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SXSW Touts Teaching Tech (But Implementation's Another Thing)

Carlos Morales/KUT News

It’s no longer unusual to see mobile devices in American classrooms. But while many teachers now use them as tools for instruction, others find themselves completely at odds with technology. Questions on how best to bridge that gap keep cropping up at SXSW’s education conference this week.   

One of the messages at the conference was that even economically disadvantaged school districts that are starting to educate students digitally are seeing positive results for students.

That empowered Tom Treanor, a technology specialist for a couple of Austin schools. One of Treanor’s schools serves more affluent neighborhoods, while kids at another are mostly on free or reduced lunches.

“The kids who have more, do more,” Treanor said. “This is like the great gift, if you will, about how working in the digital age, we can spread and perhaps equalize the type of opportunity for learning.”

But just as not every teacher is willing or able to incorporate technology into the classroom, neither is every school district. Michael Robbins with the U.S. Department of Education, who travels a lot connecting schools with organizations that promote digital learning, is starting to see a cultural shift across the board.

“The ultimate goal is to create lifelong learners and to ensure that our students are prepared to be active participants in our economy and in our democracy,” Robbins said.

To achieve that, proponents of digital learning encourage teachers to think backwards. That means: Don’t start a lesson plan focused on the state-mandated standards. Focus on students’ interests and the wealth of possibilities afforded by technology.

Treanor admits that’s easier said than done. Because in Texas, accountability drives everything.

SXSW EDU wraps up today.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.