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Timothy J. Magner is the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of educational technology. Before taking a job at the Education Department, Magner, 41, served as the deputy executive director for technology at the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers. Michelle R. Davis, the senior writer for Education Week’s Digital Directions, recently interviewed Magner about the big picture in educational technology.
Listen to the full interview with Magner.
Following are excerpts from that interview.
What are the biggest ed-tech issues schools are facing today?
The biggest issue schools are grappling with is the totality of the technology landscape. Technology is changing very rapidly. There’s an emphasis on data and accountability that has driven a lot of emphasis on data and data systems. Each one of those provides its own unique set of challenges. The biggest piece that school districts we’ve been talking with are wrestling with is, how do you bring that all together? How do you connect your data systems to classroom-based technologies? How do you leverage those classroom tools to reach students, to improve student achievement, to deliver services, if you will, to students and parents more effectively. How do we leverage the potential we have in this technology for us to understand how students are doing and be able to reach them, and how do we maximize that, how do we capitalize on that in ways that are both scalable and sustainable?
What advice would you give on using technology more effectively?
In education technology, we’ve been focused for a long time on the devices, the platform, the particulars of the technology. What we’ve seen from other sectors of the economy is that it’s really only when you look at what you would think of as the core business, and then how can technology really support those goals, that you begin to have the kind of conversations that we’ve seen successful schools and districts around the country begin to have. It’s when they’re applying technology in ways that help them meet their strategic aim and are willing to align their practices in ways that leverage what the technology is uniquely able to offer.
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What challenges arise when students have more skill using technology than educators?
This is one of the first times in recorded history when the young people are leading the technology challenge ahead of the adults in their lives. But on the other hand, particularly with education technology and information technology, just being facile with the devices, just being operationally skilled with the machinery, doesn’t mean you know how to use it. If you do a Web search and come up with 5 million hits, anyone can do that very easily. It’s what you do with those 5 million hits, how you narrow it down and look for bias and other things. It’s a skill that adults in large measure have more than young people. It’s recognizing that operational facility, while it’s useful on one level, is not the entire spectrum of what we need to know and be able to do with technology. It’s recognizing that students have something to learn from adults about information management and knowledge creation and bias and perspective and literacy and a whole range of topics that the technology can enable, but the technology isn’t the end-all and be-all of this.
How should schools use technology to help students develop the skills to compete for jobs in an increasingly competitive, global economy?
One of the areas technology can really play a role is in being globally aware, in giving our students that international perspective so they understand that the idea of being globally competitive is not necessarily the same thing as being the first one to the finish line. It may mean cooperating with folks around the globe. It may mean being able to take advantage of opportunities around the world. It may mean learning a language or understanding a culture or being able to connect and create a relationship with people whose worldview is very different from our own. On the competitive side, it’s very clear that having a clear understanding of math and science in particular, and a whole range of what we think of as the core subjects, is going to continue to be important. It’s vitally important that students know how to solve problems.
A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2008 edition of Digital Directions