In the fall of 2001, Kathleen McClaskey created EdTech Associates after working almost two decades in the field of educational technology as a computer teacher, technology integration specialist and Director of Technology in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. “I knew I could have a greater impact in education and the use of tools if I stepped outside the walls of a single school district,” says Kathleen. She established a vision about the use of technology in schools in 1985 that provided her a focus for her entire career. The vision, then and now, is that “Technology (computers in ’85) is the great equalizer”. Kathleen believes this vision has finally been realized as the technologies have advanced rapidly over the last decade. “I can say today that current technologies can remove every barrier to learning. The next step is for it to be realized in every school and every classroom.” And this vision serves as the lasting foundation of EdTech Associates, which she discusses further in this exclusive interview.
Victor: What does the name “Edtech Associates” mean?
Kathleen: From the start, I wanted to be identified as a company that focused on educational technology (EdTech) and that there would be partnerships with higher education and many education-based companies (Associates).
Victor: What is it? What services does it offer? What are the benefits?
Kathleen: EdTech Associates is an education technology consulting company that offers services and resources to assist schools and school districts who want to create 21st Century teaching and learning environments.
We offer Keynote/Spotlight speaker services where I hope to inspire and ignite ideas with educators at all levels about how tools can be leveraged to reach and teach every learner. I want the audience to walk away thinking deeply about the importance that technology can play in removing barriers to learning and in empowering all learners in developing “independent 21st Century learning skills” to become college and career ready in a global market place.
For the last 9 years, we have been offering the “Tools for Learning”™ Professional Development Service in literacy, math and science. This training offers schools and school districts a hands-on workshop where teachers learn to use desktop software, online apps and Web 2.0 tools to support and engage all students in researched-based instructional strategies and discover tools that students use to remove barriers to learning and become independent learners for life.
From the beginning EdTech Associates has offered Assistive Technology Consulting and Training Services to help parents, individuals and schools select and use the available technologies designed to support students with learning disabilities, dyslexia, and language and learning difficulties.
In conjunction with my associates who are experts in the field of instruction design and evaluation, EdTech Associates offers Professional Development Design and Evaluation Services to school districts who want to create 21st Century schools where all students can achieve.
We have established a 21st Century Professional Development Model designed to improve instructional practice of teachers and the independent learning skills of students in preparation for college and career. This 21st Century Professional Development Model is guided by a Theory of Change conducted over Five Stages of Transformation from Planning for Change -> Initiating Change -> Confirming Change -> Sustaining Change -> Scaling Up.
This coming year, EdTech Associates will introduce a new service to the K-12 market. Built in Moodle™ will offer a range of services to support schools and schools districts who want to create universally-designed all digital 21st Century learning environments in Moodle.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?
Kathleen: EdTech Associates is a unique company as the focus is about helping schools understand how to create universally-designed learning environments in every classroom where all students can achieve. Trying to change the school culture where classroom teachers have lacked the training to teach all students has been a difficult one. Once a teacher learns how to choose and use the technologies for engaging and effective instruction, the learning environment becomes transformed where all students can learn.
I have met many colleagues with a similar philosophy and focus but have not met a company in the same market.
Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Kathleen: Many colleagues have asked me how I started my business since there are so few educational entrepreneurs. EdTech Associates was founded in the fall of 2001. It was the tragedy of 9/11 that actually initiated a more personal search of what I needed to do next. I realized that whatever I was to do there needed to be a purpose.
The two questions I asked myself were: Why are you here on this earth? How can you make a difference?
Earlier in this interview, I noted that I realized a vision of technology in the mid 80’s where “Technology was the great equalizer”. Keeping that in my mind, I was able to answer these questions that would provide focus and direction to my business. The focus of my business is to empower teachers with the tools and skills to teach all students and for all students to become skillful independent learners with the use of a personal learning toolkit so that they can have choices in post-secondary.
As many entrepreneurs know, there needs to be passion on a daily basis to get through the difficult times as you try to build a business from scratch. This passion came from my oldest son’s educational experience that was difficult at best. He was a child that was never taught how to read for the sole reason that he was dyslexic and teachers did not know how to teach him. At the age of 16, he was placed in a private school for dyslexics where he did learn to read. However, he never learned to become an independent learner so that he could have choices in the post secondary.
So my passion for every student to gain “Independent learning skills” with the use of technology, came from this very personal experience.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Kathleen: Currently, EdTech Associates is conducting the professional development in three ARRA Title II grants in NH with the goal of creating 21st century classrooms. In these projects, we are using Moodle to provide universal access to textbooks, curriculum materials, online resources, web links for independent practice of skills, visual glossaries, forums and assessments.
The content focus is different at each school and includes math, science and literacy. Some classrooms have a 1:1 learning environment where others have a 5:1 scenario. In a short time, instructional practices have changed and engagement in learning is evident.
During the last five years, EdTech Associates has been involved in some unique projects. The ACT (Autism, Communication and Technology) project was launched in the fall of 2006 where a new and effective model for instructing autistic students was developed. Interactive whiteboards, standard desktop software and interactive websites revolutionized how teachers engaged and taught autistic students in group instruction at Spaulding Youth Center in New Hampshire.
These technologies offered new opportunities for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other neurological impairments to demonstrate spontaneous social learning and increased on-task classroom behaviors. This project has evolved into sustainable and daily instructional practices that has forever changed the paradigm of a classroom for students with autism.
EdTech Associates was awarded three years of funding for the Science4All project from the New Hampshire Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnership grant. The essential question in this project was “How to we teach and engage all students in science. The goals of the “Science4All” professional development project included:
1) to increase content knowledge and reading comprehension instruction in science for teachers; 2) to train and support science teacher leaders to implement and integrate technology into inquiry-based instruction; 3) to create student-centered, interdisciplinary, collaborative teaching practices using the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) principles.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Kathleen: We are at a defining moment in education in the US where we can decide whether we will educate our children to become productive members of the 21st Century global economy or we will continue to use methods and materials that have proven not to support the learning of all children.
For those children that become identified under the IDEA law and land into the special education system, what do we do next? This system has been broken for decades where a codependent relationship exists between children and adults and where classroom teachers often have low expectation of children that carry a label of “disability”.
A sea change needs to occur in education where all students are included in the learning environment and where all teachers are trained to teach all students. Creating digital learning environments with 1:1 devices for students with teachers that can engage students in content with deeper levels of questioning and understanding will bring be instrumental in this change.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating EdTech Associates?
Kathleen: It is been a combination of my formative experiences in my graduate education and personal experiences with my own children that helped me in creating and growing EdTech Associates. In 1985 in my early years in a graduate program in computers in education, I envisioned that a computer could be the “great equalizer” for students with diverse learning needs. That vision became the framework in my teaching and in also the creation of EdTech Associates.
Victor: How does EdTech Associates address some of your concerns about education?
Kathleen: Being a long time proponent in making the curriculum accessible to every learner, I adopted and incorporated the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model into my training and professional development design models. UDL is now a “key tenet” in the National Technology Plan as announce by Karen Cator, USDOE Educational Technology Director, at the ISTE 2010 conference.
The question that I often ask of teachers alike is “How will you teach every child, every day?” With the 1:1 21st Century classrooms projects I am involved in, we can now offer every student the ability not only to access the curriculum but also to achieve in the curriculum.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Kathleen: I am a naturally optimistic person so I see that the future education will prepare our students for the 21st Century global economy. We will witness a dramatic change in education as we know it today; 1:1 devices, all digital textbooks, paperless schools, online learning and teachers trained to teach in all learning environments.
Preparing our administrators, teachers and students for this new world is the current task at hand. In looking towards the future, I am most concerned on how can create effective and sustainable models that can support academic achievement for the diverse needs of students everywhere; from the rural farm community to the inner city.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of EdTech Associates?
Kathleen: EdTech Associates is a company that is always looking at the “big picture” in education; generating ideas and dialogue about the innovative technologies that can be leveraged to reach and teach all students. EdTech Associates plans to help create the change we need in education.
Victor: What makes you say that?
Kathleen: I have the passion and determination to initiate and invigorate ideas into action.
Victor: Any future plans?
Kathleen: This year I am collaborating with a close colleague in the development of a new company that will focus on open source learning management systems (LMS) for higher education and K-12. We will look at providing cost effective services for schools to create a sustainable “foundation, framework and direction” to implement and employ a LMS in a standards-based blended learning environment.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of Edtech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com