Professional Development

U.S. Releases National Ed-Tech Action Plan

By Ian Quillen — November 16, 2010 5 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education intends to pay for research to study online professional-collaboration communities for teachers and other educators, according to the action plan in the final version of the Obama administration’s National Education Technology Plan.

The final version of the plan, unveiled last week by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, also pledges to finance development of open-source educational resources and launch an initiative dedicated to defining and increasing educational productivity. Mr. Duncan spotlighted the plan in a Nov. 9 speech at a conference of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, held at the National Harbor complex in Prince George’s County, Md., just outside Washington.

“Our team here ... is absolutely committed to doing the work necessary to bring this plan to life,” Mr. Duncan said. “We’re going to need the effort of everyone—parents, teachers, students, business leaders—to create the digital learning experiences that will prepare our students for success.”

Those measures, as well as the creation of a national online-learning registry—which was announced in July and is expected to be operational by early 2012—are all included in the action plan, which may be the most significant addition to the document since a preliminary draft was issued in March.

Officials said initiatives would be financed within the department’s discretionary fund.

“Goals and recommendations are great,” said Karen Cator, the director of the Education Department’s office of educational technology, which headed the effort to craft the plan. “But from a sense of ‘What should we do?’ ‘Where should we start?’ ‘How should we think about this?,’ that was the impetus [for] really focusing on that section.”

Goals for 2020

Among other objectives, the action plan outlines an initiative to underwrite design research on online professional-collaboration communities for educators with similar teaching responsibilities or interests, and then to extend that research to at least six different educator specializations. The idea is to improve teaching, assessment, learning, and educational infrastructure through Web 2.0 technologies, such as social networking. The action plan also makes other recommendations for the Education Department to help further the national plan, though most involve the department in the role of a facilitator rather than a provider of school improvements.

The final document is structured similarly to the preliminary draft, with the plan organized into five portions: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. Its executive summary still states its goal as raising the percentage of American students graduating with two- or four-year college degrees from 39 percent to 60 percent by 2020.

“We are at this really pivotal point where more people are understanding, ‘Yes, we are in tough economic times, so we better look around and leverage every possible resource,’ ” Ms. Cator said. “And technology holds great promise for improving the opportunities for way more people to learn.”

The revised plan also further outlines the role of media center specialists and other education professionals who work regularly with educational technology, as well as the role of technology in early-childhood and adult education, Ms. Cator said.

Advocates for educational technology had lauded many recommendations in the earlier draft, such as its emphasis on putting a computing device in the hands of every student and its insistence that technology use in schools must resemble technology use in the workplace to prepare college- and career-ready students. (“U.S. Ed-Tech Plan Urges Rethinking In K-12 Schools,” March 10, 2010.)

Ed-Tech Action Steps

The final version of the Obama administration’s National Education Technology Plan includes a strategy that outlines the federal government’s role in helping to achieve the plan’s goals. Among other efforts, the federal government will:

Create a national online-learning registry

  • Include online educational resources housed throughout different federal agencies.
  • Make resources open so schools can combine with their own content repositories.

Fund development of open educational resources

  • Expand the availability of digital-learning content, resources, courses, and tools.
  • Enable state collaboration to construct open-resource requirements.

Fund research on online communities of practice

  • Apply findings to at least six communities.
  • Use communities for access to data, experts, peers, and content.

Commence a national education productivity research initiative

  • Define productivity in education.
  • Establish better methods of productivity management.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

And given the current pressure on schools and districts to stretch resources, educational technology leaders said both versions of the plan struck the right tone.

“I think the emphasis on productivity is absolutely critical in this time of deep economic recession,” said Keith R. Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN. “It’s sort of stepping back and saying, ‘How do we fundamentally rethink what we’re doing?’ Productivity probably connotes efficiency in a businesslike kind of sense, but I don’t think if you read the words that that’s what they’re really talking about.”

When the first draft was issued, ed-tech advocates like Mr. Krueger doubted whether the goals could be met without heightened federal funding for educational technology.

Since then, President Barack Obama has continued to stand by his proposal to eliminate the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT, program and wrap it into a larger “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education” initiative. The latter’s price tag of just over $1 billion includes $450 million for literacy; $300 million for science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, subjects; and $265 million to support a “well-rounded education.”

The Funding Climate

Some boosters of educational technology are worried that rolling ed-tech funding into that initiative would dilute investments in K-12 technology programs.

However, the Federal Communications Commission voted in September to index the $2.25 billion E-rate program for inflation for the first time in its 13-year history, a move some technology advocates said signaled that the federal government is serious about supporting more and better uses of technology in schools. (“Revisions to the E-Rate Viewed as a Step in the Right Direction,” Oct. 6, 2010.) The E-rate helps provide subsidies for school purchases of hardware and services to increase Internet connectivity.

But any proposals requiring new federal funding, including in the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, could face a difficult political climate on Capitol Hill. Republicans who won control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate in the midterm elections are likely to seek cuts in discretionary federal spending.

“We definitely see the plan is promoting the right vision,” Mr Kreuger said in an e-mail. “Certainly, we’re concerned about whether districts and states will have enough resources to do this. While this particular vision is powerful, we will have to see how it is implemented in the reauthorization” of the ESEA, currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2010 edition of Education Week as U.S. Outlines Its Action Plan for Educational Technology

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