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Education Trends

The Department of Education’s Karen Cator Answers Your Questions about the National EdTech Plan

March 9, 2011

In November of last year, the Department of Education released its National Education Technology Plan (NETP) after 18 months of input from educators, government officials, and industry people.

Earlier this year here on Edutopia, blogger Audrey Watters reviewed the plan and solicited questions from the Edutopia community about the plan. We sent the highest-ranking questions to DOE's Karen Cator who answered each of them -- on video -- here.

It's extremely encouraging to hear Cator speak so clearly about what it takes for the U.S. to remain competitive in the 21st century. She speaks in explicit terms about what technology can (and can't!) do. She describes meaningful learning environments and outlines steps needed to get there. She acknowledges very real issues like disabilities and learning styles as well as privacy.

Scroll down for a list of the questions that Edutopians submitted. You'll also find a summary of her answer and the time stamp on the video so you can hear her response directly.

Thanks to Karen Cator for taking time to talk with us!

Jessica Reeves writes: I would love to see a (free) online data base full of ideas that translate "old" lesson plans into plans that utilize technology (by old, I mean the lessons that still teach great concepts such as sentence structure or comprehension skills that students will always need). I have blogged on this and put up lessons, but I am just a teacher with an edublog...not a huge readership.

Are there plans to do something like that? I work with great teachers who struggle to incorporate even word processing, much less real-deal technology lessons that let students create their own learning. I think teaching 21st century skills with 20th century lessons will be the issue.

Thanks so much!

DOE'S Karen Cator responds (see :27 in the video):
SUMMARY: Ms. Cator cites a multitude of places online to find resources for Tech Integration, including Edutopia (*blush*). But then she goes on to encourage educators to reframe the question: How can we create more compelling assignments that develop critical thinking, problem solving, global participation? She goes on to note that the best resources online for learning will incorporate social media and enable collaboration and customization of assignments.

Gloria Mitchell writes:: How will the Department of Education reconcile the plan's support for individualized learning alongside the federal government's mandates for standardized testing?

Put a different way, will there be mechanisms to reward or at least recognize schools and states that help their students achieve these new competencies of "critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication"?

Karen Cator responds (see 1:41 in the video):
SUMMARY: She gives a two-part answer: First, she wants to clarify the definition of "individualized learning" and suggests that we look at page 12 of NETP to clarify some differences of definitions between individualized learning vs. differentiated instruction vs personalized learning, which is the major focus of this plan. Personalized Learning brings in in the long tail of student interests, brings in prior experiences and multiple languages.

Secondly, regarding assessments: The Race to the Top Assessment Project is all about creating Assessment 2.0, including new methodologies that ensure we know more about how students are learning. State Consortium will create assessments that assess full range of standards -- not just the things that are testable on the bubble tests -- but critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication.

Greg Young writes:: How will this plan engage districts in adopting fundamental pedagogical paradigm shifts that can utilize the leverage that technology in classrooms can bring?

At the practical level, most school systems still value a "sage on the stage" approach to teaching, and view assessment as end of course tests, Carnegie unit driven graduation requirements, and proficiency on tests that at best serve as proxies for success in college and career.

Many technological advances, including some online courses affirm and reinforce the same structure of top down teacher-centered instruction, while marketing themselves as student-centered. For technology to be truly transformative, there needs to be fundamental change in the way schools support student learning. This means moving towards competency based graduation requirements, flexible pathways, and rigorous, relevant assessment of academic and 21st century skills. Technology can get us there, but lets remember technology is merely a tool, a means to an end. It is not the silver bullet to fix America's education system to make us competitive on the global stage.

Karen Cator responds (see 3:36 in the video):
SUMMARY: Ms. Cator agrees with this. She states that the following three types of advancements are key to making us competitive on this global stage:

1) Advancements in mobile technologies

2) Advancements in digital content online

3) Advancements for social networks for learning

Please view the video for more of her thoughts on how to help transition from traditional print-based classroom to digital learning environment. She has some great comments here.

Barbara A Boksz (Schultz) writes:Does the statement "Development of computerized assessment tools that are both adaptive -- that is, respond to student's own input -- and accessible" address creating assessments that measure content standards in different formats for different learning styles or strengths? Or is is speaking to using online formats of the same test for students with IEP (like we have now)?

Is there any discussion going on about creating assessments other than multiple choice that measure higher level thinking or critical literacy?

Karen Cator responds (See 5:58 in the video):
SUMMARY: Technology provides opportunity to make more effective assessments. Embedded assessments, game assessments, adapted to where the student is. Using technology to make more effective assessments and use the data

Universal design for learning offers the opportunity to make sure that learning is available regardless of learning style or disability. Multiple methodologies and avenues for students to showcase their learning. Again, please do check out the video because there is no way to capture in a summary everything she said.

John Bennett writes:How can the changes to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) be considered? I believe such protection must be protected.

Karen Cator responds (See 8:06 in the video)
SUMMARY: Karen couldn't agree more. Student privacy will be maintained, student privacy is ensured. Furthermore, she believes everyone of all ages should be digitally literate. Three aspects of digital literacy:

1) Information literacy
2) Understanding how to publish, communicate, collaborate on the web
3) Digital citizenship - how to keep info secure, privacy etc.

Please see the video for more detailed information!

What do you think? Are you optimistic about this technology plan? What, if any, red flags does it raise for you?

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