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Blog // Connect Michigan

Integrating Digital Age Technology In Education: A Michigan Perspective

By Wil Payton

It’s Education Month at Connect Michigan and we are highlighting how Michigan schools are actively engaging technology to prepare students to succeed in school and career pursuits.

Bruce UmpsteadBruce Umpstead is the state director, education technology and data coordination, for the Michigan Department of Education.

Umpstead is structuring and rolling out year two of a $50 million annual technology readiness infrastructure grant (TRIG) program with 700 local districts and all 56 intermediate school districts participating. The main goal of TRIG is deploying a statewide education network with the goal of interconnecting all schools in a common fiber network.

He and his team are relaunching a $3 million FIRST Robotics statewide grant program with the goal of funding more than 300 middle and high school teams. He also helped launch Michigan's New Tech Network, MI Champions STEM technology integration program, Regional Data Initiatives, and produced the Look, I'm Learning documentary film. He drafted "54321 Michigan," Michigan's strategic framework for helping every public school in Michigan embrace effective models of technology-enabled teaching, learning, and assessment.

He provided insights on the implementation and integration of technology in Michigan schools for this Q&A.

What challenges have you observed in the implementation of technology initiatives in Michigan schools?

There are three challenges. One is the underinvestment in technology and staff, which has limited schools’ ability to move into the digital age. Budgets have been tight and demographics are such that we’ve had a shrinking population on the backside of the echo boom. That has significantly impacted student enrollment and Michigan is an enrollment-based funding state.

Two is the leadership’s understanding of where education is going. A lot of times we’ve tried to maintain service levels that we’ve had in the past. With shrinking funding it just gets harder and harder. I haven’t seen education adopt technology like other industries and we’ve had to buy technology later in the lifecycle, but that’s about to change.

Three is the fact that exciting technologies are coming on but they are not designed to scale, which makes them harder to adopt. We have 1.5 million students. Any technology we are going to have and use pervasively is going to have to have a research base, a downward cost trajectory, and it has to be easy to use. What we’re encountering is that the real promising innovation is too far down the innovation curve for most schools to adopt. We have practices that make it hard to adopt also and many of the early technologies don’t have the scale to use them with our 1.5 million students.

What have you learned in terms of the positive impact of technology on education?

What I’ve found is that technology boosts student engagement, which boosts student achievement. That engagement increases with even the slightest investment in technology. The generation we are getting right now are all about that.

The number one learning strategy in classroom instruction is comparing similarities and differences. Research shows us that students learn at a higher rate which results in higher test scores. It’s so much easier today using technology to teach comparing and contrasting because you have so much of a wealth of contrast using the Internet. Technology opens up instruction to a whole new way of teaching.

How did the Look, I’m Learning film project develop?

Three years ago we had no dedicated funding for technology, the Feds eliminated Title IID (an education technology funding program), the state had very little money going towards online learning, and the E-Rate program had eliminated the need for technology planning.

We found two teachers in Ludington that raised their hands, took some leftover grant money and implemented 1-to-1 with 60 kindergarten through second grade students using tablets. Ludington is a relatively poor community and for many of the students this was the first computer that they had in their homes. This made for a dynamic story. We also heard from parents in other parts of the district who asked, “What about my kid?” What we captured in the second year was how the district caught the vision, got a bond passed, and this fall 2,000 kids are picking up their devices.

To check out the Look, I’m Learning video click here.

Be sure to follow Connect Michigan on Facebook and Twitter for more articles on how technology impacts your life.

 

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