Three leading educational technology advocacy groups have banded together to release a position paper that makes an urgent case for why–and how–school leaders should integrate technology into instruction.

“How will we create the schools America needs to remain competitive? For more than a generation, the nation has engaged in a monumental effort to improve student achievement. We’ve made progress, but we’re not even close to where we need to be,” according to the paper, titled “Maximizing the Impact: Why Technology Must Play a Pivotal Role in 21st Century Education.”

“It’s time to focus on what students need to learn–and on how to create a 21st-century education system that delivers results. In a digital world, no organization can achieve results without incorporating technology into every aspect of its everyday practices. It’s time for schools to maximize the impact of technology as well.”

Released Nov. 5, the paper is a joint project of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21).

“Most people assume that schools already are using technology in the same way that leading businesses and organizations are using it as an indispensable, integral tool for every critical function,” said Mary Ann Wolf, SETDA’s executive director. “This is simply not the case. Our educational system has a long way to go before the potential of technology to improve teacher quality, increase rigor, and maximize efficiencies is realized.”

Profound changes in the world’s economy “make it imperative for the nation to be much more strategic, aggressive, and effective in preparing students to succeed,” the paper says. “The rest of the world is catching up in terms of innovation, economic competitiveness, and educational achievement.”

Schools can prepare their students to succeed in this new 21st-century environment, the paper says–but this will require “broad and intensive use of technology.”

Two major obstacles stand in the way, according to the report: The use of technology in education today is too narrowly conceived, and the assumption that schools already are using technology widely is unfounded.

“Despite federal, state, and local investment in technology and internet connectivity, most schools still use technology sparingly, rather than as a critical component of all educational operations,” the report says.

“Right now, 100 million Americans have broadband access, 219 million Americans use cell phones, and the personal computer penetration rate is 73 percent. To a wireless nation that relies on technology for ordinary tasks and extraordinary achievements, it is shocking and inconceivable–but true–that technology is marginalized in the complex and vital affairs of education.”

To make its point, the paper cites statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce that rank education dead last in technology use among 55 industry sectors.

To address these concerns, the paper outlines a shared vision of what a 21st-century education system should look like. It also presents a call to action for educators, urging them to integrate technology as a “fundamental building block” in three broad areas: (1) to develop proficiency in 21st-century skills, (2) to support innovative teaching and learning, and (3) to create robust educational support systems.

The groups’ shared vision of 21st-century education involves teaching core skills such as reading, math, science, and world languages–but also “21st-century themes” such as global awareness; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; and civic literacy. It also involves teaching skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication, as well as information and media literacy, self-direction, and leadership and responsibility.

The paper also offers “best practices,” or examples of how states and school systems are using technology to address these various needs.

For instance, as part of the Maine Distance Learning Project, high school journalism students worked with students in Alabama to create a news-magazine television show that highlighted the features of each of their regions. And at the Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park, Ill., teachers are using instant messaging for optional after-school study, such as lab group work and exam preparation. Teachers report that even students who are reluctant to participate in classroom discussions are “active chatters” in these evening sessions, which they can access from the comfort of their homes.

The paper ends with a call to action among various groups of stakeholders. State and local education agencies are urged to emphasize proficiency in 21st-century skills within state standards, for example, and business and community leaders are urged to support the vision of schools as networked learning environments. All groups are urged to advocate for ongoing professional development to support 21st-century teaching and improve teacher quality.

“We cannot prepare students with the skills they need without making comprehensive use of technology throughout every aspect of education, just as other industry sectors have been doing for years,” it concludes. “… [T]here is no time to lose.”

Links:

Link to the report

State Educational Technology Directors Association

International Society for Technology in Education

Partnership for 21st Century Skills