The Three Rivers Technology Conference brought together more than 300 educators from Western Pennsylvania to discuss the ever-evolving role that technology plays in the classroom. The kick-off of the event in Cranberry Township included a panel featuring Karen Cator, Director of Education Technology for the U.S. Department of Education. She said that classrooms across the country are in the midst of a transition from a predominately print-based learning environment to a digital learning environment.
"The digital learning environment is highly participatory and highly people focused," she said, "so don't let anybody create a conversation line that says it's all about the technology and all about the kids plugging in. When we talk about personalized learning, we're talking about a highly participatory, interesting, involving experience."
The panel also included fourth grade teacher Traci Blazosky, Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology, or PAECT Teacher of the Year. She outlined various ways that she's introduced technology into her classroom, which allow students to collaborate.
"I can leave my classroom and take students on virtual field trips. We use such technologies as Google Earth, various Web 2.0 tools, I'm able to take them outside the classroom and experience things that most of them would not have seen otherwise," said Blazosky.
Karen Cator is also in town to tout President Obama's American Jobs Act. In Pennsylvania, the measure would provide $944 million for modernization projects for schools.
"So we want to make sure that there's an opportunity to do the maintenance and to build the buildings that we need to house a modern education system. It puts plumbers, electricians, building contractors, and all sorts of people to work, and at the same time creates these spaces for kids to learn," said Cator.
Cator said that the education system needs to be a top priority for all states.
"Education is really a matter of national security. It's a matter of economic development. It's also a matter of social justice because the only way people are going to find their way out of poverty — and we have too many children in this country growing up in poverty — the only way is to make sure that they have an opportunity to get a great education," she said.
Cator also visited the Kiski Area School District, and met with Superintendent John Meighan and other education and community leaders to hear about the district's challenges, and to discuss the American Jobs Act and how it would benefit such school systems.