Harvard Professor Richard Murnane has said the overarching challenge for all educators today is to rethink not what they teach but "how they empower students to use that information."
Research tells us one of the best tools to help students increase their achievement, improve their higher-order thinking skills and problem-solving abilities is through the classroom use of computer-based technology. Such technology not only better prepares students for colleges and careers, it enhances student motivation, improves engagement and encourages collaboration to live and work in today's society.
While we have been blessed in West Virginia to have forward-thinking leaders who saw the value and the need for putting technology in our schools, the time has come for us to further invest in technology hardware, software and infrastructure expansion.
Most offices and places of business could not operate even one day without digital technology. Yet that is what some advocate for our students. We cannot afford to NOT provide teachers and students with the tools they need for global learning. They must have the infrastructure and devices, including wireless laptops or comparable devices.
We have spent the last few years working to strengthen our core curriculum and incorporate 21st century learning skills. We call our program "Global21: Students deserve it. The world demands it." We have challenged our teachers to change what and how they teach from preschool to high school. And our students are meeting the challenge.
Most recently, the West Virginia Board of Education adopted a resolution outlining "Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning," as proposed by the national Digital Learning Council.
The digital learning elements provide additional guidance and reinforce the board's commitment to provide students learning opportunities powered by technology. The 10 elements work to ensure that all students are digital learners, that all students have access to high quality digital content and online courses; that all students can customize their education using digital content, that all students progress, that digital content and materials are high quality; that instruction is of high quality, that all students have access to multiple high quality digital learning providers, that student learning is one method used to evaluate instruction, that funding is used to create incentives for performance, options and innovation, and that infrastructure is in place to support digital learning.
In the resolution, board members directed that the digital learning elements be incorporated through alignment with state code, policy changes, strategic plans, guidelines and procedures.
Global21 is helping our public schools move beyond outdated instructional models. The elements of digital learning will help our schools focus their efforts on providing today's digital learners with the tools and resources they need to succeed.
Still, this bold effort is being hampered by out-of-date technology, a 7-year technology update cycle and insufficient broadband access at many of our schools. Limited broadband access is a problem that not only affects our schools but also many of our rural communities.
A 1998 pilot project through Net Schools gave every student and teacher a laptop computer at Hundred High School in Wetzel County. The research showed how powerful school technology can be. While that project was not designed to be a long-term project, after just one year, students who participated scored higher and ranked above the mean in every subject as well as total basic skills on the Stanford Achievement Test. The project earned Hundred High School national recognition. Yet it was hampered by poor infrastructure.
It is one of the reasons the state Board of Education now wants to invest $271 million over four years to provide laptop computers to every public school student in West Virginia.
Adding to the urgency of this request is the fact that not one current social studies textbook provider offers a textbook that meets the new, more rigorous West Virginia Content Standards and Objectives. West Virginia is committed to providing learning through access to high quality, interactive, engaging digital social studies content and 21st century skills whether a text is available or not. Our teachers and students want and need more digital content for 21st century learning to take place.
We must continue on the path as envisioned decades ago to provide West Virginia children with the technology they need to succeed. Failing to do so will mean a disservice to our children and our future.
Haden is president of the West Virginia Board of Education.