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New group aims to spur technology’s role in education

A new initiative aims to help policy makers better integrate technology in education.

Spurred by calls for change from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED), a group of educational technology stakeholders has formed a new ed-tech advocacy commission that will “develop a blueprint detailing the opportunity for using technology as a catalyst to transform and improve American education.”

The Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission will seek input from teachers, parents, local government officials, students, and ed-tech industry leaders and experts. It expects to release findings and a blueprint for action in late 2012.

The LEAD Commission will be co-chaired by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger; James Coulter, co-founder of private investment firm TPG Capital; former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings; and Common Sense Media Founder and CEO James Steyer.

Building on ED’s National Educational Technology Plan and the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, the LEAD Commission has a number of primary goals, such as identifying…

  • Which technology innovations are having a positive impact on teaching and learning, and in what ways.
  • Which specific sectors might be best suited for more rapid adoption of digital tools.
  • How students are taught basic digital skills like getting online, using software, and researching issues, and how they are taught to think analytically, critically, and creatively about the information they access online.
  • How teachers are being trained to make the most effective use of technology in the classroom.
  • Whether or not new policies are needed to facilitate faster ed-tech adoption or eliminate roadblocks.
  • What national, state, and local governments could do to accelerate the adoption of established digital innovation.

“Our goal with this commission is to help policy makers to more swiftly and effectively integrate digital learning into our national curriculum,” Coulter said, noting that technology has positively influenced and informed practice in other industries.

And while technology holds great potential for education, most agree that education has been slower to adopt new changes than other industries.

“Our schools are not yet leveraging technology to the fullest extent,” Spellings said. “In order to truly close the achievement gap and impact teaching and learning, we must better use technology to customize instruction, improve the use of student data, and deliver content in new and interesting ways.”

College readiness is crucial for today’s students, Bollinger said, and “new communications technologies can greatly enhance teaching, learning, and research. We hope that our growing body of experience in the use of these transformational tools in higher education can provide useful insights for our nation’s schools.”

The commission also will seek to address the following:

  • Which subjects (e.g., math, science, language) or levels (e.g., high school) would benefit most from incorporating digital tools, and under what approaches.
  • Whether or not students are receiving enough guidance on the importance of behaving in a positive and responsible manner online.

“Digital tools are crucial for STEM subjects, and you might say it’s almost impossible to teach those subjects without digital tools and media. But digital platforms are increasingly important for many other areas, including history and English/language arts,” said Common Sense Media’s Steyer.  “As a country, we must make sure [teachers] have the best tools, and the guidance they need to make the most of those tools.”

Steyer noted that in its work with more than 26,000 schools around the country, Common Sense Media has discovered that “students are not getting enough guidance about how to use technology and digital media in smart and responsible ways. Some teachers and schools are trying to provide the guidance, but they need more information and resources.” (Click here for Common Sense Media’s free Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum.)

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he believes the group’s forthcoming blueprint “will chart a course to ensure that educational technology will help prepare students to compete in the 21st-century global economy.”

“Technology isn’t an option that schools may or may not choose for their kids. Technological competency is a requirement for entry into the global economy—and the faster we embrace it, the more we maintain and secure our economic leadership in the 21st century,” said Education Education Arne Duncan.

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