New Office of Ed-Tech Director Culatta says teacher, administrator input matters immensely

Culatta-EdTechPersonalized learning, broadband connectivity, and data access are not only hot conversation topics among school and district administrators–they’ve made their way to the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

“Technology is no longer about just devices–it’s about a way, a lever to reinvent and reimagine learning,” said Richard Culatta, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology, adding that the OET has started some “really exciting” work recently.

Culatta, who replaced outgoing OET Director Karen Cator, said OET is hoping to support best practices and initiatives across the country that can be brought to scale to help improve teaching and learning in other districts.

Culatta outlined three key priorities on which OET is focusing:

Ensuring that each classroom in every school across the country has broadband access. “All of the other great ideas about redesigning aren’t possible if we don’t have connectivity,” Culatta said, adding that if U.S. students are to compete with students from other countries that have made classroom broadband a priority and reality, U.S. students need that same connectivity.

Personalized learning has incredible potential, if only it can become a common practice. Personalizing learning for a classroom of 30 students, all with different strengths, needs, and challenges, is “really hard to do, maybe impossible to do, without technology,” Culatta said. OET hopes to help school and IT leaders and classroom teachers redesign the learning experience for students.

Using data to support teachers, students, and parents as they make better decisions about learning. “Data totally changes their outlook because they have real-time learning,” Culatta said. Parents can become more involved in their children’s school assignments and learning if they have access to relevant data, such as if their child needs additional work on certain math concepts.

(Next page: An ed-tech challenge)

One challenge, Culatta noted, is making sure that education leaders are aware of the best  practices and successes other school districts implement and experience.

“You can have a very high-performing district with great teachers, and move to a  neighboring district and you see none of that,” Culatta said. “The challenge is that we  just don’t do a good enough job of helping to accelerate what’s working really well.”

During Connected Educators Month, ED will reach out to educators across the country in  hopes of generating participation in a virtual professional learning network. edConnectr is a way for educators to describe their interests and goals, find other educators with  similar interests, and connect and collaborate.

OET members are working on a “connected schools guide” to help school districts better  define how they want to leverage technology to improve teaching and learning and learn  about what other schools or districts have done.

“It’s important for us to look for other ways to make it easier for schools to share,” he  said.

Overall, Culatta said OET is focusing on simply listening to what teachers and education  leaders say they need, what they struggle with, and what improvements they’d like to see. “It’s been very enlightening–it’s influenced some of our focus areas,” he said.