A Visionary for K-20

No-nonsense answers from one of edtech’s most respected voices.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Karen BillingsIn all of edtech, Karen Billings is a deeply respected voice, a driving force in the transformation of education through technology behind the scenes. As Vice President of the Education Division at the Software & Information Industry Association, she is one of the most knowledgeable people in the entire sector and shares that knowledge with others in myriad ways. An inductee into the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame, she is a graduate of Columbia University Teachers College and holds an EdD in Mathematics and Computer Education. She has more than 40 years of experience in the education technology industry with positions in management, development, marketing, sales and classroom teaching. At SIIA, she drives the association’s work with its 190 member companies for whom educational publishing is a primary business. Prior to SIIA, Billings, was vice president, Major Business Initiatives for bigchalk Inc, where she drove relationships with major industry partners to respond to new business opportunities and vice president and general manager of its MediaSeek Division. She worked at Microsoft Corporation, managing K-12 Strategic Relations and at Claris Corporation, where she ran the Worldwide K-12 and Higher Education Marketing Programs. She served as director of sales at Logo Computer Systems, Inc. and as an executive editor in the School Division at Houghton-Mifflin Company. An engaging, passionate leader, she is usually asking the hard questions, but here we ask her, and she provides the insight with her trademark blend of care and professionalism.

There is a need for increased technology integration in all levels of education. While educators recognize that there is a large gap between their current and ideal levels of implementation, they aspire to fill that gap.

Victor: At what level are educators integrating technology into the classroom today?

Karen: The Education Division of SIIA has been interested in answering that very question since 2006 when we designed a survey as part of our Vision K-20 initiative. The survey is an online self-assessment tool for educators and administrators that measures their level CREDIT SIIA vision for K-20of integrating technology. Respondents to our survey say they are about two-thirds of the way there when it comes to incorporating technology into their teaching or administrative practices. They might be further along in some areas, like moving from print to digital in delivering curriculum content but are not as far along in implementing online assessments.

Victor: Does the level of technology integration match the teachers’ expectations?

Karen: While teachers believe they have quite a ways to go to achieve full integration, they do come closer to what we describe as the ‘ideal’ level for their classroom, school or district. For example, a second grade reading teacher will believe that a fifty-fifty blend of print and digital content would be right for her students and knows he or she is very close to that. Conversely, a high school teacher may want to deliver 80 percent of the curriculum content digitally, so that is the ideal that he/she is comparing his/her current practice to.

Victor: How prepared are schools for Common Core assessments, in terms of adequate devices and hardware?

Karen: From the survey we found that only 40 percent of K-12 education institutions feel prepared for upcoming online assessments. The reasons ranged from access to hardware devices and the Internet connections, to teacher readiness. However, most said they were better prepared with bandwidth than they were with the adequate devices and hardware.

Victor: How are schools implementing BYOD?

Karen: We found that regardless of how they are implementing BYOD now, respondents expect an increase in the use of that technology. The uses do vary a bit between the K-12 and the higher education institutions. Interestingly, both levels are implementing BYOD primarily so that students can access or research digital content online. For K-12, the devices are used heavily to create content and develop skills.

Victor: Is BYOD implementation different across grade levels? If yes, how so?

Karen: Implementation certainly is different in the different grades. Our survey showed that about 20 percent of elementary schools are implanting BYOD programs, while about half of secondary schools are doing so. The highest implementers are, understandably the postsecondary schools (both 2-year and 4-year institutions) with an implementation rate over 90 percent. We were surprised at the high rates until we saw the restrictions they listed. They included downloading rich media files (streaming video) and use of social media, such as YouTube and Facebook.

Victor: What are your thoughts on how edtech is being implemented today?

Karen: The limelight on edtech this last year has been on the tablets and small mobile devices, but it’s also important to recognize that the teachers who have made great progress in technology implementation are those that are experienced educators. They are good at classroom management, know the curriculum and content well and are interested in providing personalized learning environments for their students.

Victor: What are your thoughts on the edtech available today?

Karen: I am happy when I see the growth of the access to the hardware devices, to better and better curriculum content online and the desire of educators to increase their level of technology integration. We did see in the Vision K-20 Survey that both the current and ideal level of technology integration has shown a directional increase for K-12 and postsecondary institutions, compared to 2013. This is particularly good since budgets have been so tight in education.

Victor: How do you view the state of education today?

Karen: There is a need for increased technology integration in all levels of education. While educators recognize that there is a large gap between their current and ideal levels of implementation, they aspire to fill that gap. As long as they keep working to do that, in ways that benefit their students, I believe education is in a very good state in our country.

Victor: What formative experiences have you had over the years that has shaped how you approach education?

Karen: I started teaching with computers over 40 years ago, so I’ve seen the technology grow smaller and less expensive, and therefore, more accessible to all ages and interests. Decades ago, computers were used only by high school math students who learned to program, but that has changed over the years. Preschoolers now use tablet devices to learn to count. With so much more access to learning outside the walls of the classroom, I see education now as more as a ‘world-wide’ process.

Victor: What advice do you have for educators as they are implementing edtech into their classrooms?

Karen: Most educators want to provide students access to a technology-enabled learning environment so they are prepared to compete globally when they finish school. Teachers should believe in their methods for doing so, because no one knows their students better than they do. They also need to regard themselves as ‘learners’ because there are so many new things to learn about technology when it comes to providing the right learning environment for their students. So stay confident in what you know, but learn something new each day.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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