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State Board previews state Digital Learning Plan

N.C. State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation has been hard at work on a Digital Learning Plan for North Carolina schools. Wednesday, members of DPI and the Friday Institute presented a report on the plan at the State Board of Education meeting

The presentation followed one on the success of Race to the Top — which is ending — in North Carolina. Dr. Glenn Kleiman, executive director of the Friday Institute, started off his talk by stating his hope that the Digital Learning Plan would take on something like the significance Race to the Top did for the state. 

“I hope the Digital Learning Plan is one of the next big things,” he said. 

The Friday Institute has been meeting with districts, schools, and stakeholders across the state to get a feel for how well different areas are doing with integrating digital technology. They’ve also been soliciting input from educators, conducting focus groups and interviews, as well as other activities. From the findings, Friday Institute staff developed some recommendations for the state to consider moving forward. 

One thing Friday Institute staff noticed in teacher self-assessments from around the state was a large degree of difference in teacher access to technology. 

“The variation makes clear to us that we can’t have just one plan,” Kleiman said. 

Rather, the state must make efforts to work with districts and schools to help customize, somewhat, their digital learning strategies, he said. 

When it came to devices, there is also a large variation, with schools and districts using different types of products — everything from Chromebooks to iPads — he said.

Some recommendations from the Friday Institute related to these findings include expanding broadband access to all classrooms, something Kleiman said can possibly be accomplished within two years. 

Also, he said the state should guide local districts in their purchasing decisions, though he said the state should play an advisory role and not dictate what districts should buy. A statewide cooperative procurement service would help districts and schools purchase devices and resources at cheaper prices, he said.

Kleiman said that equity in technology access should be on the minds of the state going forward with the Digital Learning Plan. Not everybody has the same access to technology at home, for instance. One recommendation related to that is a “multi-agency” push to get broadband to all homes in the state. 

When polling teachers on their readiness to use the technology they had access to, the Friday Institute found many teachers didn’t feel they had the expertise to take full advantage of their resources. 

“Teachers feel like they have more technology than they’re prepared to use,” Kleiman said. 

Dr. Tracy Weeks, chief academic and digital learning officer in Academics and Digital Learning at the Department of Public Instruction, also shared some insight on the Friday Center report with the board. 

She discussed the need for professional development for teachers and administrators when it comes to digital technology. 

She said that 84 percent of districts self-rated themselves as being in the early phases or the early/developing phases of progress on digital content and instruction.

“Digital learning really does shift the kind of content we are using,” she said, adding later: “This is something that they really want more help in.” 

Other highlights from the presentation include the fact that 688 schools in 93 districts have one-to-one device initiatives. This is where every student gets an electronic device to aid in learning. However, only 10 districts are fully one-to-one.

Weeks noted that the state would be integral in ensuring all students had equal access to digital technology. 

“The state has an important role in thinking about additional supports that are needed to ensure equity.”

Funding is a key issue that will lead to the success of the Digital Learning Plan. Kleiman noted that the state has invested about $20 million in school connectivity, and he suggested upping that by $12 million for internal networks. The state could leverage that money to get federal funds.

Device funding is a little trickier to figure out.

Under one model, the Friday Institute calculated it would cost about $100 per student each year for K-12 — a total of $155 million. But that could change depending on variables, such as the devices districts and schools choose to use and the number of years the devices are used for. 

Kleiman also suggested $12 million be used to support schools and districts in their technological endeavors. 

He said the Friday Institute can and will work with whatever resources the state is able to get for digital learning, but the pace of the digital learning transformation would vary depending. He said the state is poised to become a national leader in this area, but cautioned that this transformation isn’t just about giving devices to kids. 

“This is about teaching and learning, enhanced and enabled by digital learning,” he said. 

For more information on the plan, see this summary

For more information on the presentation from today’s meeting, here’s the PowerPoint.

The John Locke Foundation got a sneak preview of the plan earlier in the week at their most recent Shaftesbury Society Luncheon entitled, “North Carolina’s Digital Learning Plan: Planning for Statewide Success.”

Jamey Falkenbury, press secretary and director of operations for the Office of Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, presented, along with two Friday Institute experts, Dr. Jeni Corn, director of evaluation programs, and Dr. Trip Stallings, director of policy research.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.