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National Educational Technology Plan: Your Questions Answered

Audrey Watters

Education technology journalist
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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 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
  • "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

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Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Greg Young's picture
Greg Young
Educator, Facilitator, School Coach

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.

Kim Fordham's picture

Excellent post. I strongly agree that we cannot just put more technology into the classrooms and think that will change instruction. Let's find those schools that are active, engaged learning communities and make models of them. The technology can fit in seamlessly, but if pedagogy does not change, technology becomes one more thing to "cover" during the year.

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

How can the changes to FERPA be considered? I believe such protection must be protected.

Barbara A. Boksz (Schulz)'s picture
Barbara A. Boksz (Schulz)
Retired Computer Literacy Educator

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?


Teresita Frazier's picture

I was pleased to have read that Pres. Obama addressed the National Ed Technology Plan 2010 in Feb 2009. Integrating technology in the classroom has been around more than a decade. I have taught at four different districts and observed colleagues who do (some tech) and those who don't integrate technology in the math classroom. Those who integrate technology in their classroom felt overwhelmed with lesson plans and making modifications to meet curriculum standards. This is obviously not an overnight accomplishment for most teachers. Those who do not integrate technology at all have no desire to make changes or adapt learning styles of new learning environment.
Math teachers who incorporate technology use math software including calculators in their lessons. Of course, teachers need training - hands on workshop. A couple of workshops still is inadequate for teachers to feel comfortable in utilizing such tools. In addition, there are many reasons but not limited to: master the usage of tech tools, to be able to create a lesson plan, and to adapt or re-structure classroom management.
I have taught at a school district that emphasized on integration of technology in the classroom. There was no way out of this program; not teaching math w/ tech tools. I was either stuck with this program or move on to another district. This school emphasized the need to integrate technology in core academics. It was required for teacher evaluation, observation process, and student preparation for state and national assessments. I struggled at first but managed to learn from ongoing workshops, hands-on activities, mentoring, and other means of educational support from other colleagues and administrators. Students were quite actively engaged in their work with enthusiasm. Problem solving items were attempted without the "nagging", and loved the use of graph calculator. I was thrilled to see students, ALL engaged in learning as they explore math problems with tools they are acquainted with.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Karen Cator will also be answering questions about the National Education Technology Plan tonight here:

It should be an interesting talk and remember, we will be picking the top five (in terms of questions with the most thumbs up) questions to Karen about this plan. So get your questions in by February 8th - Karen will be responding personally through a video!

Bonnie Blagojevic's picture
Bonnie Blagojevic
Education Consultant (Early Childhood Education)

There seem to be fewer technology integration opportunities available for children in lower elementary grades and preschool settings. In addition to the Ready to Learn Television projects, what opportunities or resources are being considered that support educational and infrastructure changes in early education settings needed to better integrate technology, as outlined in the plan?

As these kinds of improvements to technology use with young children in the preschool and early elementary years could greatly impact their educational experience, P-16 and beyond, where are conversations specific to this topic taking place, and how can concerned early childhood educators become involved in this discussion? (For those interested in suggesting and/or implementing ideas, accessing proposed solutions or funding opportunities...) Will this type of information be shared on the government's Early Learning Listserv?

As the government looks to support improved connections between early learning and kindergarten-through-3rd grade-systems, how might this play out in relation to the NETP? (Online training opportunities for groups of teachers from both PreK and early elementary settings, etc.?)

Appreciated the inclusion of the early years, before children enter school, in the plan and look forward to more information and details related to next steps...

Diane Bales's picture

I agree with Bonnie that paying attention to technology integration in the early childhood years (beginning even before kindergarten) is an essential question. There is huge variation in technology use in preschool programs, and many of the barriers appear to be lack of access to technology. How can we ensure that young children have appropriate technology experiences even before preschool, so their early experiences integrate well with their use of technology in kindergarten and beyond?

William Peet's picture
William Peet
developer of talking word processors for novice writers

I would like to know of any rigorous double-blind research underway or being planned on the relative effectiveness of competing educational technology solutions designed to support the development of early literacy skills, upon which almost all further learning is based. I have done some extensive searching of the literature and to date have found nothing like this. Jean Casey's evaluation of Writing to Read was exhaustive, and Hickey-Schultz's two-year evaluation of Scholastic's Wiggleworks was impressive, yet I don't believe anyone has yet done a comparative study.

Shirley Blake's picture
Shirley Blake
Licensed Special Education teacher from Norfolk, Virginia

Technology in the classrooms in general has helped all students to be taught and to learn in a way that each individual student can learn. Recently I had to address a question as to the best way to allocate funding (percentage) for technology for students who are gifted and students with special disabilities. My response was that the government (federal, local and state) should provide 100 percent funding for all technology needs for all students. This NETP is a major step in moving away from the one size fits all and opening the door for a new and challenging resource to assist teachers in educating a diverse group of learners especially learners who are gifted and learners who have disabilities. I am hopeful that our President Obama will support this plan.

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