Jun 08 2023

Create a Strong Foundation for Your K–12 Classrooms of the Future

Designing the future of learning takes careful planning and consideration. Follow these considerations before investing in classroom or student technologies.

K–12 education is primed for a shift away from traditional styles of teaching and learning. Inspired by recent examples of classroom transformation and eager to use remaining federal funds, school leaders are turning to the next steps in educational technology and classroom innovation. They are creating a plan to build classrooms of the future and determining what that means. 

This includes preparations for future one-to-one device management and refreshes, determining network needs and continuing professional development to accompany all of the upcoming initiatives.

Though some of the questions seem daunting to consider, such as how instructional design will require different ed tech needs five or 10 years down the road, the possibilities also carry an air of excitement for district leaders.

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Here’s what they are considering and how they are envisioning what comes next for futuristic classrooms.

Determine Funding Sources for Classroom Upgrades

When creating a plan for the classroom technology that will carry schools into the future of learning, leaders should have deep discussions on how to use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. The final rounds of ESSER funds are set to expire in September 2023 and September 2024.

Many areas have yet to use significant amounts of ESSER funding, according to a Future Ed report, which shows that some cities have spent only one-fifth of available funds on average. Districts with remaining funds can choose to prioritize investments in ed tech software and hardware products or services. 

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Planning to allocate federal funds for the future sometimes requires looking at products the district hasn’t used in the past.

“We have to be willing to take that leap of faith with some software and give it a two- or three-year run, even though we don’t have gobs and gobs of data on it,” says Kimberly Greene, chair of the Masters of Arts in Education program at the University of Massachusetts. Greene teaches Advanced Design for 21st Century Learning and created the University Center for Instructional Innovation, which facilitates the evolution from in-person to hybrid learning.

For schools that have spent their remaining ESSER funds, there are other avenues through which they can design classroom transformation and device management plans.

Christian Long, technology director at Sycamore Community Schools in Cincinnati, says that ­although Sycamore’s ESSER funds are already allocated, the district relies on its capital budget or permanent improvement budget. These funding buckets are intended for investments that last five years or longer, including infrastructure, devices, switches, access points, phones and other technologies.

Plan One-to-One Programs with a Realistic Vision of Tech’s Life Span

Long is creating a vision for how one-to-one devices will be maintained and refreshed over the next few years with one fact in mind: Chromebooks don’t last forever. His district’s four elementary buildings use Chromebooks in carts that stay at school, and students in grades 5-12 take Chromebooks home. To make these devices last as long as possible, the district purchased extended warranties and cases. 

“A Chromebook is going to last only so long,” he says. “Our refresh plan is that grades 5 and 9 get new devices, so they are in circulation for four years. Depending on the device, you might have some life left after that time, so we use them as loaner devices or at the elementary buildings.”  

Long says schools should have “real expectations” about device lifecycles to ensure accurate budgeting.

“I’ve seen some districts plan their lifecycle around a five- or six-year implementation, and I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” he says.

Schools should also consider what will happen to devices at the end of their lifecycle and whether they have the staff to manage the devices they’re selecting for student users.

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Survey Staff to Prioritize Investments and Upgrades

Schools have so many options when it comes to classroom and student technology. Greene says there’s a simple solution to prioritizing upgrades: Bring the educators to the discussion table. 

“Start by doing a needs assessment with the teachers. You could do a KWL [Know, Want to Know and Learned] chart,” she says. “Say, ‘I know you want to serve your learners. What are the needs your learners have?’ Start there and build out.” 

Greene says leaders need to understand that teachers likely won’t know all the available tech options. So, expecting them to bring their needs, rather than solutions, is essential to sketching out plans for future classroom tech.

LEARN MORE: Strategic communication supports K–12 tech investments.

Another way to prioritize is by listening to the students who are using the technologies. Find out if the classroom tech, applications and devices are meeting their needs and having the intended effect on their learning.

“In education, we are so clouded by having to meet regulations that we lose the actual intention,” Greene says. “That gets very dangerous. We start listening to the advice of people who aren’t using the technology we’re paying for.”

Long does this through a “tech satisfaction survey” every year, which helps his district determine future needs and funding allocations. Among the questions the survey asks:

  • How is the tech team doing, and how can we provide a better customer service approach?
  • Tell me about your hardware — how’s your computer doing?
  • How are student devices doing?
  • How is your internet access?

Build Equity into Planning Conversations for all Learning Environments

Long explains that one of his goals is to create an equitable experience in each classroom, for every student.

For example, he is working to install and train all teachers on interactive ViewSonic boards, replacing some older projectors. With an eye on equity, Long’s team prioritizes training teachers thoroughly on the boards’ functions and capabilities through individual and small group professional development. However, Long points out that time is a scarce resource in education, and ed tech training often takes a back seat to other initiatives.

“Our elementary teachers are getting training about dyslexia right now, so that takes priority over learning how to use a ViewSonic board,” he says. Additionally, schools need to have a member of the IT team who can work with teachers on tech integration and needs.

Greene adds that this type of continued professional development is essential for fully integrating and benefitting from classroom tech investments.

DIVE DEEPER: What is leadership’s role in professional development?

“Professional development is taking the opportunity to open the learning to all learners in different ways,” she says. “Come in and inspire people. Open their eyes and their ears and their brains and their hearts to new ways of thinking and teaching, and they’re able to keep building on it.”

Greene adds that schools should make these considerations when planning to spend funds. It’s important to keep an eye on the final goals, including equity, by funding professional development opportunities.

The plan for building a futuristic classroom comes down to asking the question, “What are the true needs of the classroom as technology evolves?” again and again, over the next five to seven years, Long says. He also turns to nearby districts to collaborate and discuss what they are working on, to broaden his perspective and calibrate decision-making. Through these processes, he and other ed tech leaders can continue to reassess and update funding plans to ensure the best student learning experience.

Illustration by James Carey

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