Federal officials address ed-tech concerns

CoSN's CTO forum covered a broad range of ed-tech topics.
CoSN's CTO forum covered a broad range of ed-tech topics.

Before an audience of chief technology officers from across the country, Karen Cator, director of education technology for the U.S. Department of Education, and Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra discussed the nation’s ed-tech efforts and held a frank question-and-answer session that ranged from the proposed education technology budget for fiscal 2011 to removing barriers to classroom technology use.

President Obama has said he wants the United States to be the world leader in college graduates by the year 2020.

“That doesn’t mean we make college easier,” Cator said, adding that education conversations now are turning to whether it is possible for states to create real and effective college- and career-ready standards.

“As I look at everything happening, the subtext is [that] we are not going to get there unless we deploy and figure out how to use the most powerful technologies of the day,” she said.

Cator and Chopra were speaking during the Consortium for School Networking’s March 1 CTO Forum, a meeting of chief technology officers from school systems nationwide.

Technology can amplify schools’ efforts and multiply education’s power, Cator said.

“We need to deploy technology as a force multiplier,” she said. “We need to put it in the hands of teachers so they can do way more, way better, way faster.”

In fact, technology as a force multiplier is one focus of the 2009 book Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, by Terry M. Moe and John E. Chubb, which predicts that online learning will completely transform schools into learning centers where students take many of their classes online.

And ed-tech advocates and school IT staff will have to focus on supporting networks, infrastructure, and other systems that enable this kind of an environment.

It is important to “create technology systems in our schools and districts that allow teachers, students, and administrators every single day to do the work they need to do” without being hampered by the way the technology operates—or doesn’t operate, Cator said.

Cator identified three key trends in education technology: mobility, professionally- and user-created digital content, and social networking that can be used to foster collaborative learning.

The National Education Technology Plan will be launched in just days, Cator said, and she encouraged attendees to review and comment on the plan.

Also on March 1, President Obama announced a new initiative to improve the country’s workforce capabilities, and Gen. Colin Powell announced Grad Nation, a program that aims for at least 90 percent of today’s fourth graders to graduate from high school on time. Current statistics project that about 70 percent of today’s fourth graders are expected to graduate from high school.

Referring to the White House’s Innovation Strategy document, Chopra said that one strategy in particular—online learning—has the potential to help meet these goals.

And broadband access, which is currently a major focus as the Federal Communications Commission completes work on the National Broadband Plan, holds much potential as well for education and beyond, Chopra said.

“We are very focused on wireless; we will release a global broadband revolution,” Chopra said. “Over the long term, we want to see that this revolution takes hold. There’s no question that the education sector will be one of those beneficiaries.”

Chopra briefly discussed online safety after a question from Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. He said a balance between online safety and trusted networks for educational social networking is possible.

“The notion that we’re going to have a filtering-only approach to keeping kids safe online is a losing battle,” he said. “I have great confidence that we’ll continuously innovate on how we will keep people secure.”

Chopra also touched on cloud computing and security concerns during the question-and-answer session.

“The speed with which you can create new applications and they can see the light of day is what really excites me,” he said, noting that “nothing is more frustrating than a school administrator who has a cool idea” and who approaches the district superintendent with the idea, only to have the idea shelved until the next school year.

Implementing changes with cloud computing can happen in days or weeks, Chopra said.

The issue of security in the cloud is twofold, he said: First, creating a secure and trusted online user identity is a key concern. The second is interoperability and what happens when a school selects a vendor, moves its information to the cloud, and then opts for a different vendor—the transfer of information is complicated, Chopra said.

“As we migrate the federal government to the cloud … we’ll be examining those two primary issues,” he said.



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