The Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission launched The TechSmart Initiative for Student Success in 2014 as a way to strategically invest in local public K-12 schools to positively impact academic outcomes for all students in Multnomah County. The Initiative leverages the use of the I-Net (see Finding 5.4) by all schools throughout the County and the nearly $17 million for initiative funding was derived from the cable franchises’ PEG/I-Net Fee (see Finding 5.1). The Initiative supports teaching and learning technology in classrooms and assists school districts’ efforts to close the achievement gap. The Initiative funded projects in six public school districts and supported 268 classroom teachers through school year 2019-20 (Initiative funded projects end in school year 2021-22).
During the workshop with Public School Districts, participants discussed the impact of the TechSmart Initiative grants on their ability to teach, train, and educate, and their students’ ability to learn and participate in a digital society. For example, they talked about how they communicate externally to engage parents and the community at large utilizing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, the districts’ websites, and culturally specific apps such as WeChat. Through applications such as Google Classroom, a variety of activities can occur such as getting real time feedback from students as well as being able to extend the learning day, and connect with students at home, as well as their parents.
In middle school, public school districts have been going for a 1:1 device to student ratio so that each student has a device, and then higher-grade level students are able to take them home. One district has also been looking within their community at partnering with other entities to develop community computer labs, which would be staffed by school district faculty and staff and the schools would become hubs, where these labs would open up for use well beyond the school day.
TechSmart Initiative grantees overwhelmingly indicated that communications technology and media technology literacy are very important to their students’ ability to have a successful career in the future. They indicated that “students need 21st century skills of problem solving, creativity and collaboration”. These are agnostic of tech, but they have to have tech in order to participate in digital society. They noted that “early access and exposure can help to reverse the traditionally underserved groups in tech careers”. Although the workshop was held before the stay-at-home orders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that the skills gained by the district staff, teachers, and students through TechSmart funded technology are extremely important to the abilities of teachers and students to participate in tele-learning from home.