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How to realize ed tech’s game-changing potential

More access to data, professional development can improve teaching and learning, officials say

How to realize ed tech's game-changing potential

The move toward digital education comes with a number of important considerations.

During a recent webinar, the nation’s director of educational technology highlighted how technology can support more effective instruction—and a North Carolina superintendent revealed how his district has successfully made the shift to a digital teaching and learning environment.

With support from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and modeled by local school districts across the country, school district leaders can identify goals that will help them make this shift themselves, while at the same time boosting student access, learning, and engagement.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in February that U.S. schools should transition to digital learning in the next five years, and in 2010 ED released its latest National Education Technology Plan (NETP), spearheaded by Karen Cator, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology.

The plan has three aims. The first focus is on learning, which Cator said includes examining how people learn, opportunities for learning during and outside of school, and personalized learning environments. Teaching is the second aim, and this includes the changing role of the teacher as ed tech expands students’ learning opportunities, teachers’ ability to use data to inform their instruction, and the ways technology can help increase teacher-student interaction and engagement. The plan’s third focus is assessment, and how this can give teachers valuable data to hone instruction to students’ needs, identify specific groups of students who need more support or who need to be challenged further, and provide daily pictures of how students are performing instead of once- or twice-yearly reports.

Infrastructure plays a crucial role as well, Cator said, because school leaders and policy makers must ensure that students have access to broadband internet both inside and outside of school, and that they have access to devices that facilitate learning.

Cator pointed to a number of trends that are making it possible to give students, teachers, and community members the tools and resources they need to improve teaching and learning.

Those trends are…

  • Mobility: Students can take personal or school-owned devices between home and school to have 24/7 access to learning. Taking device and broadband access issues into account, this kind of increased mobility gives students access to rich learning opportunities both in and out of school.
  • Improvement of social networking for learning: Networks of experts on any given topic are available online through communities, message boards, and forums to answer questions and give their input. Students can gain access to valuable expert opinions, and many experts or enthusiasts are happy to help students who have questions about a problem or assignment.
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