Ten Who’ve Made a Difference

In honor of our 10th anniversary, eSchool News has put together a list of 10 people who have had a profound impact on educational technology in the last decade.

Chosen by the editors of eSchool News with help from our advisory board members, our list is by no means all-inclusive, as so many people have played a huge role in advancing educational technology over the last 10 years. But here are those we think are among the most responsible.



Julie Evans Julie Evans
 CEO, Project Tomorrow

In the mid-90s, Sun Microsystems executive John Gage founded NetDay, which began as a grassroots campaign in California to wire schools but soon blossomed into a national nonprofit organization. Evans has been running the organization since 2000, when it expanded its mission beyond one-day "electronic barn-raising" efforts connecting neighborhood schools to the internet and started helping schools integrate technology effectively into the curriculum. Last year, NetDay merged with a California-based science education group to become Project Tomorrow.

Under Evans’ leadership, the group has made its biggest impact through a series of annual surveys, called "Speak Up." These surveys aim to collect students’, teachers’, and parents’ views on science, math, and technology, and how to improve education for the 21st century. Since 2003, more than 850,000 K-12 students and their teachers and parents have participated in the annual online Speak Up surveys, and the surveys’ findings have helped shape ed-tech policy at the federal, state, and local levels.



Bill Gates Bill Gates
 Chairman, Microsoft Corp.

Say what you want about Microsoft and its controversial business practices, but there is no denying that Gates and his company have made an immeasurable impact on education.

Gates has been a leading proponent of high school reform. Three years ago, he addressed the nation’s governors and implored them to redesign America’s high schools to meet the challenges of the new century. "America’s high schools are obsolete," Gates told the governors that day. "By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded—though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean that our high schools—even when they’re working exactly as designed—cannot teach our kids what they need to know today. Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times."

Through his charitable foundation, Gates has committed tens of millions of dollars to projects that aim to redesign high schools and make them more relevant for the 21st century. In 2006, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $21 million to the Chicago Public Schools to establish a more rigorous high school curriculum, boost graduation rates, and better prepare students for college. In 2000, the Gates Foundation awarded $26 million to the Seattle Public Schools for the same purpose. And the foundation has given more than $21 million since 2003 to jump-start high school improvements, develop teacher curriculum, and offer students more relevant courses in North Carolina schools.

For all the criticism Microsoft has taken for its predatory business practices, it was Gates who was the driving force behind the idea that school software programs should be able to work together and share data in real time, regardless of their manufacturer—from back-office applications to student information systems to library and food-service systems. Gates first outlined this vision of school software interoperability at the American Association of School Administrators conference in 1999, and his company took the lead in creating what is now the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), although Microsoft later stepped back into a supporting role in this initiative. (Ironically, Gates was supposed to deliver the keynote address at the 1998 AASA conference, but he couldn’t make it—he was busy testifying before the Senate during the Microsoft antitrust hearings.) Nearly a decade after Gates’ AASA address, research suggests that schools’ investment in SIF-compliant software is paying off.



Angus KingAngus King
Former Governor of Maine

Former Maine Governor Angus King’s pioneering vision led to the nation’s first statewide one-to-one computing program for schools.

Back in 2000, Gov. King’s idea to give all seventh graders across his state a laptop computer they could take home with them turned a lot of heads, for no one had ever suggested such a brash and far-reaching idea. Eight years later, no one is laughing now, as Maine students’ writing scores are up on the statewide exam, and the program has spread to include many high schools as well.

Other states, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, have since followed Maine’s lead, although Maine’s program remains the standard bearer in statewide one-to-one computing programs for students.


CoSN CEO Keith Krueger Keith Krueger
CEO, Consortium for School Networking

Keeping kids safe online, calculating the value of school IT investments, using data to make sound instructional decisions, exploring the use of open-source software and open technologies in schools, and empowering superintendents to become effective ed-tech leaders: These are just some of the many important ed-tech topics about which school district leaders and technology specialists have received advice from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) over the last decade. And though this advice stems from the work of several dedicated individuals—including the team leaders of these various projects—it is CoSN Chief Executive Keith Krueger who ultimately is responsible for overseeing the group’s efforts.

Besides spearheading these various initiatives, Krueger has led delegations of educators from the United States to foreign countries to study their education systems and see what U.S. educators might learn from them. Most recently, Krueger led a visit to Scandinavia to learn how students in that area of the world scored so high on an international test of math and science skills (a test that U.S. students ranked 24th and 17th on, respectively).

This willingness to learn from other countries is reflected in the international flavor of CoSN’s annual K-12 School Networking Conference, which each year features an International Symposium where ed-tech leaders from the United States and abroad discuss key issues affecting education and technology. Drawing from the expertise of visionaries from all over the world, Krueger and his organization are providing a roadmap for leading schools boldly into the 21st century.



Ray Kurzweil Ray Kurzweil
Author, inventor, futurist

Text-to-speech and speech recognition software has come of age in the last decade, and it’s starting to have a profound impact on education—not just for blind or visually impaired students, but also for struggling readers. And, though improvements in the technology can be traced to the work of thousands of software programmers, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil is widely considered the father of these intelligent systems.

Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition system, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition program, among other technologies. Twelve years ago, he founded Kurzweil Educational Systems, whose software—the Kurzweil 3000—scans a printed document and displays the page just as it appears in the original source, with all of the color graphics and pictures intact. It then reads the document out loud while highlighting the words as they are being read. Along with other similar products, such as Freedom Scientific’s WYNN, the software is being used to help students with disabilities excel in school and even take the same high-stakes exams as their peers.

Kurzweil continues to develop new technologies that tackle reading and language barriers, and his forecasts for the future of technology are helping school leaders hone their long-range vision. Earlier this year, in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, Kurzweil began marketing a cell phone that incorporates text-to-speech capability—and while the device currently costs too much for schools, its impact is sure to be felt in the decade ahead.



Nicholas Negroponte Nicholas Negroponte
 Chairman, One Laptop Per Child

Three years ago, Negroponte—then a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of MIT’s Media Lab—had a game-changing idea: What if we designed a kid-friendly laptop that cost only a hundred dollars, and made it available to children in developing countries? How might this revolutionize education all over the world?

Tech giants such as Microsoft and Intel publicly scoffed at Negroponte’s idea—then promptly set about trying to rip it off, worried that a small nonprofit startup might freeze them out of emerging world markets.

Negroponte’s project, One Laptop Per Child, has suffered several setbacks in pursuing its ambitious goal. For one thing, the laptops now cost around $180, and production problems have delayed shipments to people who signed up for the project’s "Give One, Get One" program late last year. Also, faced with competition from Intel’s Classmate PC, which runs Windows instead of a customized version of the open-source Linux operating system, One Laptop Per Child has found its idea to be a tougher sell than originally thought.

Yet, even in the midst of these defeats, Negroponte’s project could still be considered a success. Although Intel’s Classmate device has cost One Laptop some business, it also has helped Negroponte realize his vision. Governments in developing nations now have several low-cost options for giving every student access to technology—and the revolution Negroponte had hoped for is indeed underway.



Susan PatrickSusan Patrick
CEO, North American Council for Online Learning

Online learning has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Ten years ago, the idea of completely internet-based elementary or secondary schools was just getting off the ground; now, as of last fall, 42 states had either supplemental or full-time online learning programs, according to the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL). And while there are several movers and shakers who have helped lead the virtual-school revolution, NACOL’s Susan Patrick gets the nod on our list, both for what she and her organization have done to help promote the idea of online education and also for her contributions to ed tech prior to joining the group.

As director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology from February 2004 through August 2005, Patrick championed the integration of technology into all facets of education—from classroom instruction to front-office administration. She also oversaw development of the third, and most recent, national ed-tech plan, "Toward a New Golden Age in American Education: How the Internet, the Law and Today’s Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations," which was published in January 2005. The new plan called for stronger ed-tech leadership, creative financing, access to broadband internet service, more digital content, and interoperable data systems, among other priorities.

Patrick left the department in August 2005 to head NACOL, which has done a great deal to spur the growth of online education. Last year, the group issued a free guide intended to help school leaders implement virtual-school programs of their own and help parents understand how online instruction works, and NACOL also has published standards for ensuring that online teaching and virtual-school programs are of high quality.



Linda RobertsLinda G. Roberts
Former Special White House Advisor on Educational Technology

A former teacher and university professor, Roberts is a visionary who was the first to champion educational technology within the federal government. Twelve years ago, working for the Clinton administration, she founded the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and spearheaded the creation of the first national ed-tech plan. Under her leadership, federal funding for educational technology increased from $30 million to nearly $900 million annually at its peak and included a program to train pre-service teachers in the use of technology. Roberts also played a key role in the development of the eRate, and her efforts have laid the groundwork for much of the progress that schools have made to date in integrating technology into instruction.

Though she’s been out of government service for the last eight years, Roberts is still a strong advocate of using technology to transform education. She currently serves on the board of directors for Curriki, an online community that promotes free and open collaboration among educators, and she also serves as a senior advisor to Apple Inc. and other ed-tech companies.



Lajeane ThomasLajeane Thomas Project Director, National Educational Technology Standards

KnezekDon Knezek CEO, International Society for Technology in Education

Thomas—a professor of curriculum, instruction, and leadership at Louisiana Tech University—led a project for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to create the nation’s first set of standards for defining what students should know about, and be able to do with, technology.

The first National Educational Technology Standards, or NETS (as they are commonly known), were released in 1998 and applied only to students, but—under the leadership of Thomas and Chief Executive Don Knezek—ISTE soon after followed these up with NETS for teachers and then administrators.

These important standards are used in many schools today to help guide their ed-tech initiatives, and ISTE just released an updated version of its NETS for students last year at the group’s National Educational Computing Conference—the largest annual ed-tech trade show in the country. (Revised NETS for teachers are expected at this year’s National Educational Computing Conference in June.)



Honorable mentions

There have been several groundbreaking developments that have had a profound impact on educational technology in the last decade, but cannot be traced to a single individual without overlooking the important contributions of others.

Perhaps the most significant of these is the debut of the eRate, the $2.25 billion-a-year federal program that has helped bring the internet into nearly every classroom in America, roughly 10 years ago. The program was authorized through the Telecommunications Act of 1996, thanks largely to the bipartisan efforts of four lawmakers in particular: Sens. Jim Exon, D-Neb., Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Former FCC Chairman William Kennard deserves credit for fighting to restore the program’s funding to $2.25 billion after an initial public outcry led to a reduction in first-year commitments, and former Vice President Al Gore deserves praise for lobbying to save the eRate in the face of stinging criticism from some members of Congress. (Gore’s support of the eRate led its critics to dub the program the "Gore tax," referring to the surcharges that telecommunications carriers passed along to their customers to help pay for the eRate.)

Former SLD President Kate Moore, meanwhile, was instrumental in keeping the eRate afloat during its rocky start. Moore took over the helm of the group responsible for administering the eRate in August 1998, when the program’s future was very much in doubt. Her predecessor, Ira Fishman, had resigned amid criticism from opponents of the eRate in Congress that his salary was too high—just one of many attacks leveled at the program in its first year. Moore steered the eRate through these first few tenuous years, until schools began seeing the program’s enormous benefits—which quelled the criticism some.

Another key series of developments in educational technology over the last decade was the creation of Apple’s iPod, followed by iTunes and—in collaboration with Stanford University and other schools—iTunes U, which has revolutionized how students review for exams, while extending the learning process beyond the confines of the traditional classroom.

The whole coursecasting phenomenon started when Stanford officials recognized the potential to deliver recorded lectures and other campus events to students, alumni, and the general public through an iTunes-type site for education. Today, several hundred schools and colleges make course lectures and other video and audio content available free of charge through iTunes U, allowing students to download lectures to their iPods or other media players and listen or watch at their convenience—while studying for a test, if they’ve missed a class, or even just to flesh out their notes if the professor went too fast.

Coursecasting has contributed to the "democratization" of education as well, as even the general public now has free and easy access to much of the wisdom and insight once locked away on college campuses. Another effort that has fueled this democratization of knowledge is MIT’s pioneering OpenCourseWare project, which makes the university’s entire curriculum available online, free of charge.

In 1999, MIT provost Robert Brown wanted the MIT Council on Education Technology to position itself as a leader in distance education. This led to the creation of the OpenCourseWare project, which was directed by Hal Abelson and other MIT faculty. On Nov. 28, 2007, MIT celebrated the publication of its entire curriculum on the OpenCourseWare web site—and the project has inspired dozens of other colleges and universities to follow suit.

Here’s another key ed-tech development in the last decade: Five years ago, a group of ed-tech industry leaders, supported by the U.S. Department of Education, banded together with the goal of helping schools teach skills that are critical to the 21st-century workforce, such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has since teamed up with education officials from seven states to realign their standards and curriculum to reflect the importance of teaching these skills in the classroom, and the group has created a roadmap for how educators in other states can do so as well.

Although the group’s contributors are too numerous to mention, one stands out in particular: Karen Cator of Apple Inc., who chaired the partnership in its early years. As director of Apple’s leadership and advocacy efforts in education, Cator also manages the Apple Distinguished Educator Program and the publishing of best practices in teaching and learning with technology on the Apple Learning Interchange site.

Under the direction of Douglas Van Houweling, the Internet2 initiative has been exploring advanced research applications made possible by an ultra high-speed computer network connecting universities, research facilities, and even several K-12 schools for the last 12 years. Internet2 allows schools and universities to take advantage of advanced learning applications over the web, such as digital libraries, "virtual laboratories" and collaborative research, "tele-immersion" (shared virtual reality), and high-definition television.

Virtual schooling, in which students attend classes entirely online, has taken off in the last decade—and one of the first and most successful of these schools is the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which has served as a model for other such schools to follow. The country’s first statewide internet-based public high school, FLVS launched during the 1997-98 school year under the direction of Julie Young and today serves middle and high school students nationwide with more than 90 courses.

Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and her predecessor, Melinda George, deserve a nod for providing resources and a vehicle for state ed-tech directors to collaborate and learn from each other, as well as for lobbying on behalf of ed-tech support. And Karen Billings, who heads the Software and Information Industry Association’s education division, has overseen efforts to give schools advice on how to write effective RFPs for school software purchases and integrate technology into all facets of education.

Two other industry executives merit special attention for their contributions to ed tech: Mary Cullinane, director of Microsoft’s U.S. Partners in Learning program, is helping to redesign education for the 21st century through a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia to build a School of the Future and Terry Smithson, education strategist for Intel Corp., led an effort to rebuild Gulf Coast schools as 21st-century learning facilities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

And finally, there have been numerous researchers whose study of emerging technologies will have a significant impact on teaching and learning in the next few years. Harvard researcher Chris Dede—the Timothy E. Wirth Professor of Learning Technologies for Harvard’s Graduate School of Education—is near the top of this list, and his work on augmented reality, multi-user virtual environments, and next-generation assessments serves as a precursor for what schools can expect in the next 10 years.

What do you think of our list? Who have we missed that is deserving of mention? Make your opinions known in the comments section of this article below.

eSchool News Staff

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