Human-Centred Education in a Digital World

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology Education

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) shared his background as a high school teacher who, in an unexpected turn of events, was invited by former U.S. President Barack Obama to lead his Office of Education Technology. Culatta stayed in public service for six years, before joining ISTE.“What problem are you trying to solve?”This should be the starting point to examine how technology can support education, according to Culatta. In many cases, educators forget to ask this key question.

He gave the audience his ‘secret formula’ for success:

  • Develop a Vision: Where do you want to go?
  • Prepare Teachers: We have to enable teachers to be successful in implementing the vision
  • Technical Infrastructure: We have the technology to support teachers in reaching the vision

For a good human-centred approach to technology, it is important for these to take place in order.


Culatta shared 3 ways of using design thinking and technology to address problems in education.

1. Turn Students into Problem Solvers

Culatta said very often we treat students as sponges. Education should not be just about receiving information. Many schools use technology just to feed information to students. Technology should instead help students to become designers, creators and problem solvers. He underscored the fact that technology can transform our world in pretty amazing or terrible ways. We should ‘design a world that is kind, collaborative, where students use technology devices to improve their community’.

2. Personalise Learning for Every Student

Students have different needs, interests and passions. As an analogy, Culatta pointed out that we could not expect a fish to climb a tree. He shared his experience of visiting a school where he could not tell where the front of the classroom was, as the teacher was not imparting knowledge to students in one way anymore. Instead Culatta saw students working on projects based on their individual needs and interests. And technology can play a great role in facilitating personalised learning.

3. Create Responsible Digital Citizens

Culatta said we need to provide tools to enable students to be aware of the potential consequences of the decisions they make in the digital world. He said the recent PISA results showed that 9 out of 10 students could not tell fact from fiction. Culatta made an important point that as educators we should encourage positive behavior.”You can’t practice not doing something,” he said. An effective and responsible digital citizen means students should be informed, inclusive, engaged, balanced and alert. These are the key competencies for future digital citizenship.

In response to the audience’s questions, Culatta gave the following tips to educators:

  1. Shadow a Student at School: Do this for the whole day and take notes. The experience will help us step into the shoes of students, building empathy with their needs.
  2. Be Vulnerable: Design thinking means we don’t have the answer to something. It means as teachers, you have to be willing to say you don’t know what the solution is.
  3. Start Small: One of the biggest challenges in education is we try to do too much. The best thing about design thinking is we can take just a little bite – solve this one problem and then based on that try something else.