The edtech industry network leader talks digital learning initiatives, key goals, and ESSA.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Title: SVP and Managing Director
Org: ETIN of SIIA
Reach: Developers of educational software applications, digital content, online learning services and related technologies across the K-20 sector.
Fame: past Executive Director, California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) – software review process.
Quotes: “Everyone benefits when we collaborate.” / “A literacy intervention program may not mention digital learning but it can be a strategy used by a school to accomplish the goals of their program and then funding could be used to purchase technology.”
Looking Ahead: “I hope to help all ETIN-SIIA members better understand the education market and how the industry can better serve the education community.”
With more than two decades of experience in education, Bridget Foster has played an integral role in the digital learning transition. She is managing director and senior vice president of the Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN) of SIIA. She helped establish a statewide review process for education technology, and has also supported education companies themselves in positioning their products and services to best support district needs. Her experience in education, state government, and the industry has uniquely positioned her to lead ETIN-SIIA as she has had an opportunity to experience and understand the education market from so many different perspectives. “I know the realities of the classroom as well as the demands of the board room,” she says. “I know what keeps school board members up at night and what it takes to implement good policy.” She hopes to help all ETIN-SIIA members better understand the education market and how the industry can better serve the education community, including through this in-depth discussion of the education sector.
I know what keeps school board members up at night and what it takes to implement good policy.
In this EdTech Digest interview, she responds to what is the state of education, what states and districts might expect from the federal government, the business of education, advice for edtech companies, advice for districts in developing digital learning strategies under ESSA, and what’s just ahead.
Can you describe your vision as VP and managing director of ETIN-SIIA during the next four years under the Trump administration?
Bridget: My vision for ETIN-SIIA is the same that it has always been, to provide the best benefits and services for members, that help them develop and provide outstanding education products and services needed to meet the diverse needs of educators everywhere. The education industry is comprised of many different types of companies because the needs of education are incredibly diverse. It is peopled by individuals who truly want to make a difference and ensure that our students and teachers have the best resources possible. At ETIN-SIIA, we simplify the complexity of the market and help our members succeed in their quests to positively impact students and educators.
What are your thoughts more generally on the state of education these days?
Bridget: Anyone who considers themselves to be educated has an opinion on education. This has always been the case. Education is a very political subject and that is no different today than it was when I was in school. Plus, because public education impacts children and young adults, we tend to be cautious when it comes to change. I have seen positive change over the years, including how technology has helped to expand opportunities for students anytime, anywhere. We just have to remember that it isn’t one size fits all. Change can be good, but options must always be available.
What do you see as technology’s role in education? What makes you say that?
Bridget: Technology’s role in education is not really all that different than it is in business. It can help educators be more effective and efficient. It can help students access information and opportunities beyond their communities. It can help students learn from and interact with students across the global and create global communities. It can help teachers network with peers around the world and not feel so isolated as professionals. It can aggregate and analyze vast amounts of data to provide greater insights into what makes for meaningful learning. I say that because I have seen it in large and small ways. Early in my career, I watched a group of 9th grade boys use a word processing program for the first time and overcome their bad penmanship, their physical difficulties in putting pen to paper, their atrocious spelling and limited understanding of grammar, to find their written voice and feel the power of communicating their ideas to others.
Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning ed, tech, funding, or policy or anything else for that matter?
Bridget: Just a reminder that everyone benefits when we collaborate. Education technology providers and educators need to be good partners and understand that success hardly comes overnight. Working with educators and districts to better understand their needs and using this information to inform product development can lead to long term, sustainable partnerships that result in success for all.
Education technology providers and educators need to be good partners and understand that success hardly comes overnight.
What opportunities does ESSA provide education technology companies, and what challenges do you foresee?
Bridget: One of the biggest benefits of ESSA is the stability it brings to states and districts about what to expect from the federal government. Under NCLB, the Obama administration gave certain states waivers for key provisions of NCLB which required an annual renewal – leaving states, districts and providers unsure about the future of renewals. Without the uncertainty of waiver renewals, states are more likely to invest in long-term initiatives. Although this can bring stability to states and districts, there is still uncertainty around funding given the priorities of the new Administration. States may also be hesitant to take full advantage of some of the new flexibilities available to them, so service providers may need to educate their partner districts about these new opportunities and how they can benefit students and educators.
How can education technology companies best prepare and position themselves to support schools under ESSA?
Bridget: The state plans required by ESSA offer a detailed roadmap of the priorities and trajectory of each state. These public plans will help education industry providers identify states with priorities more suited for certain products or companies, such a focus on literacy or mathematics interventions or where the “fifth indicator” in the accountability system may signal postsecondary course access as a priority for high school students. Providers will be able to adjust their products and services to the priorities of the state which will inform the priorities of individual districts and schools.
ESSA provides for much more flexibility regarding funding to support a program’s goals than ever before.
What is your top advice for districts in developing strategies for digital learning under ESSA?
Bridget: Providers should not only look at programs that specifically fund digital learning initiatives. The majority of federal support is not targeted specifically to physical or digital initiatives but to key goals. A literacy intervention program may not mention digital learning but it can be a strategy used by a school to accomplish the goals of their program and then funding could be used to purchase technology. ESSA provides for much more flexibility regarding funding to support a program’s goals than ever before.
Follow Bridget and ETIN on Twitter at @SIIA_Education.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]