After more than four years of a “Four Pillar” approach to educational technology—hardware, software, connectivity, and training—the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is reexamining its focus and revising its national ed-tech plan.

ED expects to complete the revised plan by this fall. It will include new national goals for the effective use of technology in education, ED said. The shift comes in recognition of the progress that has been made since 1996—when President Clinton first announced the Four Pillars approach—and the challenges that remain.

“Our first goal was to build the infrastructure by getting computers into the classrooms,” said Carole Wacey, a senior policy adviser for ED. “And we have made progress in that direction. But we’re not discarding our original goals. We are just building on that infrastructure toward the people side and the content side.”

ED’s original technology plan, “Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge,” set the following goals for the nation’s schools:

• Hardware: Classrooms must be equipped with modern, multimedia computers to help kids learn.

• Connectivity: All classrooms must be wired for the internet.

• Software: Educators and students must be provided with effective, useful software and online learning resources.

• Teacher training: All teachers must have proper instruction in how to use technology in the classroom.

According to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 35 percent of public schools—and just 3 percent of instructional rooms—had internet access in 1994. By 1999, those figures had grown to 95 percent and 63 percent, respectively.

Similarly, access to computers in the classroom has nearly doubled during that time. According to a 1999 study by Market Data Retrieval, the ratio of students to computers had reached a national low of 5.7 to 1, down from 10.8 to 1 in 1993.

Yet, despite these advancements in infrastructure, some real problems remain. One problem is equity of access to technology. Though classroom connectivity increased from 3 percent in 1994 to 63 percent in 1999, only 39 percent of instructional rooms in schools with the highest poverty levels have internet access.

“Even though we’ve made tremendous progress, it is clear that access to technology is not ubiquitous,” said Linda Roberts, White House adviser on educational technology.

Access isn’t the only thing standing between students and technology, ED says. According to a recent NCES study (see page 8), only a third of the nation’s teachers feel prepared for, and comfortable with, integrating technology into their classroom activities. The results suggest that “there is a continuing priority for teacher support and staff development,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, critics of the department’s push to get computers and the internet into classrooms argue that there is little evidence to support the huge amount of money that districts are spending on educational technology—$6.7 billion in 1998-99, according to figures from Quality Education Data.

ED’s recommendations for new technology goals, which were released in April, aim to address these issues. The recommendations are based largely on discussions among a panel of 29 education and technology experts at a two-day meeting in December, called the Forum on Technology in Education: Envisioning the Future.

The recommendations are:

• All students and teachers will have ubiquitous access to state-of-the-art information technology in their classrooms, schools, and communities.

• All teachers will effectively use technology. This is a continuation of the teacher training pillar, with a few additional stipulations: (1) The need for training is ongoing and must be about not only how to use technology, but also how to support student learning; and (2) pre-service teacher education must be transformed to include training in the use of classroom technologies.

• All students will be technologically literate and responsible cybercitizens. In addition to being academically prepared, students will need to understand how to locate information, determine its relevance, integrate it with other sources, and act responsibly with computers, Roberts said.

• Research, development, and evaluation will shape the next generation of ed-tech applications. “As the use of technology in education becomes more commonplace, it becomes critical to understand what we are learning about what works and what doesn’t,” the forum concluded.

• Education will drive the eLearning economy. “We want schools, districts, and states—not businesses—to work with developers in order to have education drive the development of [distance learning and] new technology,” Wacey said.

Revising the 1996 National Educational Technology Plan