The new National Education Technology Plan, released March 5, sets an ambitious agenda for using technology to transform teaching and learning, ed-tech advocates say–and a call to action that is long overdue.
The plan, called “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” 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.
In its blog, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) said the draft plan is very much in line with SIIA’s “Vision for K-20” document and noted the plan’s emphasis on technology as a tool to create a more productive educational system.
But SIIA said the lack of a dedicated ed-tech funding stream that would result if President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal is adopted is still worrisome.
“How credible and viable will the plan and federal leadership be without matching targeted resources?” SIIA says on its blog. “Failing to adequately plan has slowed our nation’s progress toward a technology-enabled 21st-century education system, but absent the enabling investments, this important initiative could amount to no more than planning to fail.”
The plan is built around five organizing themes: Learning, Assessment, Teaching, Infrastructure, and Productivity. Within each theme, the plan defines key goals and recommendations–and federal Education Department officials are seeking public comments on the plan.
“The model of 21st-century learning described in this plan calls for engaging and empowering learning experiences for all learners,” the plan states. “It brings state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate, and inspire all students–regardless of background, languages, or disabilities–to achieve. It leverages the power of technology to provide personalized learning instead of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, pace of teaching, and instructional practices.”
Twenty-first century skills and expertise, “such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication, should be woven into all content areas,” the plan says.
Also, students should learn in school using the same technology that professionals in various disciplines use, according to the plan.
“Professionals routinely use the web and tools such as wikis, blogs, and digital content for the research, collaboration, and communication demanded in their jobs,” the plan explains. “They gather data and analyze it using inquiry and visualization tools. They use graphical and 3D modeling tools for design. For students, using these real-world tools creates learning opportunities that allow them to grapple with real-world problems–opportunities that prepare them to be more productive members of a globally competitive workforce.”
The plan calls for rethinking how states and school systems design and administer assessments, so the tests (1) measure not just content knowledge, but also 21st-century skills and expertise in all subject areas, and (2) provide timely, actionable feedback for educators.
“Technology-based assessments that combine cognitive research and theory about how students think with multimedia, interactivity, and connectivity make it possible to directly assess these types of skills,” the plan states.
“When combined with learning systems, technology-based assessments can be used formatively to diagnose and modify the conditions of learning and instructional practices, while at the same time determining what students have learned for grading and accountability purposes. … Furthermore, systems can be designed to capture students’ inputs and collect evidence of their knowledge and problem-solving abilities as they work. Over time, the system ‘learns’ more about students’ abilities and can provide increasingly appropriate support.”
One of the plan’s goals around assessment is to build the capacity of educators to use assessments for both formative and summative purposes. Another is to explore the use of games and simulations to assess complex skills embedded within content standards.
The plan recommends a shift to what it calls a “model of connected teaching,” in which “teams of connected educators replace solo practitioners, and classrooms are fully connected to provide educators with 24-7 access to data and analytic tools, as well as to resources that help them act on the insights the data provide.”
In such a teaching model, the plan explains, “connection replaces isolation. Classroom educators are fully connected to learning data and tools for using the data; to content, resources, and systems that empower them to create, manage, and assess engaging and relevant learning experiences; and directly to their students in support of learning both inside and outside school. The same connections give them access to resources and expertise that improve their own instructional practices and guide them in becoming facilitators and collaborators in their students’ increasingly self-directed learning.”
The plan calls for teaching to be a “team activity,” in which individual educators “build online learning communities consisting of their students and their students’ peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and after-school programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children’s education.”
The plan urges education leaders to rethink professional development to make it more effective for teachers, and it recommends developing a teaching force that is skilled in online instruction.
Under the plan’s vision, “episodic and ineffective professional development is replaced by professional learning that is collaborative, coherent, and continuous.” This professional learning should blend in-person courses and workshops with the “immediacy and convenience enabled by online environments” and the opportunities for collaboration they provide.
The plan urges schools to provide an infrastructure for learning that is “always on, available to students, educators, and administrators regardless of their location or the time of day.” Such an infrastructure should support “not just access to information, but access to people and participation in online learning communities,” and it should offer a platform on which “developers can build and tailor applications.”
To meet this goal, the plan calls for every student and educator to have “adequate broadband access to the internet and adequate wireless connectivity both inside and outside school,” as well as “at least one internet access device and software … for research, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration for use in and out of school.”
The plan also recommends that policy makers leverage open educational resources and build state and local capacity for online learning.
“To achieve our goal of transforming American education, we must rethink basic assumptions and redesign our education system,” the plan states–beginning with the current practice of organizing learning around seat time instead of a demonstration of competency.
To leverage technology’s full potential for teaching and learning, school leaders also must rethink how they organize students into age-determined grade levels, deliver the same content at the same pace, and keep the same groups together for a whole school year, the plan says.
“The last decade has seen the emergence of some radically redesigned schools, demonstrating the range of possibilities for structuring education,” it says. “These include schools that organize around competence rather than seat time and others that enable more flexible scheduling that fits students’ individual needs, rather than traditional academic periods and lockstep curriculum pacing. In addition, schools are beginning to incorporate online learning, which gives us the opportunity to extend the learning day, week, or year.”
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