- A Wednesday virtual session of the Consortium for School Networking's annual conference delved deeper into the organization's recently released "Driving K-12 Innovation" reports for 2021, which explore the top hurdles, accelerators and enablers for innovation in schools, as identified by a global advisory board featuring over 100 education and technology experts.
- This year's reports identify digital equity, scaling and sustaining education, and the evolution of teaching and learning as top hurdles for innovation. During the session, Frankie Jackson, the director of strategic initiatives for the Texas K-12 CTO Council and a member of the global advisory board behind the report, highlighted that digital equity is an issue not just in terms of access to technology and connectivity, but in students' knowledge and skills to effectively use the tools, as well.
- Meanwhile, the top accelerators were identified as personalization, social-emotional learning and learner autonomy, while top enablers included digital collaboration environments, untethered broadband and connectivity, and blended learning tools.
The 2021 "Driving K-12 Innovation" reports reflect both the growth and growing pains of a year disrupted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. An emergency transition to distance learning when COVID-19 forced schools to close their doors for in-person learning created an impetus to innovate quickly, but also revealed how deep many divides continued to be in terms of access, equity and school district finances.
As such, the three lists — enablers, accelerators and hurdles — complement one another. The three top enablers create the environment for the top accelerators to take off, but the hurdles of equity, scalability and shifts in pedagogical practices remain difficult challenges to account for and, in some regards, involve factors beyond a school's immediate control.
Learning from Frankie Jackson and @stephanwaba at #CoSN2021. What are the biggest accelerators of learning and innovation? Personalization, SEL, and Learner Autonomy are accelerators that need to be integrated into traditional models of #education. @CoSN @keithkrueger pic.twitter.com/GaiMNqYwzF— Matt Hiefield (@MattHiefield) March 3, 2021
With digital equity, for example, an estimated 12 million students remain without reliable home internet access despite efforts thus far closing connectivity gaps by as much as 40%. Many of the students impacted by what's commonly referred to as the "homework gap" include those from low-income backgrounds, as well as students in remote rural areas where local high-speed infrastructure isn't fully built out.
Scaling and sustaining progress on that front also remains a hurdle beyond the initial investment and training, as a report from Common Sense, Boston Consulting Group and the Southern Education Foundation estimated it will take $6 billion to $11 billion to close the divide the first year, another $4 billion to $8 billion annually to maintain progress after that, and an expansion of federal and state investment in broadband infrastructure and public-private partnerships.
Now that states have made significant investment in the areas identified in the reports as enablers and accelerators, however, fully capitalizing on that groundwork will require continued investment in improving equity, scalability, and training for new teaching and learning models. Digital collaboration environments and blended learning tools can improve personalization and student autonomy both online and in-person going forward, Jackson suggested, though co-presenter Stephan Waba, an education technology specialist at the Austria Ministry of Education, Science and Research, suggested it would require new perspectives.
"Some teachers may fear losing control," he said, reiterating the need for robust professional development on new practices, tools and resources.