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National Educational Technology Plan - Part 1

The US Department of Education just released its National Educational Technology Plan, entitled Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. The executive summary is a little easier read and is available here.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

The US Department of Education just released its National Educational Technology Plan, entitled Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. The executive summary is a little easier read and is available here. I had a great discussion Tuesday with Microsoft’s Director of Innovation for Education, Mary Cullinane about the plan in general and Microsoft's strategy to help schools address it in particular.

The plan itself is actually far more focused on modern educational pedagogy than it is on technological specifics. As Dr. Culinane points out, "this isn't just another unfunded mandate." Rather, it provides some useful guides and goals for realistically using technology in standards-based education, both for direct instructional purposes and data analysis that can inform instruction.

In many ways, it reads like the transformative business texts of the 90's that sought to infuse state-of-the-art practices into businesses as they prepared to compete in the 21st century. This isn't a bad thing, since these same books and ideas are the basis for high-performing schools now and are finally trickling to a wider educational audience. The plan urges schools to:

  • Be clear about the outcomes we seek.
  • Collaborate to redesign structures and processes for effectiveness, efficiency, and flexibility.
  • Continually monitor and measure our performance.
  • Hold ourselves accountable for progress and results every step of the way.

The plan itself is broken into 5 major areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. While the documents, particularly the executive summary, are worthwhile reading for technologists, administrators, teachers, and school boards, I'll highlight a few key ideas and passages from each of the areas. For me, the documents will be the subject of my next few meetings with my technology team; we are in the midst of rewriting our district technology plan and rethinking how we use technology to support learning in the face of what we know will be consecutive years of budget cuts. Honestly, the timing of the national tech plan couldn't have been better and the plan is rich enough that it can really help drive plans and initiatives at the school, district, and state levels.

Learning

  • "Leverages the power of technology to provide personalized learning instead of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, pace of teaching, and instructional practices"
  • "Whether the domain is English language arts, mathematics, sciences, social studies, history, art, or music, 21st century competencies and expertise such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication should be woven into all content areas."

Assessment

  • "Technology-based assessments can provide data to drive decisions on the basis of what is best for each and every student and that in aggregate will lead to continuous improvement across our entire education system."
  • "For this to work, relevant data must be made available to the right people at the right time and in the right form. Educators and leaders at all levels of our education system also must be provided with support – tools and training – that can help them manage the assessment process, analyze data, and take appropriate action."

Teaching

  • "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."
  • "Episodic and ineffective professional development is replaced by professional learning that is collaborative, coherent, and continuous and that blends more effective in-person courses and workshops with the expanded opportunities, immediacy, and convenience enabled by online environments full of resources and opportunities for collaboration."

Infrastructure

  • "Infrastructure includes people, processes, learning resources, policies, and sustainable models for continuous improvement in addition to broadband connectivity, servers, software, management systems, and administration tools."
  • "Our model of an infrastructure for learning is always on, available to students, educators, and administrators regardless of their location or the time of day. It supports not just access to information, but access to people and participation in online learning communities. It offers a platform on which developers can build and tailor applications."

Productivity

  • "Tight economic times and basic fiscal responsibility demand that we get more out of each dollar we spend. We must leverage technology to plan, manage, monitor, and report spending to provide decision-makers with a reliable, accurate, and complete view of the financial performance of our education system at all levels. Such visibility is essential to meeting our goals for educational attainment within the budgets we can afford."
  • "The last decade has seen the emergence of some radically redesigned schools, demonstrating the range of possibilities for structuring education. 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."

Check out Part 2 of this article to hear about the framework that Microsoft has developed in the context of this plan.

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