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It's Time: Create Smart Policies to Support Student Tech Use

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Technology has become a seamless part of students' lives in and out of the classroom, and schools must find ways to integrate it. This is one of the conclusions in a report by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), which states that policymakers at the highest level need to understand the trend and form a cohesive course of action for schools to follow.

In Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today -- And Tomorrow the NASBE focuses on the importance of understanding students' needs, ensuring that teachers are prepared to meet those needs, and shoring up the technical infrastructure that will allow schools to participate.

Up until now, much of the enthusiasm for education technology, blended learning, online courses and other digital aids in the classroom have come from teachers themselves. In fact, many ed-tech companies are pursuing a teacher-first strategy, opting to hook the educator and avoid the complicated bureaucracy of selling to school districts. That has left a patchwork of tools and uncertainty among some teachers who would like to take advantage of new tech tools, but aren't sure how to get started.

"State boards of education along with their state education agencies are key to providing the leadership on education technology issues our school systems need to ensure students are ready for life and work in a digital era," wrote the NASBE study group tasked with investigating emerging tech trends. At the same time the report acknowledges that the current landscape is a "wild, wild west" of various products and approaches. "Because of their formal responsibilities, state education systems are the only entities able to offer a sustainable platform for aligning these promising—but still fragmented and rapidly changing — forces," the report said.

This excerpt addresses how educators and the Board should move forward in the shifting landscape.


Much has been written about the cohort of students in school today, who are generally considered digital natives. Commentators frequently point out how these children have always lived with computers in their homes, cell phones in everyone’s pocket, and hundreds of channels available on their televisions. They easily adapt to every new piece of technology that arrives in the marketplace and can text as easily and quickly as adults can talk. They are constantly “plugged in.” For this generation, there is no divide between “technology” and their daily lives.

Today the combination of immense portable computing power, digital communications, and the Internet presents education with an enormous number of opportunities, challenges, and imperatives. There is the imperative, for example, that all students be digitally literate, which will require educators to meet students in the technological world where they now live in order to bring them to a new place. There are the challenges that come with ensuring students are good digital citizens—that they understand the potential consequences, negative and positive, of anything they put out on the web, understand plagiarism, and how to harness the power of technology safely, respectfully, and responsibly. Finally, there are the vast opportunities technology brings as a vehicle for enhancing the learning process through greater personalization of instruction—something leaders may need to address through policies that provide the flexibility and incentives needed to allow educators to take advantage of these opportunities.



  • Today’s students have never lived in a world where the internet wasn’t in their homes and cell phones weren’t in everyone’s pockets. For them, there is no divide between “technology” and their daily lives.
  • “Our kids are digitally savvy when it comes to gaming, texting, and social networking,” one expert told state board members, “but when it comes to information, even the best students can be digital doofuses.” In other words, just because they have a more intuitive grasp of how to make technology “work” doesn’t mean students automatically know how to use it as a tool for learning. Students still need to be taught foundational research skills and processes that can be enhanced by technology use. This means  students—and educators—need to understand that doing research is more than just sorting through what pops up via online search engines.
  • Internet information often does not have the ordered structure provided by textbooks or other resources for students. Educators need to be sensitive to this, and to their students frame of reference in regards to online searches, when integrating technology into their lessons.
  • With increased access to many different types of tools for learning and socializing and ever-increasing multitasking, it has become even more important to teach students how to focus their attention.
  • One of the great advantages of technology is its potential for personalizing instruction. Students are used to being able to personalize how they receive information—and when schools don’t present information in the same way, they sometimes become bored and disengaged. Instruction should be designed to take advantage of each student’s personal style of learning.
  • Because online problems can cause disruptions at school, there is a role for schools to help students learn to be safe, responsible, and respectful digital citizens. But in order to do so, school teachers and staff have to be prepared and equipped to monitor and instruct students in safe environments that are close to what they will experience once the filters and monitoring are removed.


  1. Address digital citizenship and digital literacy. These are relatively new areas for education leaders to address through the creation of policies and programs. It is important for policymakers to realize that every school community is different and each is starting at a different place. Some will be ready to institute integrated curricula, while others first need to create common definitions. The study group recommends that state boards urge their districts and schools to address the critical areas of digital citizenship and digital literacy and ensure that the state education department is prepared to offer resources and guidance for these discussions.
  2. Design instruction to take advantage of how each student learns now. It is time to revisit what “school” is and how education policymakers can ensure that their decisions create a learning environment that best fits current learners’ needs. Policies at the state and local levels should be responsive to student’s lifestyles and behaviors at home and in the classroom.
  3. Create policies that allocate resources based on data, student needs, and student, parent and stakeholder voices. These key stakeholder groups understand the complexities of the issues involved, and can provide the most accurate feedback about what solutions might work best. Additionally, providing access to student performance data to parents and students can also help them serve as an informed partner in ensuring that student study habits, methods and schedules are most conducive to learning outside of school hours.