Dr. Eileen Lento drops by to talk all things education technology, and her work as the Director of Strategy and Marketing at Intel Education and has been an integral voice with ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) as a board member
for the last four years. Dr. Lento also discusses her role in the upcoming International 1:1 Computing Conference being held in Atlanta, Georgia December 2-3rd.
We dive into issues around BYOD programs, Intel’s approach to education globally and the challenge of providing all children with the best edtech devices. I think you will really enjoy Dr. Lento’s candor and enthusiasm for 1:1 initiatives and the upcoming conference in Atlanta!
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Dr. Rod: First, give me a little background about Intel Education and share with us the approach to education technology and what role you play globally.
Dr. Lento: Intel has a very deep commitment to education with programs you’ve probably heard of like the International Science Fair , and the Science Talent Search , among other programs. So we’ve really been involved with education for quite some time and more specifically, the work I do is around helping jurisdictions that are interested in moving to 1:1 (one to one), successfully.
To get the full benefit out of modernizing classrooms is really a systemic approach. The one thing everybody agrees on is a full focus on students. It’s about the student results. It’s about helping students to achieve and in many ways to achieve differently. It’s a very different workforce they’re entering than the one we entered. It isn’t just a matter of purchasing technology. It’s really about the usage model. So when we work with the jurisdiction that’s using this kind of modernization, one of the first questions we ask them is, “What are you hoping to achieve?” and then, “What does success look like?”
That’s a very interesting conversation because they have aspirations around success for the students. So one of the first steps is to figure out what success in your community would look like, how we are going to measure it, and finally how are we going to document it? This way, there’s a clear understanding of where they start, and where they’re going.
Dr. Rod: Eileen, take us inside those meetings. Talk about the level of expectations that these administrators and community leaders have. Do they understand the full solution, the impact around professional development, and the time it might take to build this in alongside the curriculum, or are they expecting more of a plug-and-play?
Dr. Lento: I think when you read the newspaper and you see stories around districts or jurisdictions that invested in edtech and then something terrible happened, or they didn’t get the results. I think overwhelmingly when you really dig in and look, what you see is that it hasn’t really been a holistic approach. There might be some PD (Professional Development) going on, but this is why I was saying that beyond the children, the content is just one consideration. PD is another consideration.
Many examples exist, but one I always like to use is, in the past, when kids learned about PH in the middle years (acid, neutral, and basic), you had litmus paper, and you’d dip it in. What we know is that the long term retention rates on that aren’t very good and we struggle to apply it. Beyond the three samples that they had, how would you use it in context? Now imagine a classroom that was well resourced with technology and now, they could take their laptops with them out to the parking lots and their teacher could say, “Is that puddle of water over there potable? Would you drink it?” Now they could be testing for PH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and a number of other factors. Then they would have to triangulate that data to make the decision about whether they drink the water. That’s a very different usage model for a teacher to look at, or support, than just dipping a piece of paper into the different samples. PD is really important.
There are other factors that we haven’t even touched on including policy within the school, and policy within the jurisdiction the school sits in. You may recall, a few years back, there were certain jurisdictions in California that where being forced to buy two textbooks for every child, one set for the classroom and one set for at home. That’s a very expensive proposition. I completely understand why they did it. The backpacks where getting crazy heavy. But it’s just not practical when you think about all the things schools have to do.
Funding is another area where you really need to think differently, and the way we used to do it, probably isn’t the way forward. Any organization that was looking at technology isn’t thinking about it incrementally. They aren’t thinking of it in terms of how to do things differently, more effectively, and more efficiently. In education it’s often been an incremental conversation, and incremental is very expensive.
Dr. Rod: Eileen, I’m glad you brought up the discussion about financing and how we can actually do this on a practical stage. Early on, everyone was concerned about underprivileged communities and children and whether we would be able to equip them with devices. How has that played out from your position?
Dr. Lento: Actually, there’s a lot of hype around theft, and when you talk to the companies, that are in that space, it’s actually quite low. On the broken subject, some of the new form factors weren't made for schools. They weren’t made for being tossed into a backpack the way you’re seeing. There are purpose built devices out there that are more durable, and more rugged. There are also different form factors which lend themselves to more durability and ruggedness as well.
Because we fund on property tax in the U.S., there are huge disparities in what is spent, per child, in each jurisdiction. Those things really do matter. Having said that, across the board, I don’t think we’ve had deep conversations about what we aren’t going to do, that would free up money to allow us to modernize and invest properly. I think we’ve been a little slow in that space to respond. But also remembering that we’re talking about schools which are large institutions and change is challenging because it’s made up of lots of people and it’s steeped in history with how we do schooling. Therefore you have to have processes in place to bring people along. You need to manage all the change that’s happening when you modernize.
Dr. Rod: One of the “solutions,” I put that in quotes, to bridge that gap has been Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in districts. There are many who say that it’s just a Band-Aid approach and that most districts that are utilizing it are not thinking broadly.
Dr. Lento: I just recently had the privilege of being in the audience with Julie Evans , the CEO of Project Tomorrow which has the Speak Up national initiative. She presented that the trend to move away from BYOD has already begun.
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I’ve seen a jurisdiction in Ohio that employed a BYOD initiative much like they did with band instruments. They used a sliding scale. But what they did was they said, “This is what success looks like. In order to achieve this kind of success, this is the minimum kind of device that we will support. We’ve given you (students) several options that meet these specs and you can purchase.” So it’s not fully the wild, wild, West.
Dr. Rod: Recently, CAEP and Dr. Jim Cabulca released new standards for teacher preparation. You where alluding to our aversion to change in education and this slow moving sloth that is the institution of education here in the United States. Should we be looking at teacher preparation to integrate technology, to give these new teachers an opportunity to test out technology and understand its relevance to the student?
Dr. Lento: I’d like to hit the pause button and step back. A lot of what we’re talking about is change management of an existing system. Intuitively, thinking about what you’re bringing into the system, makes a lot of sense to drive change. If you’re thinking about teacher prep, this is super obvious
Remember, when we’re talking about this technology it’s very specifically for the purpose of improving student learning, and for the purpose of improving outcomes, and helping them with their achievement. If you keep coming back to that student, it really does matter what they do with it. To a great extent in K-12, the teacher controls that. So influencing and shaping our future teacher force is clearly rational, and certainly deserving of attention. But again, it’s another example of a big institution that we need to evolve.
Dr. Rod: I’m glad you keep going back to being student centered. That’s my concern. If we’re not engaging the student with the technology that they already use, and that they use better than we do, what’s going to happen? I was just having a conversation last week about the new enrollment numbers in college that have come out, and that they’re way down. I think that we can be a little bit more creative to engaging students long term.
Dr. Lento: Certainly there is room for innovation here. After all these years, when you walk into most schools, they look highly similar to what we experienced. Even as someone who visits many schools, many of the 1:1’s I see simply replace their pencils with laptops expecting different outcomes. Once the hype wears off, if you’re doing exactly the same thing, you’re going to get exactly the same thing. This really is a systems change and a time to be doing things quite differently. These are very exciting times. I’ve seen examples where parents have huge influence, and when they walk in and see bustling classrooms, it makes them uncomfortable. Parents are coming out of a system where they expect schools to look like the schools they experienced. In all fairness, nobody wants people experimenting on their children. This really has to be thoughtful, mindful, data based change.
When you’re doing this, I think leadership within the community is huge. Part of that onus is on the leadership. What’s necessary is constant communication to all the stakeholders out in the community. Being able to demonstrate, based on data, that we’re making progress towards our vision of success is vital. That way, you continue to have the buy-in, so that when folks come into the school and they see behaviors that they’re unaccustomed to, they also see the data and the progress, because you’ve been communicating with them. Therefore you’re able to move forward. There is a communication strategy, that’s essential to keep progress moving forward, even when things might feel as if they are moving slowly.
Dr. Rod: Intel Education is a sponsor of the International 1:1 Computing Conference in Atlanta, December 2nd and 3rd. Can you talk a little bit about your role there at Intel Education and the impetus for the conference overall?
Dr. Lento: I think that one of the interesting aspects here is that we spent a lot of time focusing on the United States. I tried to be more general and speak to districts instead of jurisdictions but it was predominantly a U.S. focus. When we talked about funding, we landed on property tax. That’s very U.S. in nature. Having said that, our work is international, so we do have examples from around the world. Sometimes as a U.S. citizen, I am worried when I see places around the world that are just leapfrogging us. As an analogy, if you think about telephones, they’re skipping the hard wire and are going right to wireless. They have this opportunity to let go of the past and just move into the future. There are places that are doing that incredibly well all over the world.
What I also see, is the belief that education is completely local. Education is incredibly local. What’s relevant is incredibly local. At the same time, there are lessons that are transcendent. There’s an opportunity to recognize the transcendent lessons that we can all learn from, and move forward with. I think the international conference is a way to get people together to have those conversations.
Each state is very unique and organized. But still, by coming together, they do get best practices from each other that they can take home, and drive forward. Really, it’s an opportunity to learn.
Dr. Rod: Eileen, who should attend this conference?
Dr. Lento: Those interested in modernizing, and maybe moving to 1:1. The term 1:1 is so device centric that people immediately think about the device. It’s really information empowerment at every child’s fingertips. I think that the nomenclature sort of hides that from our thinking.
Dr. Rod: I always like to learn Eileen, about the people in education and why they are where they are. Did you dream, when you were a high school student, about working in education technology?
Dr. Lento: No I didn’t. (laughs) I’ve had several careers and I’ve been working in this one since the late 80s. In the past I did R&D with a digital equipment corporation, I spent many years in the Air Force. I have been a classroom teacher. I spent years teaching and doing research at Northwestern . It was during that period of time at Northwestern that I got involved with education technology.
I found my passion a little bit later in life. I was mid-career when I found my passion. I’m really happy I did. When you think about it though, the fact that I’ve had several different jobs that are really adjacent to one another, there was always sort of a mad science bend to what I did. Children today are much more likely to have many more jobs than we did. My career is actually more reflective of what’s happening today than my dad, who worked for the same company his whole life. My experience is actually more like what folks coming out of school will experience today.