Game-Based Learning

National Educational Technology Plan: Your Questions Answered

Post your questions about this plan and Karen Cator of the U.S. DOE will answer the top five.

January 25, 2011

Editor's Note: Today's guest blogger is Audrey Watters, is a technology journalist specializing in education technology news. She has read all 100+ pages of the National Education Technology Plan released by the U. S. Department of Education last November, and she has summarized it below.

If you have any questions about the plan, please ask them in the comments section below. Or use the "thumbs up" to vote for another's question. Karen Cator, the director of education technology at the DOE, has agreed to answer the top five questions here, so be sure to vote!

An Internet-enabled device for every teacher and student in the country. Universal broadband access for homes and schools. Those, along with an embrace of cloud computing, openly-licensed educational materials and open source technologies are part of the new education technology recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Department released its National Education Technology Plan (NETP) in November, 2010, the culmination of 18 months of input from educators, government officials, and industry folks. The aim of the plan, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is to "dramatically improve teaching and learning, personalize instruction and ensure that the educational environments we offer to all students keep pace with the 21st century."

An Ambitious Agenda

The 124-page document lays out an ambitious agenda for transforming teaching and learning through technology. Much of the plan emphasizes "21st century learning," and competencies that, according to the Department of Education, include critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication.

In addition to what skills should be taught, the NETP speaks to how they should be taught, arguing that technology can be leveraged to provide personalized learning and to move away from a one-size-fits-all education system. Technology can also challenge the traditional model of a teacher isolated in a classroom, promoting instead the idea of a world of digital knowledge, "always on"0- learning resources, and online communities for both educators and students.

"The opportunities" for education technology, says the NETP "are limitless, borderless, and instantaneous." Indeed, the National Education Technology Plan makes some bold recommendations with the potential to radically transform teaching and learning in this country. It's a thorough embrace of new technologies -- at school and at home, as part of students' and teachers' learning experiences. The NETP stresses better availability of educational and technology resources, and it restates the Obama Administration's larger commitment to universal broadband access.

Ambitious List of To-"Dos"

An ambitious plan, no surprise, contains an ambitious list of "To Do's" for the Department of Education: Help create, publish and maintain open standards for content and data; Initiate an interagency effort to create, publish, and maintain open standards for content, student learning, and financial data interoperability. Encourage online learning, online mentoring, and educational games. Transform the print-based classroom into a digital learning environment. Fund research into instructional design. Support efforts to deploy broadband in underserved areas. And that's just the start.

But a plan, of course, is merely that -- a plan. It remains to be seen if there is either the political willpower or the budget to enact its contents. Will educational technology initiatives be funded in tough economic times, for example? How will the Department of Education reconciles the plan's support for individualized learning alongside the federal government's mandates for standardized testing?

As good as the NETP may sound, it may be a bit disconcerting that here we are, two years into the Obama Administration, and we've only just now agreed on the plan for education technology. It is worth noting that some of the strongest, most compelling parts of the plan are the myriad of case studies that fill its margins: differentiated learning at the School of One, an online cultural history project at Winona Middle School, research into the science of learning at Carnegie Mellon, and so on. These are the places where many of the ambitious ideas in the NETP are already underway. The challenge will be helping spread these ideas, their lessons -- not just through formal federal mandates but at the grassroots level -- and supporting all educators who endeavor to implement technology in the classroom.

Audrey Watters is a technology journalist specializing in education technology news. She has worked in the education field for the past 15 years: as a graduate student, college instructor, program manager for an ed-tech non-profit. Although she was two chapters into a dissertation in Comparative Literature, she decided to eschew the professor track for a different path, and she now happily fulfills the one job that was recommended to her by a junior high aptitude test: freelance writer.

Questions about the NETP?

Thanks to Audrey for summarizing so succinctly; there are a lot of interesting ideas here. Karen Cator of the U.S. Department of Education has offered to answer the top five most frequently asked questions about this plan here on Edutopia. Please post your questions below, or use the "thumbs up" button in the upper right to cast your vote for the best question(s). We'll post videos of Karen responding to your questions shortly.

--Betty Ray, Edutopia Community Manager

  • The National Education Technology Plan addresses student learning and assessment, as well as teacher professional development and our technology infrastructure. Some of its specific technology recommendations include:
  • Adequate broadband and wireless access inside and outside of school
  • At least one Internet-enabled device for every student and educator -- at home and at school
  • Use of Creative Commons and open licenses in course content and support for OpenCourseWare endeavors
  • R&D into the use of gaming, simulations, and virtual worlds for instruction and assessment
  • Encouragement of cloud computing for school districts, freeing local IT resources for other purposes
  • Development of computerized assessment tools that are both adaptive -- that is, respond to student's own input -- and accessible
  • Changes to FERPA (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act) to open access to student data and enable better data portability for student and financial records
  • Changes to CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) to open access to the Internet and rethink how filtering works in schools

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