Sylvia R. Quigley is an educational integration specialist with Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, which serves more than 42,000 students at 90 schools.
Like every school district across the country, Tucson Unified has been continually upgrading and expanding our technology since the pandemic hit in March 2020. As a result, our instructional technology team has spent countless hours helping educators navigate unfamiliar resources. To their credit, our teachers and staff have responded with aplomb — not only learning the mechanics of critical tools like Clever and Zoom, but leveraging them to actually improve instruction.
And we’re not alone.
Across the country, educators are experiencing “lightbulb moments” of realizing the technology they used during the pandemic is making them better teachers in brick-and-mortar classrooms. They’ve deployed randomized questions to prevent cheating on tests. They’ve received instantaneous feedback during lessons to gauge whether students are “getting it.” They now understand that no matter what their classroom looks like, those tools can make them much more effective and efficient in their instruction.
Those aren’t the only benefits of the new culture of ed tech. Here are four other benefits that will remain with us for the foreseeable future:
1. It offers options to families and teachers
When the 2021-22 school year started, we anticipated many families would want their children to continue learning remotely.
We expected about 700 students to enroll in the Tucson Unified Virtual Academy, an all-remote program for grades K-12 that follows the same bell schedules as traditional classrooms and provides more teacher interaction than a typical remote setup. Instead, 2,400 kids are now learning through TUVA.
That’s more than 5% of our student population, making it the second-largest program in our district. It includes students who have had to leave the Tucson area temporarily because of work or family commitments.
Teachers also appreciate the opportunity to work remotely at times during the school year, whether it’s for health, family or travel considerations. This opportunity for flexibility comes at just the right time — as dissatisfied teachers are leaving the profession and fewer are entering.
2. It leads to district innovation and efficiency
We’re committed to giving our teachers access and choice in the selection of technologies that best support their teaching and learning. But we’re also mindful of reducing friction for teachers.
Even pre-pandemic, with the proliferation of ed tech tools, so many teachers grappled with lost classroom learning time dealing with siloed technology and forgotten passwords. So we’ve prioritized efficiency by adopting a single sign-on platform, Clever, giving teachers and students one reliable, secure portal to access all of their digital learning tools.
I often refer to it as the front door to the house. It doesn’t matter how fancy the house is when a teacher doesn’t have the keys to get in.
Video conferencing tools have added to our efficiency. For example, teachers in our brick-and-mortar schools need professional development, too, as they continue to integrate ed tech into their classrooms. Zoom has saved me untold hours of travel time as I bring our educators up to speed.
Instead of driving 20 minutes from School A to School B, then another half-hour to get to School C, I can now do five trainings in the same amount of time because I just log out for one meeting and into the next.
3. Students’ technology skills have evolved
Teachers are saying the period of remote instruction made students more comfortable with the computers and tablets they use — and for our youngest learners, more careful about handling them.
They can log on by themselves, submit their assignments correctly and, in some cases, even troubleshoot problems on their own — clearing their caches, for example. Teachers also are benefiting from this development, since they don’t find themselves stopping class as often to answer basic technology questions.
4. Students are better prepared for the future
Students are realizing at an increasingly younger age that even the most entry-level jobs require basic technology skills, such as the ability to fill out applications online, upload documents or log their hours through digital timekeeping systems. And while a lot of young people would describe themselves as tech-savvy, they’re really just social media savvy.
The better the technology in schools, the more students will be better prepared for the high-touch technology of the real world. Infusing that into their education will make them more prepared for the adult world.
Schools aren’t going to return to those pre-pandemic days when teachers used ed tech tools infrequently — and awkwardly. These tools are part of the instructional world now, and the more we use them, the more we’ll reap the innovations and efficiencies they bring.