State education officials are teaming up with New Jersey Institute of Technology and the New Jersey School Boards Association to help Garden State schools identify and meet their needs for digital learning.

According to Frank Belluscio, the deputy executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, the idea behind the Future Ready Schools – New Jersey program is to promote digital learning in NJ schools and to recognize districts that have advanced the concept.

“Digital learning is the infusion of technology into instruction with a purpose, and it’s to strengthen the students learning experience,” he said.

He stressed in the coming months “we will be identifying criteria that will be used to enable school districts to obtain certification, and also to acquire equipment and services that they need, as well as assistance in infusing that equipment into the instructional program.”

Belluscio believes this is a multi-faceted approach to enhancing digital learning.

“We’re looking at ways to assist school districts in securing the equipment and services they need, whether it is hardware, whether it is broadband, and we’re also looking at ways to effectively implement those services and equipment into the instructional program,” he said.

He said the plan is to introduce this program this fall, but first there will be a push to collect data.

“We’ll be looking at what schools are doing now, we’ll be looking at their technological needs and then moving on from there to develop criteria that they could use then to ensure effective digital learning in the classroom,” he said.

Evo Popoff, an assistant commissioner and chief Innovation and intervention officer for the New Jersey Department of Education said this program is really about “how do we ensure that every school in every district across the state is preparing students for the future?”

He explained the program will focus on “how are we ensuring that technology is being used effectively in the classroom to support learning, to support student outcomes and to really support their ability to get jobs in the future?”

Popoff added that many schools have devices and various forms of technology in place already, but the real challenge involves implementing that technology.

“What do we actually do with that in the classroom and what is it that we should be doing, how ready are we to deploy digital curriculum. We don’t want the technology to sit on a shelf somewhere, we actually want it to be used to support digital learning,” Popoff said.

He also said many schools don’t necessarily know what they should be doing or how they should be thinking about this.

“And this will provide information about what their starting point is and what their gaps are. We want to make sure that all of our students are engaged with technology in the classroom, using it to learn, using it to express and demonstrate their own learning, so when they graduate, they’ll be able to go out and get jobs that are mostly in technology enabled fields," Popoff said.

According to Belluscio, the ultimate goal is to better prepare students for college and work and to get teachers ready to use this technology in their lesson plans.

“The idea is to effectively implement technology into teaching and learning," he said. "We’ll be better preparing our teachers to use digital learning tools in the classroom, so students can be better prepared for college and the work world.”

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