internetresizedTrain every pre-service teacher to teach online in teacher-education programs at colleges and universities; invest in the development of open courseware with federal and state funding; encourage the use of technology to create new forms of assessment that better measure student learning gains; provide national standards for school IT support, with recommendations for optimal staffing levels and required skill sets: These are some of the many recommendations the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has received so far as officials prepare a new National Education Technology Plan.

ED is accepting public feedback as it develops the new plan. A department spokesman did not know how long the public comment period would remain open, saying only that ED hopes to release the new plan in early 2010.

As of press time, more than 200 comments had been submitted to EdTechFuture.org, the new plan’s web site. Many posts simply describe a particular education technology product, resource, or initiative that school stakeholders should know about. But some posts offer specific suggestions for federal officials to consider as they draft the new plan.

One set of recommendations comes from Susan Patrick, the person who oversaw creation of the last national ed-tech plan. That was in 2004, when Patrick was director of ED’s Office of Education Technology. (See “ED outlines new tech priorities.”) Patrick now heads the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), and her comments urge ED officials to consider ways to expand online-learning opportunities to more students.

“Online course enrollments are growing at 30 percent annually, but fall short of [student] demand,” Patrick writes. “National surveys show that the [percentage] of [middle and high school] students [who] are interested in taking an online course is 40 percent. … [That’s] far more than the 2 million enrollments today. Outdated laws, policies, teacher preparation, professional development, and funding models limit student choices … made possible through online learning.”

To address these shortcomings, Patrick recommends that the new plan:

– Call for teacher-education programs at colleges and universities to train every pre-service teacher to teach online.

– Provide incentives for portability of credits among institutions and across state lines to support virtual learning.

– Provide incentives for true reciprocity of teacher professional licensure for online teaching.

– Encourage states to expand online-learning opportunities for students by making this a requirement for federal innovation and ed-tech funding.

– Invest in the development of open courses and curriculum with federal and state funding.

– Finish the job of ensuring ubiquitous internet access in schools and at home.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop submitted a white paper that describes how investing in technology tools, network access, professional development, and personalized curricula can help schools address ED’s reform goals and meet the needs of 21st-century learners.

In a section titled “Using Technology for New Assessments and Family Engagement in Learning,” the paper encourages the use of technology to create new forms of assessment that better measure student progress.

For example, “parents and teachers need to document the progress students make as they learn to read,” the paper notes. “Traditionally, this might be done using a ‘running record.’ As a supplement or possible alternative to this process, educators can use a camera and microphone connected to a notebook computer to record the student reading text from the screen (or a book). These data [would] become part of the student record [or] portfolio and can drive progress.”

In another section, titled “What Schools and Districts Should Do for Title I Students,” the paper recommends that at-risk students should take part in a technology-rich summer school program, “so they can avoid the ‘summertime slump’ that tends to victimize low-income children and contribute to the achievement gap.”

Although the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University says two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap can be attributed entirely to differences in summer learning opportunities, “most states and districts have not made summer learning a priority,” the paper says. “A superb resource for summer-school program information, including ways to integrate learning technologies, is available at http://www.summerlearning.org/index.”

Esther Wojcicki, chair of the Creative Commons project, notes that teacher professional development needs to be made more relevant–and the new National Education Technology Plan can help encourage this transformation.

“I work in a district where the only professional development is done like it was 20 years ago–lecture method to tired teachers,” Wojcicki writes. “There needs to be some kind of monetary incentive for districts to try new digital approaches that would individualize instruction for teachers and make it more useful and relevant.”

Tom Steele, director of technology for the Manteno Community Unit School District No. 5 in Illinois, observes that K-12 schools “continue to lag in recognizing the importance of a skilled, qualified technical staff. All this wonderful technology only works when a reliable, robust infrastructure is in place to support it. Many K-12 districts still have the mindset that you can take someone skilled in curriculum (i.e., a classroom teacher) and expect [that person] to have the technical expertise to manage what, in private industry, would be considered a medium to large IT operation with hundreds or thousands of computers and users.”
To help combat this misperception, Steele writes, the new plan should include “an infrastructure support aspect with recommendations for staffing levels, skill sets required, etc. This information would be useful both for districts maintaining their own staff and for those choosing to outsource.”
One anonymous poster advocated for the creation of a national “virtual library” with resources that are age-appropriate for K-12 students.

“It seems to me that much of the problem concerning lack of [technology] use in elementary schools centers around fear of the global, uncontrollable internet in the hands of young children,” the commenter writes. “Is it possible to create an ‘educational internet,’ much like an online library, only better, that excludes the [inappropriate content] to which parents so strongly object–and which would free teachers to have some technology access … in their classrooms?”

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a professional association for school district technology leaders, made several recommendations that address the infrastructure needs of K-12 schools.

“As we create a vision for the next generation of technology in education, we must address the infrastructure necessary to sustain it,” CoSN writes. “The vision for learning, assessment, and teaching with technology assumes seamless, reliable access to networks and computing devices. It assumes applications are intuitive, easy to learn, and responsive to changing needs. It assumes information is secure, integrated, and authentic. To become reality, this vision requires a comprehensive technology infrastructure with massive scalability and micro adaptability.”

To achieve equitable access to technology in schools, CoSN argues, the new national ed-tech plan must “be more specific” about what is meant by terms such as broadband internet access, digital learning devices, and distribution and storage systems–as well as “the human capital required for planning, implementation, and management in these areas.”

Traditionally, CoSN says, schools have measured technology access in terms of computers per students and broadband access per school site. But “the American Digital Schools report makes a convincing argument for calculating network capacity needs per pupil rather than per school to plan for capacity requirements,” the organization writes. “A per-pupil measure ensures that all students in all schools have equitable access to digital resources, advanced and specialized learning opportunities, and peer-to-peer communications.”

CoSN also observes that many districts have stretched their IT resources and achieved success by leveraging the computing power students bring with them to school and by storing data in the “cloud.”

“School districts historically keep their networks closed and private,” the group writes. “It is time for districts to take advantage of the scale and diversity of the entire U.S. public education system to open systems and to engage in massive, small-scale development and cross-boundary sharing to let the best applications proliferate.”

In addition, the new national ed-tech plan should make education technology a stronger budget priority, CoSN says. The group recommends raising the annual e-Rate funding cap and indexing it for inflation, as well as restoring Enhancing Education Through Technology (Title II, Part D) funding to its fully authorized amount.

“Although these are a challenging times to be arguing for new investments in technology for schools, we have an opportunity like no other to transform the enterprise of education with educational technology … if we have the leadership, vision, and policies to make it happen,” CoSN concludes.

To read all the suggestions for the plan, or to leave your own comments, go to http://edtechfuture.org.