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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Build Support for Education Technology

Acknowledging that success -- for individual students, communities and the nation as a whole -- in the 21st century is being driven by new technologies, President Obama recently announced ConnectEd. This initiative aims to connect 99 percent of America's students to high-speed internet within the next five years. It also intends to increase teachers' skills in using education technology tools to improve student learning and encourages the private sector to develop educational devices and digital content.

The White House reports growing bipartisan support for the initiative, and many in the education community applaud it as a much-needed effort to upgrade our schools' broadband capability. But even if the vision is fulfilled, the potential impact on learning will not be realized until state, district, and school level policies truly support the use of education technology in classrooms -- and until all students have access to the devices necessary to take advantage of new learning opportunities.

Convincing community stakeholders to support education technology can be challenging. Some are of the "I didn't have it, and I turned out fine" mentality. And some who might be open to the idea are turned off by media coverage of existing edtech efforts, for good reason -- consider a recent piece in The New York Times on a report that found that education technology is often used for lower-order thinking skills and knowledge acquisition (particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds) and that states are not collecting information on the return of edtech investments.

Those are real challenges that need to be addressed. But at the same time, we in the education community need to build support among the general public for education technology. How?

Language to Use When Advocating

In building support for education technology, advocates often appear cold and impersonal, focusing on statistics, models, systems, and efficiency. They use too much jargon. And they talk about how they plan to incorporate technology, not the benefits of it.

Instead, they should focus on the impact technology has on children. Some key phrases to try:

  • "Investing in our kids' future" (not "investing in technology")
  • "Tools for learning" (not "digital resources")
  • "Technology-enhanced learning" (not "integrating technology into instruction")
  • "Active engagement" (not "relevancy-based")
  • "Flexible" (not "un-tethered")

Advocates would also be wise to connect their message to the key beliefs underlying Americans' views on education. What follows are some of those beliefs (identified through public opinion polling) and suggestions as to how edtech advocates can use them to shape their messaging.

Belief: Education is a right. Potential message: We must give all children the opportunity to learn with 21st century tools. Potential message: It is our responsibility to give children not just a good education, but a great education that prepares them for 21st century careers.

Belief: If you work hard, you should be able to get ahead. Potential message: To meet the challenges of the future, children must be equipped with the tools to succeed.

Belief: Only half of Americans think their child is reaching his or her full potential. Potential message: Every child is different. Teachers should be able to utilize technology to personalize learning and adapt to the unique needs of individual students. Potential message: Technology provides an opportunity for students to get the most out of their schooling.

Belief: Public schools as a whole are not performing well (though Americans grade their children's schools and neighborhood schools better than the nation's schools). Potential message: The percentage of children graduating without basic skills is unacceptable -- we have to start giving students the education they deserve and the technology they need.

Belief: Options are good. Potential message: Technology provides the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere.

Belief: Parents should be engaged in their children's education. Potential message: Technology can improve school-to-home communications and empower parents to be actively engaged.

Particularly interesting is polling data that suggests Americans believe that schools should be effective, motivating and challenging rather than forward-thinking, innovative or cutting edge. They want something that works, not something untested, when it comes to their children's education. Implication: In talking about education technology, use the words effective, motivating, and challenging. Avoid "innovation" and other language that makes parents and others feel that students are being used as guinea pigs.

Granted, every message should be tailored to its audience. But in general, data suggests these are a good jumping off point in making the case for education technology.

Are there other edtech messages that you have found particularly effective? Please share in the comment section below.

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