Innovation, Equity and Success: Walking the Talk after iNACOL 2016

San Antonio, Texas

Beautiful, sunny San Antonio, Texas recently hosted the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) annual blended and online learning symposium. This year’s gathering of educators, researchers, policymakers and edtech innovators was designed around the theme of “Innovation for Equity + Redefining Success,” a call to action that resonates with iNACOL’s mission to transform K-12 education through advocacy, the use of quality standards and support for innovation around personalized learning.

The symposium is a time to connect with leaders in K-12 competency-based, blended and online learning who believe that new learning models can change the face of education for all learners. As a former iNACOL Open Educational Resources (OER) Research Fellow who attended the symposium this year as part of the Lea(R)n team, I was fortunate to witness the intersection of policy, practice, research and innovation as I spoke with leaders in state and district education, research and policymaking.

If everything really is bigger in Texas, the organizers of this year’s symposium must have gotten the memo and planned ahead. Workshops were designed to share out big ideas, and keynote speakers talked about the opportunity for K-12 education to make big changes, with a focus on the following themes:

To innovate, focus on resources. All students can achieve their potential as lifelong learners if education models:

  • Are responsive and flexible;
  • Provide adequate supports to each and every student;
  • Work students toward their own potential as part of a personalized learning framework.

Educate individuals. To engineer an education system that recognizes students as having distinctive characteristics, education should:

  • Actively seek to meet the needs of individuals and their communities;
  • Work with students at their current readiness levels;
  • Engage multiple stakeholders (educators, policymakers, researchers, etc.) about the evolving nature of student success.

Learning is a lifelong endeavor. Engaging students as architects of their own learning requires a shift in education models to:

  • Focus on authentic learning tasks with practical applications;
  • Engage students in understanding their unique learning process;
  • Guide students toward a fulfilling career based on informed personal choices.

All of these goals can be activated with the use of data collection and analysis designed to measure the usage and impact of edtech tools. Understanding what’s working in our classrooms, for which groups of students, and at what dosage levels means that educators and students have insight into the learning process as it happens, not months or years later — or worse yet, not at all.

During the symposium, we asked attendees to share their highest priorities for K-12 schools when considering edtech. Survey results show that data discovery and measurement are also key considerations for our participants, who also have to keep eyes on budgetary needs. Specifically, participants indicated that their top priorities are:

  • The need to know more about the impact of edtech on students;
  • Understanding student and educator opinions about edtech;
  • Increasing purchasing power for their organization.
LearnPlatform - iNACOL 2016 Educator Survey results

Another highly ranked priority for our survey participants was the ability to learn from peers in similar organizations, which is an important topic for our team of educators, administrators and researchers. Through participation in symposium panels and workshops, Lea(R)n CEO and co-founder Karl Rectanus and Dr. Daniel Stanhope, Lear(R)n’s senior researcher, drove discussions highlighting the idea that resource management and measurement in combination with a collaborative data discovery process can lead to tangible improvements for K-12 education.

  • Karl spoke on behalf of the work that the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) is doing to streamline the process, procurement and implementation of safe, secure educational technologies through their Unified Contract;
  • As part of a Gates Foundation-led panel, Karl also provided insight into the use of technology platforms to collect and analyze data on quality and pricing to drive improvement in edtech procurement;
  • This big idea was echoed by Danny during his panel participation with The Learning Accelerator around a measurement agenda for blended learning.

Lea(R)n helps schools, districts, and states to monitor and measure edtech usage and impact. We know data can inform important decisions that lead to better outcomes for educators and students. If we can measure it, we can change it, adapt it and make it more equitable.

Dr. Amanda Cadran