Capacity Building Through Educational Technology in a Post-COVID World

I was recently invited to address an educational technology conference in China. While I still haven’t traveled since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the U.S., I was excited to participate virtually, as this was my first opportunity to engage an audience focused on this exciting topic.

Students in a classroom using mobile phone technology.

Educational technology (EdTech) is the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning. Widespread use of EdTech can have a big impact in expanding access to quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education around the world. The past year has brought many challenges, but I always try to look for silver linings in otherwise difficult experiences. The COVID-19 pandemic jumpstarted the extensive use of educational technology for distance learning. As I wrote last May, education at all levels quickly pivoted to an online learning format. While there were a few growing pains at the outset, the shift to remote learning demonstrated that quality education can effectively reach more people around the world.

A student attending a virtual class.
A student attending a virtual class.

Technology was key in enabling education to continue this past year, and it’s also key to expanding access to education in the future. As the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the NAE Grand Challenges demonstrate, there are many global problems that can only be addressed by qualified STEM professionals. With the population growth rate accelerating the fastest in the world’s most underdeveloped countries, we must think about capacity building through the use of educational technology. There will be a lot of capable students in these areas of the world who won’t have access to quality STEM education, so we must figure out how we can most effectively use educational technology to capacity build for increased access to education — be it through remote programs or hands-on technology.

In many ways, technology is the easiest infrastructure to roll out. When it comes to capacity building, the greatest way we can make a difference is by using technology to expand access to education — in a big way.

At ABET, we care about preserving and improving students’ educational experiences. Our accreditation processes encourage new approaches to technical education, because we understand that innovation is critical to the advancement of STEM education. In fact, we have an annual ABET Innovation Award that honors individuals or teams that are breaking new ground by developing and implementing innovation into their ABET-accredited programs. Our 2020 ABET Innovation Award winner was the IT Students Capacity Building Program by iSITE — Integrated Southern Tagalog Association of IT Education, an organization providing collaborative industry-aligned seminars, training and conferences to students and faculty in geographically dispersed IT programs in the Philippines. Each semester, iSITE brings its program to different islands of the Philippines, providing access to a diverse range of programs and sharing resources to supplement student learning in underserved areas. Innovative ideas like these will help us expand access to educate a qualified, robust STEM workforce in every corner of the world.

Students using a laptop.
Students using a laptop.

Technology will continue to evolve, but we need to keep in mind the importance of a solid foundation rooted in the fundamentals of STEM. With that, students will have the tools to keep pace with the latest advancements in all areas of technology.

Distance education was well-established before COVID, but we now have an opportunity to take virtual learning to the next level. As we reimagine education moving forward, educational technology will help us expand STEM education, providing the means for more students to engage in solving the many complex global challenges facing our world.

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.