With back-to-school season, students are gearing up with new backpacks and sneakers. And educators are making their own preparations, such as finding and accessing the right resources to run their programs. The Rural Tech Project finalist teams and others launching new programs are especially busy. To ensure their success, new program designs and expectations need to be both good for students and feasible for teachers.
As finalist teams identify what capabilities their programs need, they are planning for how all the new tools and resources will work together and how teachers will learn to use them effectively. In our last post, we shared how educators can build community coalitions to launch new programs. In this post, we’ll share how teams are equipping their educators to offer new technology education. We will draw on insights from the targeted assistance that Rural Tech Project donors have offered to support technology infrastructure and experiential learning experience design.
Accessing technology support and training
Technology education teaches transferable technological skills students need to pursue a range of career opportunities. To introduce and prepare students for an ever-changing technology landscape, finalist teams needed the right tools for facilitating learning beyond what even the lead educators may have mastered.
Connectivity and devices are a critical prerequisite, as we explored in our connectivity primer. Human-I-T provided finalist teams with access to low-cost devices — such as refurbished laptops and tablets — and free connectivity consultations to find the lowest cost internet available. The Rural Tech Project team shared federal grant and loan opportunities with teams looking to expand connectivity in the near-term. The Center on Rural Innovation provided complimentary advice on building out broadband, based on what it learned from successful fundraising and public-private partnerships in Westminster, Maryland and the Michigan Moonshot Initiative.
Educators also need targeted technology literacy training to ensure their students can make the most of technology education programs. Microsoft Education provided finalist teams training on its suite of educational tools to manage programs and student interactions — from virtual classes to assignment delivery, grading, and feedback distribution.
Supporting experiential learning from a distance
Competency-based education (CBE) is a system of instruction where a student must demonstrate mastery of a subject to move forward in an educational pathway. The broad concept of “mastery” offers flexibility as to how students learn and demonstrate skills.
In technology education, CBE is often anchored in experiential learning. In distance-learning and hybrid-learning environments — often necessary in rural settings — many finalist teams have had to learn new ways to facilitate experiential learning. One constraint is access to the materials needed for a hands-on learning experience. To address this, Teknikio introduced teams to low-cost materials for teaching STEM, including both physical materials and a free coding visualization tool. Since remote experiential learning facilitation is a new experience for most educators, WhyMaker offered STEM professional development coaching focused on cultivating technology-based project plans.
Collectively, finalist teams have grown capacity not just by growing their teams, but also their abilities. The Rural Tech Project’s donors have helped teams acquire new tools — as well as new skills to use existing tools in new ways. Other rural schools, even with the time constraints that all educators face, can identify targeted support to help educators expand what they can offer students.