Allison Nys, Manager of Statewide and Strategic Partnerships, Discovery Education and Member of the Executive Board of the National Rural Education Association

I love my rural lifestyle. The big, clear skies, beautiful vistas, and strong community I share with my neighbors are among the top reasons my family chooses to live in rural Montana.

While I believe I will be a resident of the Treasure State for life, the students in the communities I serve as the Manager of Discovery Education’s statewide partnership with the Montana Office of Public Instruction may not choose to spend their lives here. But no matter what they choose to do after graduation, they need to broaden their horizons so they can compete in a global economy.

As a former classroom teacher, I’ve seen educational technology’s ability to open the world to students in new and exciting ways. State leaders in several states with significant rural communities–including Montana, Nevada, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Arizona–have acknowledged the power of edtech to improve teaching and learning. In fact, these states are already working with my company to nurture the innate curiosity in all learners and ensure that every student they serve has access to the skills and opportunities needed for future success.

In discussions I’ve had with teachers and school administrators in communities like mine nationwide, here are the top ways today’s edtech solutions can be used to provide students the opportunities they need to prepare for their lives beyond K-12.

Career Exploration

If I look around my community, I can readily see career opportunities in agriculture, mining, animal husbandry, and construction. When I expand my horizons to the areas around my immediate community, I can see careers in law enforcement, retail, healthcare, and, of course, education.

However, many of our rural students are looking for career paths beyond their local communities. Providing students with the ability to learn about new careers and career paths beyond their immediate surroundings is critical. Edtech can take students outside the four walls of their classroom and into the world of career possibilities, whether it’s watching how airplanes are crafted at Boeing, understanding what a metallurgist at Nevada Gold Mines does, or talking with a real scientist from 3M. Edtech makes these experiences real, providing many opportunities for students to imagine themselves in these careers. In addition, this may even help our rural students come back home to support their communities by closing the gap on some much-needed careers and services.

Scaling Best Practices

In the rural United States, some educators are still teaching in the equivalent of a one-room schoolhouse. This means that they are teaching every subject, every grade level, and are managing every minute of the school day single-handedly. Edtech can help tremendously by scaling what is considered best practice into any environment and empowering teachers to deliver

more personalized and differentiated learning to students. From creating customized intervention plans to personal enrichment opportunities for gifted students, edtech makes it easier to scale high-quality instructional experiences.

Providing Accessibility

Libraries are few and far between in rural communities. Often, the local school is the only library available and even then, costs often prohibit rural schools from maintaining a full library. If you are from a rural community, you might remember the Bookmobile! As a young student, you would see that large bus parked out front and know that you could get almost any book you wanted or have them order it. Unfortunately, the number of rural communities serviced by a Bookmobile has decreased significantly over the years. So how do we provide new literature and nonfiction stories and books to our rural students?

Companies like Discovery Education are providing literature to students through audiobooks, fables, and animated stories with Vooks. Teachers also have access to numerous ready-to-use activities that pair these stories with engaging instructional strategies, providing educational experiences to the student and easy lesson planning for the teacher.

In addition, a K-12 learning platform, like Discovery Education Experience, offers a curated library of relevant, interesting videos, interactives, podcasts, and much more that students can explore. In this way, edtech not only provides accessibility of resources to all students, but it also nurtures the innate curiosity in all students.

Professional Learning

Rural educators often find it difficult to drive hundreds of miles to attend professional development conferences and sessions, not only because of the time and energy it takes to drive, but because, more than likely, they must cancel school because there is not a substitute to cover their class.

Edtech offers an avenue for either synchronous or asynchronous professional learning that can keep teachers just as informed about the latest developments in instructional practice as their peers. In addition, professional learning communities like the Discovery Educator Network, Apple’s Distinguished Educator program, and others provide opportunities for teachers to stay connected through a network of teachers not only in their state or the nation, but globally. Teachers can share best practices, compare lessons, and make connections with career specialists to talk to their classroom. But most importantly, teachers have access to professional development that they can do when it fits their schedule.

For years, rural educators have lagged behind their suburban and urban colleagues in integrating edtech into instruction. Funding, lack of high-speed internet, and other barriers have inhibited the implementation of edtech resources in our schools. However, as technology has improved and as state leaders seek to bring digital resources to all learners, it is time rural educators move forward

in providing our students the benefits of high-quality edtech resources. The students we serve need our help to prepare them for the future, and it is our duty to answer the call!

Before joining Discovery Education, Allison Nys worked for more than 25 years in rural public education. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Rural Education Association and twice served as that organization’s President. Currently, she is the Manager of Statewide and Strategic Partnerships at Discovery Education and oversees the company’s partnership with the Montana Office of Public Instruction.