Julia Fallon seeks to create an ‘actionable guide’ for edtech leaders.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
As Executive Director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), Julia Fallon works with U.S. state and territorial digital learning leaders to empower the education community to leverage technology for learning, teaching, and school operations. Involved with learning technologies since 1989, her professional interest lies in making the case for public school systems wherein educators are able to optimize technology-rich learning environments to equitably engage the learners who fill their classrooms. Prior to joining SETDA as the executive director in 2021, Julia worked for Washington’s K-12 education agency, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) as the Title II, Part A Program Lead, where she provided operational leadership and oversight of the federal program designed to improve the quality of instruction and administration. In her previous role as the state’s Technology Integration Program Manager, she streamlined strategic planning for districts, championed robust professional learning programming for educators, and advocated for smart, flexible network policies. Representing Washington, she was a longtime SETDA state member and had been instrumental in the leadership of the organization as a member of the Board of Directors serving in various board positions including board chairman. Julia holds a master’s degree in educational technology from Pepperdine University and a bachelor’s degree in business education from New York University. She was the 2019 recipient of the SETDA State Leader of the Year award, and was also a recipient of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Making IT Happen and the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) President’s awards.
You’ve been selected to lead the development of NETP. What does this mean for you and SETDA?
SETDA is very excited to have been selected by the U.S. Department of Education to lead the coalition of nonprofit partners—InnovateEDU, Learning Forward, and Project Tomorrow—in developing the next National Education Technology Plan (NETP). Our top priority is for the NETP to have an impact, serving as an actionable guide for educators, district and school leaders, policymakers, and edtech developers. As a national nonprofit membership association representing state and territorial professionals working with and leading on edtech, we have a unique opportunity to achieve this goal: Our members will be on the front line, working hand in hand with district leaders and educators, to implement recommendations in the NETP for closing the digital divide.
‘Our top priority is for the NETP to have an impact, serving as an actionable guide for educators, district and school leaders, policymakers, and edtech developers.’
This is also an incredibly important moment in time for education, in general, and for the role of technology for teaching and learning, specifically. The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the largest investment in—and deployment of—educational technology to ensure continuity of instruction during school closures; work that our members led across the country before and during the pandemic. In two short years, we went from about a little more than half our students having devices to nearly every student having a device. Now, for the first time, the audience for the NETP is truly every educator in every school district.
The NETP needs to reflect the collective experience of educators and students during the pandemic. While great strides were made to ensure students had access to instruction through technology during the pandemic, the quality of those learning experiences varied greatly, revealing a divide in how technology is used and how lessons are designed to address the divergent needs of students. It provides an opportunity to focus on what remains to be done to truly modernize our educational institutions. We are honored to be leading this work, particularly given the importance of this flagship technology policy document at this moment in time.
How have your past experiences, e.g., Pepperdine, informed your current approach?
I have a curious personality. My mind is always asking questions and seeking answers, and technology fuels that curiosity because I can learn something new every day. Most important, my collective experiences—from academic computing at New York University to the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, as a SETDA member, and at Pepperdine as a graduate student in the Master’s of Educational Technology program—have demonstrated to me the amazing potential that technology holds to support teaching and learning and designing learning environments.
Those experiences have also taught me that potential is not about technology—it is about people and community. Whether I was working with districts across Washington state helping them plan for large- and small-scale technology projects or in my role as SETDA board chair, the most important work was done through professional learning communities that focused on developing leaders and educators.
Without my Pepperdine experience, I probably wouldn’t be doing this work at this level. It helped me clearly see how IT professionals are connected to learning and teaching, which ultimately led me to serving educators and students.
I love exploring and probing technology integration and K-12 education. I have a lifelong interest in what makes thriving online communities. I enjoy supporting the state members through policy and resource development.
‘I love exploring and probing technology integration and K-12 education. I have a lifelong interest in what makes thriving online communities.’
Any preview from you of major sections you expect to include in the report?
Unfortunately, we cannot offer a preview, but our goals are for the NETP to offer actionable advice to help close the digital divide—specifically, the digital access, digital use, and digital design divides—support state and district leaders as they modernize systems and practices, and ensure digital learning environments are accessible, inclusive, and interoperable.
Just a bit past two years into your Exec Dir role – Any other exciting SETDA news?
It’s a very exciting time for education technology and states are leading a lot of that work! We have shifted our focus to spotlight that work and share resources to help state leaders leverage their expertise and learn from each other. In 2022, we published our first annual State EdTech Trends report, and we are working on the second edition of the survey that will launch in the next few months. We’re also continuing to explore effective leadership development and the evolution of the role of the edtech leader.
‘It’s a very exciting time for education technology and states are leading a lot of that work!’
Thoughts on technology and the future of learning? Things for EdTech Digest readers (education leaders and technology leaders) to look out for?
K-12 education feels like one of the last industry sectors to fully embrace technology. We’ve integrated technology on the school business operations side, but haven’t done as well in our classrooms, our schools of education, or as part of our educator skill sets. To empower students, educators, and policymakers, we need to be mindful and intentional, but also make the necessary investments. It’s not enough to spend money on devices or connectivity, we need to also invest in the people who are using those tools to ensure that all students can benefit from the opportunities technology provides to allow them to participate fully in public, community, and economic life.
Victor Rivero is Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: email@example.com