Jul 23 2020

Q&A: Bryan Phillips on How to Remove Digital Barriers for Students

Hoover City Schools' CTO discusses the relationship between educational technology and equity.

Dynamics of digital instruction, learning outcomes and equitable access can be complex, with no one-size-fits-all approach. As researchers learn more about best practices, educators are tasked with putting their findings into practice — a job harder than it sounds. Now, districts are confronting new challenges around equity and screen time as they seek to deliver remote instruction.

We asked Bryan Phillips, CTO of Hoover City Schools in Alabama, to share his views on students and screen time.

This interview is part of a roundtable on how researchers and educators view screen time, digital equity and learning outcomes.

EDTECH: If intentionality is key to effective use of educational technology, how can educators apply this in practice?

PHILLIPS: The teacher is the most important piece of this. We can give them all the tools in the world, but teachers have to understand not to make an assignment that uses a Chromebook just to use a Chromebook. Make an assignment using the Chromebook as a tool to get where you’re going.

In the classroom, technology can be a magnifier: It takes really good teachers and makes them great, and it takes bad teachers and makes them worse.

There are teachers who think technology is a bad thing, but pressure from other classrooms sometimes bleeds over into their classroom. If Johnny goes home and tells his mom about this great activity other students did in Ms. Jones’s class, and that mom talks to another mom and says, “Guess what they’re doing in Ms. Jones’s class? We’re not doing that Ms. Smith’s class,” the pressure slowly grows.

That’s how we’ve grown our one-to-one program. We did a lot of professional development, but with people who were negative to begin with, we let them grow at their own speed as they started asking questions, and I think that helped a lot of the negativity.

If you force something on someone, they’re never going to like it. But given time, they pick it up and enjoy it. The past week has been a great example. A lot of these teachers were not digital, especially the lower grades, but they’re being forced into a digital world now. They still want to see their kids, they still want to interact, so they’re picking it up now because it’s at their pace.

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