In yet another packed ISTE 2013 highlighted session, Richard Culatta, acting director at the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, discussed the challenges schools face today and how education technology, broadband, and new DOE initiatives can help solve them.

“There are really four main challenges schools are facing right now,” explained Culatta. “Students are disadvantaged by geolocation, students are treated the same regardless of need, class schedules are valued over learning, and data comes back too late to be useful.”

Culatta is a firm believer that education technology can play a large role in helping to solve these issues, as well as changing six points of “problem areas” education is facing today.

(Next page: 6 changes for education)

1. Improve the infrastructure by closing the broadband gap and making it compatible with individual school needs.

According to Culatta and recent State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) reports, a typical K-12 student needs roughly 1.5 Mpbs (MegaBytes per second) for digital learning required by Common Core State Standards and other education technology needs. A typical classroom requires 45 Mpbs, and a typical school requires at least 100 Mpbs.

However, a typical school today only has 16 Mpbs.

“Teachers are waiting for robust infrastructure,” emphasized Culatta, “and you can see this in recent research. One study found that 75 to 100 percent of schools use their available bandwidth that’s at least 105 Kpbs [KiloBytes per second] per student. But that percentage keeps dropping the less bandwidth is available. After all, why try to use what doesn’t work?”

“This shows that connectivity really empowers teachers,” he continued.

To help close the broadband gap, as well as help schools understand the broadband they need, the DOE launched a broadband test schools can take to assess their broadband’s performance at http://www.schoolspeedtest.org.

President Obama also recently launched the ConnectED initiative that aims to get 99 percent of schools connected to broadband in the classroom within five years. (Read: “Obama unveils ConnectED initiative to boost digital learning“)

“This initiative has three goals,” explained Culatta, “to increase broadband by modernizing the eRate, make devices more affordable, and prepare teachers for digital learning.”

Culatta also announced that the DOE plans to release a “Connected Schools Guide” in the next few months that will give schools a menu of broadband options available based on best practices and research from around the country.

2. Improve measuring effectiveness.

The DOE recently released a report that stresses the need to expand evidence-based practices in education, “Expanding Evidence of Quality and Effectiveness in Education,” [PDF] which includes sections such as “Expanding evidence approaches to digital learning.”

3. Build more partnerships.

To help build what Culatta calls “education innovation clusters” (future workforce training, public infrastructure, pilot opportunities, sources of capital, product development, research bench-strength, and more) the DOE is currently working on a ‘Developer Toolkit’ to help those interested in creating education technology products and tools better serve schools and educators.

(Next page: The DOE’s new, FREE tool for educators)

4. Share more learning content effectively.

“Right now, content is sort of spread across the internet,” said Culatta, “and we thought, ‘What if instead of educators finding content, content finds educators?’”

The DOE recently launched its Learning Registry, a depository of educational content. However, only learning management systems (LMS), and other content systems could access and integrate this content.

That’s why the DOE yesterday during ISTE 2013 launched the Open Learning Registry Browser, a way for educators to search and access the content found in the DOE’s Learning Registry.

Currently, there are over 200,000 learning objects, which Culatta said is just the beginning.

“Educators can search the registry many ways, for instance by subject or by standard,” he explained. The registry is currently in beta, and Culatta said the Department is looking for feedback on how they can make it better.

5. Use data effectively.

“Right now there’s more data behind what kind of movie you choose on Netflix than behind what college a student chooses,” explains Culatta. “And, obviously, that’s got to change.”

The DOE also recommends MyData Button, which provides data about learners, or personal learning profiles.

6. Support teachers more.

Launched last year, the DOE will continue its Connected Educator Month (CEM), which will occur in October. CEM promotes leveraging technology to connect teachers.