The iPad has had a huge impact on educational technology in just its first year of existence.
With a large touch screen that can display electronic texts in color, Apple’s iPad was greeted with huge enthusiasm by many ed-tech advocates when it debuted earlier this year. The device also inspired a host of competitors and sparked an eReader price war as it threatened to shake up the eBook market.
“I think this changes the picture for eBooks considerably,” said Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium, after Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in January. “This has a lot of potential for … education. [Apple] has really seemed to think through the book experience.”
Johnson’s remarks were prophetic, as the iPad has had a huge impact on educational technology in just its first year of existence. Seton Hill University was among the many schools to give iPads to incoming students this fall, and Abilene Christian University made its students newspaper available for iPads. The device has even changed medical school, where first-year med students at Stanford University are finding several ways to use the iPad to help them learn.
In K-12 education, some Long Beach schools are teaching algebra with the iPad, and Virginia has launched a pilot program that uses iPads to teach social studies. The tablet design, meanwhile, has inspired the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child organization to refocus on issuing a tablet-style device for learning that reportedly would sell for just $99 by 2012.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was optimistic the Republican election victories wouldn’t derail the administration’s plans, but conceded: “There’s no guarantee our agenda will continue to move.”
The controversial documentary film Waiting for ‘Superman’ has shined a national spotlight on the need for school reform, while sparking intense debate over how best to achieve this goal.
The film portrays teachers’ unions as the primary obstacle to reform, and it espouses fixes—such as using test scores to measure teacher quality, and merit pay to encourage better teaching—that are contentious issues. Critics of the film say it provides a shallow view of the problems plaguing public education while ignoring other challenges altogether.
Paul Heckman, associate dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Davis, said teachers have come to represent both the unit of change and the unit of blame in education.
“Children are educated and learn over a period of time, but we have this notion that children are to make a year’s growth for every year they’re in school,” Heckman said. “This is … a problem, because children do not develop in nine-month chunks except during gestation.”
It’s much easier to put the blame on teachers, Heckman said, than it is to suggest that a school’s entire structure plays a role in student success. That’s not to say unions are blameless, he said—but reformers should spend more time re-evaluating education as a whole, and how schools can better support and encourage high-quality teaching.
“Teachers work alone, and they have infrequent opportunities during the workday to come together, talk about what they’re doing, and find out that other people are struggling or succeeding,” Heckman said. “They don’t [have a chance to] share what they’re doing, or challenge what they’re doing.”
Heckman sees stagnant results by U.S. students on international exams as a systemic failure, suggesting that U.S. schools aren’t doing a good enough job of keeping up with the times.
In most schools, he explained, teachers do 80 percent of the talking; adults ask the questions, instead of students asking and inquiring.
“The 21st century is calling for creativity and problem-solving. … Those are not the skills that are being urged on children, nor do we urge their engagement. I’m never surprised when we say that a lot of these kids aren’t doing well,” Heckman said.
It’s difficult enough that school-reform advocates have a hard time agreeing on what needs to be done to improve U.S. education. But the results of the midterm elections in November cloud the prospects for education reform even further. Observers say the big Republican gains in Congress will serve as a roadblock to Democrat-led reform efforts, including a likely decrease in big-ticket spending on programs such as Race to the Top as the GOP seeks greater fiscal restraint.
The National Broadband Plan aims to bring broadband internet to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020
More students should have access to online learning, and the federal e-Rate program should be more widely deployed and should embrace and encourage innovation, according to the National Broadband Plan, which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unveiled on March 16.
The plan laid out recommendations for ways to equip the country, including schools and libraries, with affordable broadband internet access—a necessity as education stakeholders work to ensure that all students are equipped for 21st-century careers. Unveiled after a year of intense deliberation among the FCC and various stakeholders, it aims to bring broadband internet to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020. Fourteen million Americans don’t have broadband access, even if they want a high-speed option, according to federal estimates.
Ultra high-speed connections—at least 1 gigabit per second, or 100 times faster than a typical broadband network—also would be made available at “anchor institutions” such as hospitals, libraries, and colleges, according to the FCC’s plan.
The FCC did not detail the cost of the broadband expansion, but commissioners have said auctioning portions of national airwaves would help fund the massive program. That money would add to the $7.2 billion allocated for high-speed internet in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress last year.
“The status quo is not good enough for America,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who mentioned the broadband plan’s potential for expanding the use of eBooks in education during his March 16 address. “If we don’t act, we are at risk.”
The federal broadband plan has direct implications for education that are addressed in a 22-page package. The plan recommends a set of rule-making goals for establishing minimum broadband connectivity for schools and libraries and prioritizing funds accordingly, while giving schools and libraries more flexibility to purchase the lowest-cost broadband solutions.
To realize the plan’s goals, the FCC on Sept. 23 voted to upgrade and modernize the federal $2.25 billion-a-year e-Rate program by allowing schools to make e-Rate funded, internet-enabled computers available to the community after normal school operating hours—a step that supporters and stakeholders say will help students and community members build important digital literacy skills.
The FCC also voted to let e-Rate participants use funds to connect to the internet in the most cost-effective way possible, including through existing state, regional, and local networks or by employing unused fiber-optic lines already in place. And the agency approved a pilot program that will support off-campus wireless internet connectivity for mobile learning devices. The pilot will explore the benefits that low-cost, accessible mobile devices can bring to students, including helping to close the technology access gap between children from affluent communities and those from economically disadvantaged areas.
A new analysis of Census data, released Nov. 8 by the Commerce Department, shows the need for a federal broadband strategy. The U.S. still faces a significant gap in residential broadband use that breaks down along incomes, education levels, and other socio-economic factors, even as subscriptions among American households overall grew sevenfold between 2001 and 2009.
What’s more, even when controlling for key socio-economic characteristics, the U.S. continues to confront a racial gap in residential broadband use, with non-Hispanic white Americans and Asian-Americans more likely to go online using a high-speed connection than African-Americans and Hispanics.
Google said it accidentally snooped on residential Wi-Fi networks as it collected information for location-based applications.
Giving web users more control of their personal information online became a key priority for members of Congress in the past year, as well as for federal regulators and the technology industry, which sought to head off regulation by suggesting guidelines of its own.
The momentum for stronger federal regulations on how data can be used and shared began to grow after Facebook faced criticism late last year for creating complex changes to its privacy polices that made some data more publicly available. Apple and AT&T, meanwhile, were criticized in 2010 for a data breach that revealed the network identities of iPad users, while Google said it accidentally snooped on residential Wi-Fi networks as it collected information for location-based applications.
Amid growing concern about how much information students are revealing about themselves in their personal profiles on social networking web sites and other online services, the national child advocacy group Common Sense Media launched a national campaign called “Do Not Track Kids.” The project asks adults, parents, and teens to help make a stand for online privacy by demanding that companies provide an “opt-in” feature for sharing the information of all children under the age of 18.
In December, the Federal Trade Commission proposed to create a “Do Not Track” tool for enhancing online privacy, so that people could prevent marketers from tracking their web browsing habits and other online behavior in order to deliver targeted advertising. Later that month, aiming to set ground rules for companies that collect personal data online and use that information for marketing purposes, the Commerce Department called for the creation of an online privacy “bill of rights” for internet users.
But it wasn’t just the technology industry that made headlines for serious breaches of privacy this year. In February, a suburban Philadelphia family sued the Lower Merion School District for using the webcams in school-issued laptop computers to spy on students at home, potentially catching them and their families in compromising situations.
The district admitted it captured thousands of webcam photographs and screen shots from student laptops in a misguided effort to locate missing computers. It agreed to pay $610,000 to settle the lawsuit and another suit filed by a second student.
Thousands of educators throughout Florida and the nation will have an opportunity to journey into the eye of the storm when FETC 2011, one of the largest conferences in the nation devoted entirely to educational technology, opens with keynote speaker Reed Timmer, lead meteorologist and professional storm chaser on Discovery Channel’s award-winning series Storm Chasers.
As FETC’s opening-session speaker on Feb. 1, Timmer is expected to discuss his experiences in the field of severe weather coverage. He became the first person in history to capture high-definition video from inside a tornado. Because of his experience with a vast assortment of hazardous weather and natural disasters as well as his extensive education in the science of meteorology, Timmer has become a strong advocate for extreme weather and disaster education.
Timmer leads an array of distinguished featured speakers, including Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, who will discuss how to transform American education through technology. Cator will focus on the “highly-connected teacher” and online communities of practice that support effective teaching.
FETC’s 31st annual education technology conference takes place at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 31 through Feb. 3, and features dynamic speakers, exhibitors, and events designed to give K-12 educators and administrators an unparalleled opportunity to explore different technologies across the curriculum, while increasing their familiarity with the latest hardware, software, and successful strategies on student technology use.
The National Educational Technology Plan reflected the changing classroom environment and the need for better technology training
In March, the Education Department (ED) released a draft version of its new National Educational Technology Plan, and after collecting responses from the public, the department issued a final version of the new plan in November.
The plan calls for engaging and empowering learning experiences for all students; standards and assessments that measure key 21st-century skills and expertise; a shift to a model of “connected teaching,” in which teams of interconnected educators replace solo classroom practitioners; always-on connectivity that is available to students and teachers both inside and outside of school; and a rethinking of basic assumptions, such as seat time, that limit schools’ ability to innovate.
Julie Evans, CEO of the nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow, said the plan provides some “long-overdue recommendations” for how technology can enhance education.
“The plan accurately sums up that hard realization that today’s classroom environment for most students does not mirror they way they are living their lives outside of school or what they need to be prepared for future jobs, and that this disconnect is actually creating a relevancy crisis in American education,” Evans said.
Realizing the plan’s goals will require state and local policy makers to remove some current barriers that hold back the promise of digital learning, such as archaic school funding formulas and seat-time requirements. Toward that end, the Digital Learning Council (DLC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group led by former governors Bob Wise of West Virginia, a Democrat, and Jeb Bush of Florida, a Republican, formed in 2010 to advocate for change.
The DLC on Dec. 1 introduced its “Ten Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning,” a blueprint for how digital learning can transform education. The blueprint echoes many of the themes in ED’s new national ed-tech plan.
Having a sound plan with broadly articulated goals is a good start, but providing the funding needed to carry out this plan is another matter altogether. In its budget request for fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration recommended folding ed-tech funding into a new initiative called Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education—a move that has some ed-tech leaders concerned.
The Education Department says new state assessments will incorporate more technology
Spurred on by the goal of having students graduate from high school ready for college or a career, the Education Department doled out $330 million in grants to help states redesign their assessments for the 21st century—and technology will play a key role in these new exams.
One group of grant recipients, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, will focus on formative assessments and the use of technology for testing to measure student growth over time through computer adaptive testing. It will continue to use one test at the end of the year for accountability purposes but will create a series of interim tests to inform students, parents, and teachers about whether students are on track toward meeting various achievement standards.
The other group of grant recipients, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will focus on testing students’ critical thinking skills by examining their speaking skills, reading analysis and essay skills, digital media skills, and project-building skills. It also will replace the one end-of-year, high-stakes accountability test with a series of assessments throughout the year that will be averaged into one score for accountability purposes, reducing the weight given to a single test administered on a single day—and providing valuable information to students and teachers throughout the year.
The exams will be built around the Common Core State Standards, a new set of standards created to bring uniformity to what students should be expected to know and do in English and math across all participating states.
Joe Willhoft, executive director of the SMARTER coalition, said the tests will be a “game changer” in terms of moving beyond the type of assessments envisioned by No Child Left Behind. While NCLB calls for status assessments to determine whether students are proficient, the new tests are geared toward measuring students’ growth, Willhoft said.
Both consortia’s assessments will be administered online, allowing for instant feedback, which Willhoft said will provide “immediate and actionable data for teachers to use in class,” and both are developing “sophisticated online tools and resources that parents, students, teachers, and principals can use to track students’ progress.” And having the assessments aligned to the Common Core standards will allow for a smooth transition when students move from one state to another.
While these new tests might prove to be far more useful in terms of steering instruction, some education leaders argue that the strong focus on testing and accountability that continues under the Obama administration is misguided.
“The Obama administration, although it promised change when it came to office, in effect has picked up precisely the same themes as the George W. Bush administration, which are testing and choice—and I think we’re on the wrong track,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and research professor of education at New York University, said in a February interview with eSchool News.
Reading and math “will still be tested annually and will still be the basis for determining which level a school falls into,” Ravitch said. “These scores will determine which schools drop into the dreaded 5 [percent of lowest-performing schools], where they will suffer draconian penalties. The federal government generously acknowledges that other subjects should be taught and tested, but good educators will want to teach history, literature, geography, civics, literature, the arts, and other studies—even if they are not tested.”
How teachers should be evaluated also was a subject of intense debate in the last year. A number of states and school systems moved forward with projects that use students’ test scores as the primary indicator of teacher quality—a move that teachers’ unions largely opposed.
The move is predicted to save Oregon schools over $1.5 million in software hosting and licensing costs.
In April, Oregon announced that it would give its 540,000 public school students free access to the online Google Apps for Education, a move that state officials said could save Oregon’s schools $1.5 million in software hosting and licensing costs over the course of the five-year deal. The announcement made Oregon the first state in the U.S. to announce such a deal … but not for long, as other states—such as Iowa, Colorado, and New York—stepped up to offer similar arrangements.
Kentucky, meanwhile, announced a similar deal with Microsoft to offer Microsoft’s answer to Google Apps for Education, Live@edu, to 700,000-plus school users across the state.
Kentucky’s announcement ratcheted up the rivalry between Microsoft and Google, both of which are competing to attract education users of their web-based eMail and productivity software. And while it remains to be seen how successful these statewide projects will be, and whether they’ll save as much money as state officials are touting, the deals have pushed the concept of “cloud computing” to the forefront of educational technology as an idea well worth exploring.
New advances could make mobile computing via smart phones even more powerful.
Using cell phones as tools for learning actually began a few years ago, but a number of developments occurred in the last year to help accelerate this trend.
For one thing, smart phones have gotten even smarter. At an ed-tech industry summit in May, Qualcomm’s Peggy Johnson showed a graph indicating the growth over the last decade in MIPS (millions of instructions per second) that cell-phone chips can handle. The curve of the graph started rising steeply in 2004, when cell-phone chips could handle roughly 400 MIPS; today, that figure stands at nearly 2,000.
Today’s smart phones give users “all the power of a laptop in your pocket,” she said.
Cell-phone screens and battery life still remain challenges, Johnson acknowledged; the screens are very power-draining, and the developments in battery life haven’t been nearly as dramatic as the gains in chip sets. But Johnson revealed new advances in these areas, too, that could make mobile computing even more powerful.
Meanwhile, “augmented reality” has become a reality for a handful of smart-phone users, as San Diego’s School in the Park program demonstrated—and this development has interesting implications for teaching and learning. Apple’s new iPhone 4 and the Sprint HTC EVO are among new phones that include video chat capability—allowing users to conduct rudimentary video conferences on the go. And the new 4G networks being rolled out across the nation hold the promise for still more powerful applications.
Not everyone is convinced that smart phones are the future of educational technology.
One industry executive whose business involves netbooks and laptop computers, as opposed to cell phones, noted during the May summit that smart phones allow users to consume media and also collaborate with others—but they’re not as good at supporting content creation (a third important pillar of a 21st-century education). Plus, when you factor in the cost of the associated service, “the public sector can’t pay $45 per child, per year for a data plan,” she said.
Still, with the proliferation of smart phones among high school and college students, a growing number of schools are looking for ways to leverage this technology that many students already have. And there’s some evidence to suggest that these efforts are paying off: Two years ago, public high schools in North Carolina began a pilot program, called Project K-Nect, to determine whether smart phones and curriculum resources could help increase students’ math comprehension. Now, teachers are saying that not only have math test scores increased, but student achievement has increased in other subject areas as well.
President Obama launched several new initiatives in 2010 aimed at improving STEM education.
Results from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, released in late 2010, showed the United States continuing to fare in the middle of the pack in terms of math and science achievement; U.S. students ranked 25th out of 65 industrialized countries in average math scores on the exam, and 17th in science.
But even before the new PISA figures came out, federal officials had ramped up their efforts to boost science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
Building on the “Educate to Innovate” initiative he launched in November 2009, President Obama on Jan. 6 announced the creation of several new partnerships to help attract, develop, reward, and retain outstanding STEM teachers. Later in the year, he announced a grant program that challenged students to design their own video games, and he set a goal of recruiting 10,000 new STEM teachers in the next two years. The White House also hosted its first-ever science fair in October to showcase the work of exemplary students.
An Oct. 6 summit revealed the need for more computer-science teachers in particular, as it was revealed that fewer than 65 percent of K-12 schools in the United States offer even an introductory-level computer science course, never mind rigorous training. Educators also debated the merits of introducing national engineering standards into K-12 education this past year, with some believing this was a good idea but others saying there are too many curriculum standards as it is.