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Governor’s Roundtable Highlights Future of Digital Learning in Maryland

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November 18, 2013 10:55 am

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Earlier this year, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced a series of grants from a new Digital Learning Innovation Fund. The grants were designed to help school systems maximize the potential of emerging technologies to improve student outcomes. Last month, the governor hosted a public roundtable of educators, advocates, and leaders to discuss strategies that are working and what steps need to be taken to further advance learning.

Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise participated in the discussion, along with a superintendent, district technology leader, teacher, student, and many others. The group talked with the Governor about the efforts they are undertaking and factors critical to future success. While all the panelists acknowledged that the state of Maryland could be doing more to support digital learning, the examples at the table highlighted many exciting developments that are already taking place.

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In Garrett County Public Schools, one of the Innovation Fund grant recipients, district leaders are taking the one-room school house concept into the digital age. Chuck Trautwein, technology director, described how the district is taking advantage of recently installed fiber connections to provide increased access to more courses, connect teachers and students with their counterparts across the county, and interact with experts across the globe. The fiber network will also facilitate professional development for teachers and increased use of data. This effort will build on the countywide efforts to ensure equal access to college by providing all graduates with two years of post-secondary education at the local community college free of charge, provided they meet eligibility requirements.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore County, Maryland, Superintendent Dallas Dance is working on a multi-part digital conversion. He emphasized that this conversion is really as many as eight separate conversations – it includes efforts that look at remaking budgets, infrastructure, teaching, curriculum, professional development, leadership – essentially, what we at the Alliance immediately recognize as the elements of the Project 24 framework. Dance worked with Mooresville superintendent Mark Edwards in the past, and has taken the best of what he learned from Edwards and is applying that experience to best serve the schools in Baltimore County.

Again and again the question came up: what device? And again and again the educators in the room answered: it doesn’t matter. What matters, said Maryland state board of education member Jim Gates, is what you want to DO with the device, and staying flexible. In fact, many school systems have found that devices tend to be ready to be replaced on a three- or four-year cycle, so districts shouldn’t get too hung up on getting the right one – because it will need to be replaced in a few years anyway.

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A teacher from Frederick County, Maryland spoke about how digital tools support her efforts to incorporate more project-based learning in her classroom. When asked if there were certain groups of teachers that tended to be more open to using new strategies, she hesitated to generalize – for example, that teachers with more experience were more resistant to technology. Rather, she said, it was about the teachers who have passion for learning. Teachers who have that lifelong learning bug, who are always curious and trying new things, are the ones embracing new digital tools and different strategies. The teachers who lack that passion, that curiosity, tend to be the ones resisting the change.

Governor O’Malley wrapped up the conversation determined to find and pursue models that work, and, he said, models that teachers actually like. He reiterated his commitment to the state’s role in accelerating the shift to a technology-rich learning environment, and to keep Maryland moving forward.

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