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Certification evaluation for K12 educators

A look at the ROI of sending your team to edtech training programs
  • NEXT-LEVEL INSTRUCTION—Two educators participate in an edtech PD session offered by CUE. The organization guides educators to teach with an “open pedagogy” approach that builds students’ higher order thinking skills.
  • DIGITAL DEVELOPMENT—Educators now seek certifications that enhance their ability to use technology to personalize instruction and to create blended, online learning. CUE’s Blended Online Lesson Design (BOLD) is one such program.
  • TECH TRENDSETTERS—Canyons School District in Utah created its own professional certifications to guide its educators in introducing new education technology into their classrooms. The program, which took years to build, has inspired neighboring districts to follow suit.

Certifications in the technology sector are ever-evolving, as new education tools, apps and platforms become available on a nearly continuous basis.

In fact, several new training courses debuted after the recent school year ended, offering technology certificates focused on tool-agnostic and open-resource curricula. Professional and regional education technology groups develop and host these certifications, while some districts have created homegrown programs geared specifically for technology leaders.

Below, learn more about the different types of programs, what they offer and which certifications give the best return on investment. These certifications can enhance the skills of district leaders and also help CIOs better prepare their teams and your school system’s teachers to adopt new technology.


Online exclusive: Edtech certification programs


Training at the top

District leaders should know how to talk about and implement technology, from 1-to-1 programs to the overall vision of building cutting-edge learning environments. Certification programs at this level appeal to CTOs, digital learning specialists and other leaders, and applicants typically need several years of edtech experience as a prerequisite.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has offered the Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) certification since 2012. In late 2017, the organization updated the program to highlight specific “essential skills” that previous participants found most valuable—particularly data privacy and network security know-how.

“I have the knowledge and skill set to participate in district-level discussions and to make informed decisions that impact an entire district and community positively,” Mike Leseberg, executive director for information technology at Richland School District in Washington, says of the training.

Regional groups, such as the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA), offer similar IT director programs that cover leadership skills.

“Districts are making huge investments in technology, and having someone in that discussion at the planning phase with solid leadership, management and communication skills is vital,” says Morgean Hirt, senior director of certification for CoSN.

Campus specialist prep

National and regional resources can step in so CIOs don’t have to train campus-level tech leaders, their teams or district teachers on every new program. These sessions are geared toward digital media specialists, librarians or computer lab teachers who sometimes take charge when an individual school implements new technology.

Regional organizations, such as TCEA, offer programs that prepare these school-level leaders to help teachers introduce new edtech into curricula and classrooms. National education technology organizations, meanwhile, increasingly offer “tool agnostic” certifications that are more focused on overall technology standards and mindset.

This may appeal to CIOs who don’t have a district-specific program to guide teachers in incorporating more technology into classrooms.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), for instance, launched its Certification for Educators in June 2018. The competency-based, vendor-neutral certification focuses on using technology to transform learning and to improve student outcomes.

Regional groups—the New York Association for Computers and Technologies (NYSCATE), Midwest Education Technology Community (METC), Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) and TCEA—partner with ISTE to host the training.

“Bridge the past and future by getting your teachers confident and competent in using the tech you have invested in already,” says Carolyn Sykora, senior director of the ISTE Standards Program.

Era of ‘open pedagogy’

As these tool-agnostic programs become popular, the training industry is moving away from the idea of traditional certification as well.

New “open pedagogy” training can help CIOs and technology leaders equip their districts with a focus on broad technology concepts rather than on basic “do-this, do-that” instruction.

These programs favor student choice in the classroom, emphasize higher-order thinking skills, and highlight ways to develop life skills such as creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and communication.

The idea is to help districts guide students toward autonomy, motivation and self-regulation in learning.

CUE, formerly Computer-Using Educators, launched CUE Craft in June 2018 to teach an #OpenPedagogy approach that is less dependent on textbooks in classrooms and instead focuses on holistic instruction.

CUE also offers BOLD, or Blended Online Lesson Design. “The certification market has become saturated, and most people who want a certification have gotten it,” says Jon Corippo, CUE’s executive director. “Now we’re seeing buzz around training in individual skills and helping people upskill for their own careers and classrooms.”

Sarah Jellin, director of learning and innovation for Union School District in San Jose, California, says CUE has provided the district’s educators with practical tech strategies to meet the needs of individual learners.

“CUE professional development has inspired our vision to focus on the importance of individualized student feedback,” Jellin says.

Edtech assumptions?

At the same time, some tool-specific programs are still needed.

Certifications focused on Chromebooks and iPads, for example, are still popular, as are cheaper training programs for building foundational skills in using specific devices.

These device-specific programs can be particularly helpful for CIOs who plan to deploy devices schoolwide or districtwide and want to provide a baseline training for all. When a large number of district members sign up, organizations often offer discounts.

“I like to use this analogy: when my son started to drive, he had seen his sister, my wife and me drive, and he had played driving video games, but that didn’t mean he didn’t need to be trained how to drive,” says Bruce Ellis, senior director of professional development for TCEA.

“The same is true for technology. It’s very easy, especially with younger teachers, to assume they know how to use these devices, but that may not be the case for using them well in the classroom.”

Developed in-house

Several districts have created their own educational technology programs to train district leaders, campus technology specialists and classroom teachers alike. These programs create a shared vocabulary and understanding of how technology will be used by administrators, staff, teachers and students.

In 2012, technology leaders at Canyons School District in Utah created a multicourse technology endorsement to help staff and teachers master district-required tools and systems, such as Google Docs and Chromebooks.

Canyons now offers three certification options. Level 1 teaches the basics of integrating classroom technology with the district’s mandatory tools. Level 2 certification covers apps for learning management, stop-motion animation, virtual reality, interactive quizzes, interactive videos and coding.

Finally, the district’s full Educational Technology Endorsement Program features a series of courses and can be applied to the Utah teaching license.

Homegrown certifications take years to build, but it’s worth investing in the training to bolster the priorities of ensuring that students are career and college ready, says Camille Cole, the district’s online learning team lead.

Canyons has shared its program with other districts in Utah.

“Importantly, we had the support of the district to create these programs, and our department had the time to work on them,” she says. “Think small at first and analyze the needs of your district, then create professional development programs from there.”


Carolyn Crist is a writer in Athens, Georgia.