Leveraging cutting-edge technology and thinking outside the box to solve problems play to Richard Culatta's sweet spot.
After serving as the U.S. Education Department's educational technology director and Rhode Island’s chief innovation officer, Culatta is bringing that experience to his new position: CEO of the International Society of Technology in Education.
Culatta spoke with EdTech’s Meghan Bogardus Cortez about his ISTE role and what he thinks will be the biggest challenges for educational technology in the years to come.
EDTECH: How do you plan to leverage your experience in this new role?
CULATTA: One of the things that I learned at the federal level and when I was working in the state of Rhode Island was the power of taking tough problems and opening them up for the community to help solve.
I think that’s a really powerful lesson. We were able to do stuff that we would have never been able to do if it was just my team sitting around coming up with solutions. We were able to tap into much deeper expertise. I think that will work very nicely in a large member organization like ISTE. We can leverage the members and really work together to do some powerful things.
EDTECH: What do you see on the horizon for educational technology?
CULATTA: The future of technology in education is less about using the technology to deliver instruction and more about using technology as a tool to accelerate innovation. We could use some acceleration to close equity gaps, personalize learning, create new forms of assessment and prepare the next-generation teacher workforce. It’s the role of technology to help empower teachers and learners. I’m not excited about a world where students just use technology to click through materials on a screen. But I’m very excited about a world where learners use technology to design, create, explore and engage with their peers around the world. This use of technology is incredibly powerful, and it’s an opportunity that should be available to everyone.
EDTECH: The Obama administration advocated for accessible computer science education. Do you think those initiatives will suffer without some backing from the White House?
CULATTA: Anytime we think that we can simply solve issues of equity, we’re taking our eyes off of what’s right. We need to be continually looking at it. But, I do believe that technology is a very powerful tool when it comes to closing equity gaps.
I think there are ways we can use technology to bring expertise into areas where it may not exist. We can use it to bring high-quality resources to places that might not be able to afford them.
EDTECH: The Obama administration played a big role in striving toward accessible computer science education. Do you think these initiatives will suffer without some backing from the White House?
CULATTA: There is a great national momentum starting to build around making sure all students have access to learn computer science. It’s up to the broader education community to make sure that vision becomes a reality.
When I started my role in Rhode Island, I learned that we were among the lowest states in the country in terms of providing computer science courses in schools. So, we launched a program called CS4RI, which is focused on training teachers to offer computer science in partnership with our universities. Rhode Island is now on track to become the first state to have computer science offered in every school. Less than two years later, nearly 90 percent of Rhode Island schools offer computer science courses.
ISTE was an advocate for expanding computer science long before I arrived. We maintain the standards for computer science teachers and offer a wide range of print and online resources for teachers interested in bringing computer science to their schools. You can expect to see ISTE doubling down on its focus on computer science in the next few years as we partner with other organizations to turn the vision of computer science for all into a reality.
EDTECH: Do you think digital equity issues will continue over the next few years?
CULATTA: We can never take our eyes off the digital equity ball. We’ve made huge progress over the last few years in terms of access to connectivity. But there is a digital use divide that we must focus on now. How students are using technology can make a big difference in how they prepare to be successful in college and careers. Technology can be a powerful tool when it comes to closing equity gaps. We can use it to bring expertise into areas where it may not exist. We can use it to bring high-quality resources to schools that might not have them. But we can’t allow ourselves to become complacent about how effectively technology is being used just because access to technology is improving.
EDTECH: How do you expect ISTE to position itself over the next few years if there is not as much federal support for education initiatives?
CULATTA: Real change in education doesn’t come from just one source. It comes from districts working with schools, nonprofits working with the private sector, and the federal government working with states — all with the goal of designing an educational system focused on the needs of students. Recent advances in technology provide us with a whole new suite of tools that we can use to make that happen. It’s a very exciting time to be in education. Through our online communities, in-person events and a wide range of learning resources, ISTE stands ready to help all partners prepare students to be effective digital citizens and thrive in a globally connected world.