By Jessica Lyons
Learningtech.org, a non-profit organization based in California, is on a mission to make sure people are wisely planning and incorporating technology into the learning process. The organization's president and executive director, Mark Miller, tells Study.com about the work they're doing and the impact it's having.
Study.com: Can you tell me about Learningtech.org's mission and the work you do to fulfill that mission?
Mark Miller: Our mission is simple. We help people to use technology more effectively for learning.
We work with PK-12 schools, libraries, youth centers and similar organizations. We help people become lifelong learners and help them realize the potential of technology to support that.
We work in three areas. The first, and the one that people are probably the most aware of, is we direct and provide services to K-12 students in the form of in-school and out-of-school enrichment. Most of our current offerings are what we call STEAM - science, technology, engineering, digital media arts and mathematics. We also provide professional development for educators who are trying to better integrate technology into their curriculum.
The second area is that we help schools and libraries with a technology plan and with applying for a pretty significant funding program, which is called E-Rate.
The third thing that we do, and this is only in a few regions where we happen to have local people with the expertise, is we provide some professional IT services.
Study.com What do you think are the biggest benefits of incorporating technology into learning?
MM: The benefits of technology can only be realized when there's adequate planning and technical support. The planning needs to include things like estimating the Internet bandwidth that's required when you're implementing one-to-one programs, and so on. If it's (technology) really used unwisely, it can actually reduce student achievement.
When used wisely, technology improves student motivation. This is part of the generation that's digital. They want to use technology; that's how they how they want to learn. It lets them be more self-paced. It allows for more project-based types of learning, and it also allows teachers to use formative assessment data. Teachers can be actually looking at the work every day as it's going on, and that can help them to see where they need to modify their instructional strategy either for the classroom or a couple of students.
Study.com Part of Learningtech.org's work includes helping teachers integrate technology into their curriculum. What sort of impact does this have on the learning experience?
MM: I should think that in some ways the impact that technology has on how teachers teach is the most important contribution of technology to learning. It's a catalyst. It helps teachers to redefine their role in the classroom.
Some teachers find this scary at first. They feel like their authority is going be undermined. But what technology does is it empowers the teachers to change, to transform their own role -- from being the sage on the stage to being more the guide on the side.
The education can become learner-centric instead of teacher-centric. The students can become responsible for their own learning and can work at their own pace. The teacher's role then becomes to create environments that are rich in resources.
Study.com How has receiving the various kinds of support available from Learningtech.org affected those you work with?
MM: There are a lot of students who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math who feel socially isolated in a normal place and they come to our program, and they are sort of among a community of peers who are really geeky and they're an expert at something in technology. They feel valued and recognized as opposed to feeling left out. We offer them a place to go where they could be among other people who are interested in science and technology and where they could have role models.
Also, we can offer experiences and even (STEM-related) topics. They're not on the standardized tests so they're not available in the traditional curriculum or in their normal classroom, and sometimes it may be more important to where they're going to go in their career than what they're learning in the normal daytime classroom.
Study.com What do you think is the biggest obstacle people face in using technology more in education? How can that obstacle be overcome?
MM: One of the biggest obstacles in education is that the system itself is incredibly resistant to change. A new idea comes along and the people are all excited and so everyone picks up the buzzwords and uses them for a while. But somehow, over time, the system kind of manages to corrupt the idea and then go back to basically teaching the same old stuff in the same old ways. In other words, they've taken the technology and they've turned it into a tool to more efficiently do the wrong thing as opposed to directly changing what they're doing.
Why we're sort of needed is to go in and say, 'You know you've got this incredibly amazing stuff; don't just let it be absorbed into doing the same old things in the same old way. Embrace change.' And when you do that, when you put the student at the center, then you don't have the student sitting there always saying, 'Why do I have to learn this anyway?' They know why they have to learn, because they're trying to do something they care about. And it's the technology that helps them do it.
Study.com What are some of your organization's proudest accomplishments to date?
MM: We're certainly very proud that we've been able to bring together schools, cities and service organizations, such as the Sheriff's Activities League of the San Mateo County, to collaborate on after school STEM enrichment through the grant from the county, and to make a difference in the lives of kids who can't possibly afford to go to these kinds of programs. We've been able to get this collaboration that's countywide and we're now going into our third year, and every year it's grown and reached more kids and we're proud of that.
Tucson United School District has more than 100 schools and it's serving more than 60,000 students. The E-Rate funding, which is very, very important to having good technology programs in schools, was denied; it had been frozen for many years. It took us about five years of working with them, but eventually we were able to get them to where they started receiving funding again.
We started developing a computer science elective for high school students a few years ago. Initially it was a pass / fail offering with modest academic content. We gradually increased the academic rigor of the class, made it a graded program and received University of California approval for their A-G requirements. It will be offered at four high schools on the peninsula in the coming year.
I think the biggest thing we're really proud of is that we built the company totally by bootstraps. If you're a non-profit, you can't get venture capital. It's not even that easy to get bank loans. We built it on a reputation of integrity and standing behind our work. We're also just proud that we've been able to, in spite of having to build it that way, reach out to many, many families who couldn't afford to pay for the kind of services we offer.
Study.com How can our readers support the work being done by Learningtech.org?
MM: Donations are always welcome. We also need volunteers. We're using more and more interns and volunteers to help us bring in richer programs other places to be sure that the students and the programs get more personal attention by having more than one adult in the room.
Study.com has made a donation to support Learningtech.org. Want to find out how you can help too? Visit their website for more information.
World Possible also works to make education accessible through technology. Check out their interview with Study.com.