Q&A: Dr. Linda Roberts, U.S. Department of Education

A conversation with Dr. Linda Roberts, director of the Office of Educational Technology and special adviser to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

May 1, 1999

From her days as a classroom teacher in the 1960s in Ithaca, New York, Brookline, Massachusetts, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to directing three major studies for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), Dr. Roberts has been cited by Smithsonian magazine for her "championship thinking" and for being "America's advocate for educational technology at the highest levels of government." She has been honored as Electronic Learning magazine's Technology Educator of the Decade and has served as an ex officio adviser to GLEF.

Q: Can you illuminate the thinking behind recent federal legislation, which provides support to preservice and inservice teachers as they integrate technology into schools?

A: From the very first studies I conducted for the OTA, it was clear that teachers were the essential and critical element in the effective and powerful uses of computers and new technologies. Supporting teachers, particularly those in the field, is strongly reflected in the four pillars of the Clinton Administration's technology initiatives and a major component of the CEO Forum. You can't think about technology as a tool without thinking about the role teachers play.

At the federal level, we are focusing our resources on professional development and support programs that involve so much more than training, short workshops, and summer institutes. Now that the secretary of education, the president, and vice president feel that we are making progress on infrastructure concerns -- computers and connections -- we can concentrate on teaching and content.

Efforts include $700 million in the federal budget for technology from the Department of Education. A very significant portion is to be directed at teachers and teacher education. The Technology Literacy Challenge Fund's $425 million encourages states to invest one-third of their funds in professional development. To receive a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant, a strong component for professional development must be detailed in the proposal.

An additional $75 million has been set aside for a new grant entitled, "Preparing New Teachers to Use Technology." Prospective teachers need to participate in effective programs so that when they enter the classroom, they will be able to integrate technology into curricula. This is the most challenging goal we have taken on. We do not anticipate that the projects will be as large or as long-term as previous grants. They will be of shorter duration (up to three years) and smaller, and will encompass entities across the country. Guidelines for the grant competition should be out in the Spring of 1999.

Q: Tell us about the thinking behind this latest initiative.

A: Over the next ten years, an unprecedented number of "new" teachers -- more than 2 million -- will enter the nation's classrooms. They include graduates of teacher education programs, people who are mid-career and seeking alternative routes to teaching, and others. For all of these people, we want to build the integration of technology into their preparation.

We want to be able to say that by 2001, teachers leaving teacher education programs will be comfortable, competent, and fearless in using technology in their classrooms. We hope to stimulate rethinking of teacher education, particularly the way in which technology is integrated throughout the experience.

Colleges of education, universities, school districts, and the private sector will expand on models that are working very well. Technology itself can be a tool in rethinking strategies.

We're at a real turning point in our understanding of the power of well-trained, dedicated, competent teachers; a tremendous recognition of how much teachers are already doing, and giving teachers more visibility.

Q: What can the public and private sector do to support and extend the initiatives you describe?

A: There are many ways that public and private sector efforts can make a difference. A few examples: the AT&T Learning Network is developing new models of online teacher technology training and learning resources, working in partnership with public schools and universities. The ThinkQuest competition for teachers will generate another set of ideas and new resources for teachers and teacher education programs. And GLEF can also contribute by continuing to create and share materials that tell the "good news" stories of teachers and students using technology in appropriate and effective ways in America's schools.

We all know that access alone does not make a difference. It's how the technology is used that points up the critical relationship between content, teaching, training, and technology.

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