The Blog

Technology Education for Students Is Essential in Creating a Future STEM Workforce, and It Starts With Educating Teachers

It's no secret there is an incredible middle-skills jobs gap right now, with not enough qualified workers to fill open positions in the U.S., especially in STEM fields, energy and manufacturing industries.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Digital device learning, often called 1-to-1 computing or a "smart classroom," is not some faraway abstraction or revolutionary concept in education. In fact, thanks to grants and state-subsidized funding, an increasing number of school districts nationwide are securing electronic devices such as personal computers, remote accessible software and even handheld tablets for their students from such electronic giants as Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo. Proponents for digital device learning assert that greater access to advancing technology within the education system allows teachers to more fluidly support and satisfy Common Core state standards through engaging digital curriculum, interactive supports and assessments, and an enhanced learning environment for their students.

It's simply a no-brainer that all students should have sufficient access to 21st century technology and the inalienable right to fulfill their educational potential; and while there still exists a substantial "digital divide" between America's affluent versus underperforming, less funded school districts, there have also been some great strides towards progress.

For example, Digital Promise, an independent, bipartisan nonprofit authorized by Congress in 2008, seeks to ignite innovation in education. Alongside Verizon, Digital Promise recently partnered with eight U.S. middle school to equip students with 1:1 digital devices, granting them access to mobile learning technology in the classroom and within the home, while providing educators with personalized professional development assistance.

The process will be fully documented via an online guidebook so others may learn and grow from the schools' experiences as they transition into a digital learning environment. With a chief goal to close the digital learning gap, this initiative hopes to turn into a national community of practice.

What Technology Learning Means for Teachers

While lack of funding and device scarcity is an obvious barrier to making digital device learning a universal, another issue linked to this digital divide is lack of teacher education and a fundamental understanding of how they can utilize these resources to implement curriculums and asses outcomes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a great part of the U.S. education workforce is comprised of individuals whose median age is 45 years. This particular demographic did not observe technology learning in their own schoolings, and digital device learning is not yet a principal theme within graduate or accreditation programs for the forthcoming generation of teachers to adopt.

Ultimately, the technical knowledge required of teachers to fully benefit from digital device learning must be introduced and promoted by school principals and administrators, through intensives and tutorials, workshops and similar job training programs. A great example of this can be taken from the Baldwin County Public School District in Alabama, which has created a Digital Renaissance Leadership Academy for teachers, wherein seven teachers from each school take part in weekly professional development sessions and work with online coaches to improve their skill set.

According to a report on the program, the development sessions helped teachers become trained quicker while creating a close network of educators that motivated one another to advance their practice.

Technology Learning's Impact on STEM

It's no secret there is an incredible middle-skills jobs gap right now, with not enough qualified workers to fill open positions in the U.S., especially in STEM fields, energy and manufacturing industries. While many policymakers have argued for the mandatory instruction of computer science at the middle and high school levels, an undeniable lack of teacher quality and quantity in STEM fields like computer science serve as a tremendous roadblock. The viable solutions appear be either training current teachers in computer science courses, perhaps leveraging online materials and instruction, or increasing incentives for computer science teachers to close this workforce talent gap.

However, with the introduction of digital device learning, for which teachers will inevitably need to master in due time, we have a unique opportunity to also integrate greater computer science and STEM curriculum through this growing technology and learning environment. With greater access to resources like Digital Promise and Baldwin County's Digital Renaissance Leadership Academy, teachers will have the ability to interest, motivate and most importantly, support students towards these very necessary, and lucrative futures in STEM careers. School districts putting budget towards not only securing 1:1 digital learning devices, but supporting with dollars towards further teacher computer training, will inevitably see the most success in students as they prepare for future tech-facing career pathways.