It Pays to Learn

Looking for a new way to train your teachers and motivate your students? Try a little role reversal.

The Digital Harbor Foundation, a Maryland-based non-profit, has created such a program with EdTech Link, a program and fellowship opportunity linking teacher professional development to student after school programming in the areas of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The program will begin in June 2012.

"We are helping to provide essential 21st century professional development to teachers while also creating an after school culture where students 'get paid to think'," said Digital Harbor Foundation director Andrew Coy.

Coy also works as a high school teacher in the Baltimore City public school system. For the last two years, students in his after-school club have been getting paid to take on the role of technologists. Student teams have worked on multiple tech projects ranging from IT support for the high school's annual scholarship fundraiser to the creation and deployment of websites for non-profits and startup businesses. In addition, Coy's student team delivers one-to-one "reverse mentoring" to teachers at Liberty Elementary School who are in their first year of using tablets in the classroom.

In addition, the Digital Harbor Foundation is joining with schools and community partners in rethinking learning spaces in the built environment. In progress are projects to repurpose former Baltimore City rec centers, underutilized library spaces, and other underused public spaces into non-profit community tech centers directed and developed by fellows in the EdTech Link program.

"We see student learning, teacher development, and community empowerment as connected," said Coy. "The goal is to help students see themselves as content creators in a digital world, to motivate teachers to become digital age change agents, and to connect to the local community in ways that develop workforce capacity and civic engagement."

"The key piece to the puzzle, and what I haven't seen done elsewhere on any sustained level," he adds, "is creating not only a link between student learning and teacher development during the after-school hours, but between teachers and technologists collaborating on building new technologies during summer break."

To create that link, the Digital Harbor Foundation is placing selected fellows into technologist-supported intensive incubator experiences with local edtech start-ups. During the summer, EdTech Link teachers will collaborate with these start-ups to build new open source technologies based directly on classroom experience.

"We want to show teachers that there are more ladders of opportunity than there used to be in the profession of education and more ways to make a difference in the lives of students," says Coy, "We want our fellows to see themselves as 'social teacherpreneurs'."