowledgeWorks, research and findings from the RAND Corporation, examples of best practices from the Montour School District, and some of my own research with a focus on the Lindsay Unified Schools in California.

Setting the Stage

The past few years have seen a resurgence around the Whole Child Approach. During the era of No Child Left Behind, K-12 educational systems focused on the academic performance of students. Many educators realized that other factors were necessary before they could think about academic proficiency . Today research from people like Laura Hamilton from the Rand Corporation, provide wonderful evidence of what is necessary for student success. As part of the New Normal we need to focus more on relationships. According to Laura Hamilton, “Research demonstrates the value of developing these skills for short- and long-term academic achievement and other outcomes such as college enrollment and health. Moreover, research strongly indicates the need for students to feel safe and supported in order to learn. High-quality relationships — between staff and students, among students and among staff — are crucial for this development.”

For the Montour School District it’s the relationships that start the process. According to Justin Aglio, the Direction of Innovation K-12 and Academic Achievement K-4, we need to focus on the “Who” during this time of the Coronavirus. Each morning students in K-4 begin their day with the Morning Announcements, an asynchronous version of what they had shown in their pre-pandemic classrooms. Justin and his team realized that they had to transform the Morning Announcements in order to engage their remote learners and make all students feel connected. Students need to know that their teachers and administrators care about them.  For instance, to start the remote learning project, students submitted photos of their favorite toys. The administrative team created a webpage to showcase the student responses. The morning announcements now are often more humorous or include national personalities, like Mark Cuban, who challenge the kids to come up with the most innovative ways to solve problems in their homes and life away from school. What’s critical is to get students to see that the New Normal still has elements of the past, especially the importance of the social and emotional elements that are the building blocks for learning. We need to make sure we start with the Who, the building block for developing a strong relationship between the learner and the educational community.

Yet, we also need to make some changes in how we think about learning. At districts like Montour or Lindsay Unified in California the transition to meeting the needs of individual learners didn’t start with the Coronavirus. Both districts enlisted their communities to define what should be their vision and their future with a focus on what they expected for each graduating student. Both districts also started down a path to Personalized Learning years ago. Students took ownership for their own learning. That’s the key for success. Once students see themselves as self-directed learners, they are ready to handle the uncertainty and challenges of times like we’re facing with the Coronavirus. At Montour every secondary student had a Personalized Learning Time (PLT) before the pandemic. Each student worked out their own schedule for how to use their daily PLT.

At Lindsay Unified all students were involved in a Performance Based System (PBS) that established a system of skills and dispositions that allowed students to continue on their path during the transition to the Coronavirus. Learners no longer advance through the system because of age or grade-level, rather, they are met at their developmental level and progress through required learning based on performance.

Thinking about the Future

For many school districts there was little planning and preparation for remote learning. However, for districts like Montour or Lindsay Unified in California, the move to remote learning was much easier since they had already put in place a Mission, Vision, Shared Values, and an instructional approach that incorporated Personalized Learning. They had looked at their future and made key institutional decisions that provided a framework for the transition to the New Normal. As part of a conversation with Jason Swanson from KnowledgeWorks, I discussed what should be the question for today. Here’s what we agreed upon: What Do You Want from the Future?

It’s no longer about Career and College Readiness. It’s really about making each day meaningful for every learner. Justin Aglio pointed out that we must prepare kids for each day’s challenge.

However, there are some major considerations about financing and the future of our educational institutions. Justin Aglio shared that his administrative team expects to see a 25% reduction in revenue for the coming year. Many businesses will not be able to contribute to the local economy. People may not be able to pay their real estate taxes. This will lead to a new set of questions about the priorities for expenditures. Will schools have the funds to purchase new equipment, new resources for the New Normal? Will schools be able to afford their current staffing?

In addition, schools have a new opportunity to think about how they deliver instruction, how they schedule learning activities, and how they evaluate student learning. Online learning will be part of our future. How do we make sure our educational staff is transforming the learning process using the best tools and resources? This will require many schools to think about online professional development. But if we don’t go back to the basic question looking at what we want for our Future, we will just automate existing processes and delivery systems. We won’t be ready for the New Normal where many of basic assumptions and archaic systems are in jeopardy.

What should be the best organizational structure for learning? It’s imperative that parents, students, educators and administrators sit down and examine the reality of the New Normal. This also includes how we think about demonstrating students’ understanding. For many districts ePortfolios were already part of the process. The New Normal will mandate not only digital means to share what students have learned, but new systems, like Blockchain, in order to share that information with post-secondary institutions and employers.

For schools to meet the challenges of the New Normal, here are four key questions to consider:

  • What Do You Want from the Future?
  • In what ways can we begin to change our learning institutions to better meet the needs of all learners?
  • In what ways do learners and the broader community think working will be different in the future? How might those changes impact learners’ aspirations?
  • In what ways can educational technology play a role in the post COVID-19 world?