This Predictions Panel and Open Mic session was broadcast live from the Learning Counsel’s Virtual National Gathering Event held in early February 2023. Host Chris McMurray, CAO of the Learning Counsel was joined by special guests Senator Howard Stephenson of Utah, Anthony Padrnos, Executive Director of Technology at Osseo Area Schools (ISD279) in Minnesota, and Andrew Kim, Director of Research Programs and Outreach at the Texas Behavioral Science and Policy Institute.

When asked what were some of the lessons learned from the period of the pandemic, Senator Stephenson said, “More than a decade before the pandemic, Utah legislature had put out their tens of thousands of licenses for early reading software to give teachers the capacity to let the machine do the personalization of learning and adapt to where the children were, and to move them forward as quickly as they're able. And for the teacher to take the reports from the software to provide one-on-one and small group instruction to intervene when the software is not perfect. We did that more than 10 years ago, and the struggle was getting teachers to trust the machine to do the heavy lifting of personalized instruction that a teacher simply cannot do with 28 kids. A few years after that, we had math software, 200,000 licenses of mass software through our STEM Action center to give kids the immediate feedback.
Rather than kids going home and crying over their math homework, they were now getting intervention with a high-quality software to interrupt them mid-problem. If they're solving a polynomial, for example, and they get the order of operations wrong, they're interrupted and taught that. So, in the moment of making the mistake, they get corrected in their mistake. And by virtue of finishing their homework, they got a hundred percent. And by virtue of getting a hundred percent on their homework and learning as they made mistakes, which are always desirable, if you get intervention in the moment of the mistake, we saw our math scores increase dramatically, especially for those kids most at risk. So those two programs, the reading software and the math software, when used with fidelity by teachers, made a huge difference. And then about four years before the pandemic, the Utah legislature, in conjunction with the State Board of Education, created the nation's first statewide digital teaching and learning master plan, where entire schools opted into the elements of the master plan and made sure that teachers had the PD necessary to use the tools in the master plan effectively.

“And so that happened all before COVID. So, when COVID hit, rather than just relying on zoom meetings, these kids still had a half hour a day of reading software and a half hour a day on their math software. So they didn't have the kinds of losses that were rampant around the nation as people were struggling wondering, what do we do?

“We had the time on the software already ingrained in many of our classrooms. And, and it's believed that that's why the National Report card showed that Utah had the among the lowest, and on some, the very lowest learning losses in the entire nation.

“And, and we feel it's because we did the work before that, and now we're learning to perfect it even better now that we have seen what trusting the software to do the heavy lifting of personalized learning can do for teachers. I've always said that teachers are working too hard. They really are,” said Stephenson.

According to Andrew Kim, “I was a former superintendent of schools here in the great state of Texas. And so once again, really appreciate the partnership that we've had in the past with the Learning Counsel and certainly this event as well. I retired and now I'm with the University of Texas at Austin with an institute, the Texas Behavioral Science and Policy Institute, where we work with Dr. David Jager and also Carol Dweck out of Stanford University. We're working on this notion of how we can connect the engagement with not only teachers along with each other, but with students as well. So, after COVID, I think the question becomes how do we get teachers, adults, and students reengaged in the learning process? And I think this is a wonderful opportunity to restate the importance of relationships, but to ask who's giving us the science behind how to make that engagement and relationship really work? Our institute is in charge of working with school districts to look at the latest scientific research and evidence on behavioral science and really talk with administrators and adults about how to make that work. And we've seen positive results when it comes to teacher retention as a result of having ownership of that process, but also engagement of students back in, especially in the areas of mathematics because of the fact that they feel like they have ownership in the process. And so I think that's a big part of what we do. And it really made me think about some of the comments that was made earlier about the process related to all the apps that are out there. And as the senator mentioned just now about how it's important to really scaffold some of these new tools that we have or else it's just too much.

“Districts are in a really interesting space coming out of the pandemic,” said Anthony Padrnos. “We came through the pandemic and for a lot of teachers and school districts, it was, digital learning immersion for teachers. So, we've had a lot of education organizations that have had one-to-one programs, but the adoption of what that looks like within school districts was wide variability. Teachers engaged at different levels and the pandemic really put them in a space where they had to lean into that, where they might not have had to historically in the past. What I see with school districts and colleagues that I talk with is this grappling of where are, where we are going and what it means? And how do we harness the power of technology, but also what are the lessons learned from previous organizations like Osseo who had a digital learning program and 1:1 in place years prior to the pandemic, where teachers were set in a good space. Where I always encourage a lot of caution is whether the technology and the tools and the software can hold attention front and center. And in the evolution of what I see with school districts, it's often the technology and the software that are leading the conversation and trying to get systems back to, ‘What is the purpose of our education institution, what are we trying to create and what is the role of the teacher?’

“And getting back to what is that teaching and learning structure,” continued Padrnos, “and then how do we utilize the tools and the resources that we have in our system to align and scaffold appropriately to actually achieve and accomplish what we want to get to in our system. In Osseo, we were very intentional before the pandemic, when we started leading our digital learning, not having any reference to technology in there; it was about creating, learning processes to develop an environment for path, pace and place for students. And in all of those definitions, none needed reference to technology. You could create those environments with or without technology. Technology allows greater efficiency and opportunity to really expand on those.”

This is a fascinating video, and these three nationally known experts, along with Chris McMurray, chart the course of technology coming out of the pandemic – where is it likely to go, and we, as educators, endeavor to guide the course of technology with intention. It’s a must watch, and you’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat.