Tech transforming testing, textbooks and teachers

Edtech experts at the NASBE conference say testing, teachers and textbooks are being transformed by technology, but technology can be viewed as a barrier to some teachers - and vice versa.

Testing, textbooks and teachers are the three areas most affected by a changing digital education landscape, leading edtech expert Doug Levin said Tuesday at the National Association of State Boards of Education conference.

Even if states are not participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Careers, or PARCC, tests, which are administered on computers, all schools will eventually shift toward using that model, Levin said. He added that schools would soon be seeing online tests that are made specifically for special populations, like English language learners and students with disabilities.

“Testing has driven more digital learning policy and implementation than any other thing,” said Levin, the former executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “This is a dramatic shift. There are opportunities to assess students and understand performance in ways you simply cannot do on paper and pencil.”

He said studies show that students who have taken tests on computers usually score better than those who take exams the old-fashioned way — but he cautioned that putting keyboards at kids’ fingertips doesn’t make them automatic whizzes.


“As you dig into the data, it’s not just about student access or use,” Levin said. “If you’re taking a test on writing on a computer and you’re interested in helping students score better, teachers should teach writing using technology. And the more they do that, the better students will score.”

Levin discussed how technology can be viewed as a barrier to some teachers — and vice versa.

“It’s almost been a teachers vs. technology conversation,” he said, adding that it plays out in states where teachers’ salaries and positions are often the first to get cut in schools’ budgets.

But, he added, despite the fact that about 20 percent of teachers do not think technology should be used in the classroom, there is a “widespread belief” that teachers think it’s a powerful learning tool.

“The vast majority of teachers will say they use it regularly in their classrooms. Many of them use it daily,” he said.


Barriers to introducing technology in classes include student access to computers and software at home, and their ability to use it.

“A third of teachers actually believe that students’ skills are a barrier,” he said. “If they don’t have basic reading and math skills, it’s pretty hard to make good use of a computer. While we like to believe every kid is facile with technology, that’s just simply not the case. It’s very different from personal use.”

In another interesting tidbit, Levin said more than 25 percent of teachers felt the unions that represent them got in the way of using technology well.

Another major change teachers and administrators can expect is the replacement of textbooks by open educational resources, online materials that educators can write, adapt and customize for their curricula.

According to Michael Carroll, law professor and director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American University, schools acquire licensing regulations when they use or purchase OER content rather than traditional copyright terms of use.


“We better think about what are our policies around those license terms — must we accept the terms a publisher offers?” he said at the conference. “We have a big gap [between] what technology makes possible and what the license regulates, and that’s where tension arises.”

Carroll said OER publishers can put restrictions on content, like limiting kids’ ability to copy and paste material, or having the online content “time out” after a certain point. That’s why schools need to enact policies around how online material is shared and used.

“If you’ve got teachers who are starting to develop instructional materials, now [that school] owns the copyright,” he said. “If another district wants to roll that out in their schools, do they need permission from you? This is the new world we’re talking about. Now we have to figure out what’s the policy around this. Do we want to let everyone use it, charge for access [or] trade [content]?”

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