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I n our constantly changing world, digital technology and the Internet are rapidly modifying the way we think, communicate,
share information and socialize in our personal
lives. It is no surprise, therefore, that they are also
changing the educational landscape and the way we
teach in our public schools and colleges.
Today, nearly one-third of all college students
have enrolled in at least one online course.
Hundreds of thousands of people of all ages have
taken part in MOOCs — Massive Open Online
Courses — and the number continues to increase
Digital technology and online classes are also
deeply embedded in our K- 12 system. More than half
of the state’s high schools now offer courses through
Virtual High School, a
global collaborative based in
Maynard. One advantage of
VHS is that it gives students
access to courses that only a
small number want to take
in any given school — such
as Advanced Placement
Physics or Mandarin Chinese
— but that are desirable to
a critical mass across the
technology is changing how
students learn. My own daughter, Grace, an eighth-
grader in the Cambridge Public Schools, collaborates
with classmates online using Google Docs and
producing films and presentations. Even in her choral
group, she receives electronic links to music and
performances to study.
My son, Jack, who is in second grade, used
You Tube to research birds of prey for a school
report. And his teachers use digital tools to engage
him in reading and writing and reinforce math
All schools take advantage of technology in one
way or another, whether having students edit videos
on iPads, posting assignments online, organizing
study groups using dedicated Facebook pages or
installing Smartboards in their classrooms. Many of
us are holding more computing power in our pockets
than existed in entire institutions just a generation
In order to take full advantage of these new
technologies, educators need to address a number
of issues, both instructional and professional. The
following are just a few among many.
The digital divide is real. Funding and Internet
access must be available to make sure that all
students have access to the technology they need to
fully participate in the digital revolution.
Schools in lower-income neighborhoods or
geographically remote areas must have access to the
same updated technology and broadband resources
as those in wealthier communities.
We need to ensure that online educators are
qualified and capable of providing our students with
rigorous instruction and individual attention.
There are many instructional resources online
— so many that it would take an individual teacher
a very long time to scope out and vet those that
are appropriate for his or her grade and subject.
Educators and their associations must be involved in
setting standards and must work with districts, the
state and trusted external partners to identify quality
products and providers.
Even more challenging is figuring out how to
assess the quality of schools and colleges that are
offering 100 percent online courses for credit.
The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a
law designed to ensure better oversight over virtual
schools for elementary and secondary school
students. We will all need to be vigilant to make sure
that high standards are being met.
Access and training
All educators — in preK- 12 schools and our
colleges and universities — must have access to
relevant, high-quality professional development in
the integration of digital learning into their practice.
At the very basic level, teachers often need
training in how to use the technology that is
available. Beyond that, however, they need to know
how to use it effectively, and they must be provided
with the time to integrate it into their teaching.
How many teachers know how to effectively
“flip” their classes so that factual information is
absorbed by students online at home while they are
also applying the learning that takes place in the
How do you verify whether your students are
completing their own work if they are taking tests
online at home? Are teaching assistants well trained
in how to help their students receive additional
assistance through computer-based programs?
In short, systems need to be set up to support
educators and provide the professional development
that is needed.
Rights and benefits
Some educators have legitimate concerns about
the impact of these changes on their professional
lives. We need to address those concerns to make
sure that the end result is both good for students and
fair to educators.
Questions that need to be addressed include:
n Who holds the copyright to creative new
online instructional units that educators develop on
their own time?
n How much should teachers or higher ed
faculty members be paid for taking on additional
duties related to technology? The Chronicle of
Higher Education recently reported on a survey that
found college professors who taught MOOCs were
generally impressed with the results, but often spent
more than 100 hours preparing and producing such
courses for no additional compensation.
n Should online teachers of Massachusetts
students be licensed in the state? Should they belong
to the union? What kind of job guarantees should
they have? How will they be evaluated?
n How do we ensure that technology does
not supplant quality instruction as a cost-cutting
T here are many questions and issues that we have to address, but I believe that as educators we need to embrace the changes
that are taking place all around us.
The new technologies that occupy an ever more
significant place in our public and personal lives can
be used to enrich students’ educational experiences,
and they can create opportunities to improve the
quality of instruction and learning. They have
increased the effectiveness of education employees,
and they can provide opportunities to reduce
Combined with traditional instruction provided by
qualified educators, they offer a chance for accelerated
and individualized learning and competency-based
education to be made available at any time, anywhere
and at each student’s personal pace.
As educators, we need to understand and help
shape these changes. The NEA and the MTA will be
developing recommendations in some of these areas
and will be working to provide guidance and support
to local associations and educators as we explore this
new landscape together.
There are many questions and
issues that we have to address,
but I believe that as educators we
need to embrace the changes that
are taking place all around us.