Training High School Students for High-Tech Opportunities

How districts can integrate technology to prepare students for 21st-century careers.

GUEST COLUMN | by Leslie Strong

“If we teach as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

CREDIT SkywardEducation reformer and philosopher John Dewey’s well-known declaration suggested years ago what we know to be true today: instruction must continuously evolve, so students’ skill sets meet the needs of an ever-changing employment landscape. In today’s world, it would be quite a struggle for most of us to find a career field or job opportunity that does not incorporate technology of some kind. Fields that once relied solely on physical manpower, and considered “low-tech,” are now just the opposite – high-tech settings that typically require post-secondary education and specialized training. With this developing career outlook, it simply makes sense for district leaders and educators to take steps now that set students up for success long after graduation day.

The K-12 education curriculum must always evolve, so students today can thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.

To gain a better understanding of the transition from low- to high-tech in today’s work environment, let’s translate the change into a numerical amount. According to Eileen Huang of the Google for Education team, about 60 percent of students in school will advance into careers that don’t exist – yet. And numerous “non-tech roles” have evolved significantly as a result of integrating technology. Tech education today should no longer exist as an elective course for aspiring software engineers or web developers only. More than ever before, it’s important for all students – with varied post-commencement goals – to have access to tech-centered curriculum and courses that encourage technology proficiency.

Districts of any size and location can integrate technology into the classroom and across their education community to provide students the tech training needed for achievement in the workplace.

Start Small

If the concept of technology integration is a bit of a novelty to your district, you’ll want to begin a new tech initiative by gaining support and buy-in from both educators and administrative leadership. Only after immediate questions and concerns are addressed and a tentative plan is mapped out, can you really dig in. Start by incorporating free online tools such as Khan Academy into existing classes for students, and make sure the basics of email and creating spreadsheets, documents and presentations are covered. Also, consider courses that allow students to experiment with multimedia tools – capturing images and video footage.

Don’t forget the tech solutions your district may already have in place. Work with your SIS or LMS partner to find out what online classroom tools they offer, so educators can take advantage of existing resources. In addition to small-step changes, consider a test run of tablets or other mobile devices – perhaps start with one grade level for the fall semester and evaluate, making adjustments, before spring. Continually communicate new initiatives and programs with students and families, so they can understand the what, why and how of your district’s new tech endeavor. They’ll be more likely to jump on board (if they haven’t already).

Build On Your Foundation

It’s time to evaluate your district’s initial steps, make alterations, and build on those foundational approaches. Consider what went right and what could’ve gone better with, say, the pilot course in automotive mechanics, the Geocaching lesson using global positioning systems, or the after-school 3D modeling club. Now is the time to take what you’ve learned from the first round of integration and build on it. Add more classes to next semester’s roster, distribute tablets to several grade levels, or implement a hybrid course for seniors. As you integrate technology further, help students understand the framework of digital citizenship and provide resources that can help them develop a positive, responsible digital footprint in our increasingly online world.

Support Growth

Champion and model your district’s future ready initiatives to foster continued incorporation of technology. Engage and involve local businesses and organizations in your community that can provide employment expertise, student internships, and learning opportunities that deliver students experiences in a variety of industries. A local machine shop could offer students apprenticeships to work alongside computer-savvy auto technicians. Or the news bureau across town could provide job-shadowing opportunities to budding digital reporters. Expand technology integration at all grade levels by rolling out BYOD, 1:1 or flipped classroom initiatives and programs. Advancing your district’s high-tech learning model will allow students to become more accountable for their education and career goals before senior year concludes.

The K-12 education curriculum must always evolve, so students today can thrive in the workplace of tomorrow. In fact, data from Pew Research Center indicates 96 percent of working Americans use some form of technology each day – and such statistics are likely to increase. By starting today, we can work together to further technology integration and close digital skill gaps not only in the current learning environment, but also in the workforce of the future.

Leslie Strong is a product line manager at Skyward and oversees the company’s Student Management Suite to ensure client needs are met by its SIS solution. To read more from Leslie and Skyward’s team of technology experts, visit

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Cool Tool | 360Alumni

CREDIT 360ALUMNIThis platform changes the way schools stay connected with alumni and cultivate their support. Their turnkey, all-in-one communication and fundraising platform makes it easy for alumni relations, advancement, and career services to collaborate and build connections and engagement between alumni, the institution, and current students. Email marketing, messaging and list management combines with the complete alumni directory to give everyone in the community – whether staff or user – a simple, powerful communication tool. Users can browse the built-in map to see who lives around them, check out their 360Alumni or social media profiles, and build lists of alumni to network with. Users can create their own groups and local networking events and instantly post career opportunities on the job board—whether full time, internships, or volunteer. In a world where the shelf life of a degree is continuously diminishing, 360Alumni maximizes the most enduring value of one’s investment: the power of the network. They build goodwill for their client institutions, help their clients maintain a marketing database for new offerings, and generate donor leads with their built-in crowdfunding features. Learn more.

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Predicting Success

8 ways to improve faculty engagement with early warning systems.

GUEST COLUMN | by Colin Koproske

CREDIT West Virginia UniversityWhile academic advisors (both faculty and professional) are absolutely critical in any institution’s student retention strategy, we shouldn’t ignore the role classroom contact can play in identifying at-risk students. Assuming a 15-credit-hour course load over the course of a 15-week semester, the average student is spending 225 hours in front of instructors each term, and often only one or two hours in a formal advising appointment. Instructors also have access to two powerful—but underutilized—predictors of student success: both classroom attendance and midterm grades have been shown in scientific studies to be highly predictive of final GPA.

Every instructor wants their students to succeed—with the right tools, they’ll be able to direct campus resources to the students who need them most.

Knowing this, three out of four colleges and universities have invested in Early Warning Systems, which allow faculty to flag early grades, attendance patterns, and student behavior in the classroom for advisor attention. However, many struggle to scale the use of these systems beyond early adopters to reach faculty who might be unaware or perceive them as just another bureaucratic requirement on top of a mountain of extra responsibilities.

Here are the eight lessons we’ve uncovered about how to get Early Warning Systems right, excerpted from a recent EAB report, The Evolving Role of Faculty in Student Success.

1. Make it simple. Instead of providing a long list of student support offices to refer a student to, create a single referral point or office. When faculty members don’t know exactly how to remedy a student issue, they respond well to hearing “we’ll take it from here.” 

2. Make it all-inclusive. Combine the ability to log attendance problems, academic performance problems, and behavioral or non-academic problems into one system.

3. Make it flexible. Rather than mandating one early exam date and grade threshold, West Virginia University allows instructors to determine when (between weeks 3-6) to submit a formative assessment, and what constitutes “on track” or “off track” for their students. Faculty also have the option to select what resources to recommend to a student, if they so choose. 

4. Ensure privacy. Faculty often worry about who will get to see the often-sensitive information they submit about students. It’s important to communicate to faculty that FERPA and HIPPA compliance generally entails that these systems be secure and that medical and mental health counseling notes remain private. 

5. Keep it positive. Faculty want to know that early alerts won’t feel like a punishment to students, which can often contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Design your response strategy so that students are given positive action steps and opportunities for help, not just an “at risk” notification.

6. Hold faculty accountable. At the institutions with the highest compliance rates, the provost (not a central student success office staffer) sends a message out prior to each term to faculty teaching first-year students, emphasizing the importance of early alerts. Department chairs, and in some cases, deans, will follow up with individual instructors that haven’t submitted reports.

7. Close the loop. Ensure that faculty members are notified when the early warning office or advisor has received and read an alert they’ve submitted, and kept in the loop as student problems are addressed and resolved. Without end user feedback, system utilization tends to drop precipitously over time.

8. Illustrate the impact. Many faculty members want to see evidence that early alerts drive demonstrable results before investing their time in submitting them. At Indiana University Northwest, the administration accompanies its communication about their Early Warning System with data showing the grade improvements after students were flagged and took advantage of academic resources.

And finally, we often focus on tenured faculty in rolling out new processes and systems to build buy-in and good will, but these faculty members often aren’t the ones teaching the introductory or ‘gatekeeper’ courses that reveal academic risk early on. So, while Early Warning Systems should be widely available for faculty to use, target them at courses and student groups that you know are at higher risk—and don’t neglect adjuncts, graduate students, and teaching assistants that might be present in or teaching many of these courses.

These design principles have been shown to help build initial support (and even excitement) among the faculty, encourage robust participation, and sustain momentum over time even as “initiative fatigue” sets in. Every instructor wants their students to succeed—with the right tools, they’ll be able to direct campus resources to the students who need them most.

Colin Koproske is a practice manager at the Education Advisory Board (EAB), a best practices firm.

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A District-wide Endeavor

An instructional technology coordinator on moving to a digital curriculum ecosystem.

GUEST COLUMN | by Martha Barwick 

CREDIT itslearning HarfordLike many school districts around the nation, we are being asked to do more with less these days. Though school budgets are tighter than ever and human resources are sometimes spread thin, we’re required to continually improve student performance, follow dozens of different standards, and support a more personalized, customized learning experience across all grade levels.

Achieving that balance in this evolving environment is even more difficult when we have to deal with myriad disparate teaching systems like intranets, an LMS, and document-sharing tools, all of which require multiple different logins. That situation leads to a lack of consistent vision, high teacher turnover, and letter grades that don’t provide students with enough feedback or motivation to improve.

We couldn’t simply take our existing, static curriculum—which was housed in a binder at the time—and load it into our LMS and think everything would be fine.

Since 2010 our district — Harford County Public Schools (HCPS) in Maryland — has been transforming its curriculum and instructional practices. Among its new practices are the adoptions of the Common Core standards (which then became the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards), a multi-phase “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT) initiative, and moving to a more digitalized curriculum. However, we couldn’t simply take our existing, static curriculum—which was housed in a binder at the time—and load it into our LMS and think everything would be fine. And because we use a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) approach for grades 6-12, we also needed a more efficient way to manage learning content across multiple devices.

So what follows are a few of the lessons we learned during our transition:

  • Work with your professional learning community (PLC) to define a consistent approach to digital or blended learning and find research and/or professional development on best practices in your specific content area.
  • In order to ensure a consistent approach, create a basic course template based on the best practices you and your PLC are targeting. While it should serve as a model, the template should also allow some autonomy for you to use what’s most applicable to your students while meeting relevant standards.
  • If possible, form curriculum-writing teams to create the templates. Use the best practice training to evaluate which of your existing resources are suitable for a digital curriculum and to transition those resources from a paper/pencil activity when appropriate.

Efforts like these are best as a district-wide endeavor; that way, you and your cohorts can obtain a high level of support and technological integration. Granted, teachers can find several platforms that let them deliver courses and have students engage in collaboration and discussions. But streamlining work processes and allowing educators to share resources with their colleagues all in one place, with a single sign-on is a big part of the picture.

Our district selected a digital platform called itslearning. The LMS platform offers a built-in planner that allows us to easily convert curriculum maps and unlike some other curriculum mapping tools, the planner allows teachers to then extend this instruction to their students – becoming a great tool for both large and small group instruction. Best of all, plans can then be shared across a school or district so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel from one teacher to the next or from year to year.

Additionally, the platform’s library allows districts to create or curate content, discover and use open education resources (OER) or even load IMS Common Cartridges from publishers all in one unified user experience. And the company’s recent partnership with Gooru will bring millions more OER resources directly into the LMS library.

If you’re thinking about advocating for a district-wide platform, some key technological features are listed below. If you’re thinking of figuring out a way to combine different tools to approximate the effects I’ve talking about, that’s a much harder task, but this list will help you weigh your options:

  • A customizable planner to help you align the curriculum to student learning objectives and/or district, state or national standards.
  • A comprehensive standards-based repository of learning objects (you can develop or purchase this).
  • An ability to embed external content such as YouTube videos and vendor content as well as to integrate web-based tools such as Prezi and Office 365.
  • An ability to create reports and analyze data; the platform should also enable you to use subjective feedback models such as student blogs, discussion boards, surveys, and polls.
  • An auto update for content so that when you tweak the curriculum during the school year, the system reflects those changes immediately, with a minimum of effort.

As our transition has evolved, we now find ourselves with a curriculum management system that allows teachers to access curriculum and learning units via a built-in learning sequence. And because students can also access the content, we’re no longer using multiple platforms.

This same LMS platform saves our instructors time and allows them to focus on more important tasks—like teaching their classes instead of searching for and/or creating digital content to support curriculum. We’ve created strong links between curriculum, assessment, and standards and connected learning to our pupils’ personal goals, aspirations, and interests.

Pictured: The author (back row, left) and Harford County curriculum writers.

Martha Barwick is Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Harford County Public Schools.

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Cool Tool | Brainly

CREDIT BrainlyAmong the world’s largest social learning networks, Brainly websites and the Brainly apps bring high school and middle school students together to make learning outside the classroom highly engaging, effective and rewarding. Students connect to their peers to help strengthen their skills, from math, to science, to history and beyond. Based in Krakow, Poland, with U.S. headquarters in New York City, Brainly is currently available in 35 countries. If you’ve got a question about an assignment or class discussion, or just want to learn more about a subject, post your question and within minutes receive a clear answer from another student. If you know your stuff down cold, you can share your hard-earned knowledge by answering questions that have other students stumped. And the more you answer, the more you get, like ranks from Beginner to Genius that give you instant “street-cred.” This network is all about giving and getting the right answer, which is why top students act as moderators to ensure that only the best, most accurate information is provided. Learn more.

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