Open Letters on the Role of Education Technology
The U.S. Secretary of Education is asking for your input on the role of technology in the classroom. I hope you’ll respond to her - and tell the rest of us what you think as well.
For those of you who aren’t hard-wired into the mechanism of Beltway bureaucracy, it’s easy to not realize that the federal government is always asking for your advice. (Yes, you there, slouching in front of the computer monitor.) They want to hear from you on all sorts on pressing issues, from watermelon research to the interstate movement of land tortoises (which must be very slow commerce indeed). Even though they try to make it easy for you to participate in these opportunities for public comment, all too often it’s pretty confusing, as any brief jaunt through their public commenting database, Regulations.gov, will show you.
But here’s an opportunity for you to comment on something you probably care about, since you’re reading this blog, and that’s education technology. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has put out a call for public comments on the role of technology in education, and the federal government’s involvement in it. The department’s Office of Education Technology describes her request:
Our nation is at a turning point. We know that the world in which our education system was created - the industrial world of the 19th and early 20th centuries - no longer exists. Today we live in a technology-driven global marketplace where ideas and innovation outperform muscle and machine. In an age of digital content and global communications, we must build an education system that meets the new demands of our time. Technology can help us create schools where every child has the opportunity to succeed, while we work to close the achievement gap and address the economic and workforce needs of the future.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) adds even more urgency to the challenge of determining the proper role of technology in education. To meet NCLB’s goal of having every child performing at grade level by 2014, we need to be able to reach and teach every student. Our teachers need tools to help them design and deliver lessons that reflect a 21st century context and engage and inspire student creativity, while educators assess and monitor individual student performance and customize educational services based on that data.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is holding a series of roundtable discussions in several cities on technology in education with educators, business leaders, information technology professionals, and others. The goal is to explore specific actions to improve education outcomes through targeted applications of technology and to find a renewed perspective on the role of technology in education reform.
Specifically, she’s seeking comments on four questions:
- In what ways has technology improved the effectiveness of your classroom, school or district?
- Based on your role (administrator, parent, teacher, student, entrepreneur, business leader), how have you used educational data to make better decisions or be more successful?
- In what ways can technology help us prepare our children for global competition and reach our goals of eliminating achievement gaps and having all students read and do math on grade level by 2014?
- What should be the federal government’s role in supporting the use of technology in our educational system?
The secretary would like to hear from all of you who have a stake in this policy debate - edtech supporters and critics, teachers and administrators, parents, businesspeople and researchers. They’ve even set up a form you can use to post your answers to them, though each question has a 1,000 character limit. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. For example, take a look at those three pararaphs I quoted above from the Department of Education. If that was the length of one of your answers, you’d only get about halfway through the last sentence of the second paragraph before their submission form cuts you off. Fortunately, they let you bend the rules a little bit by inviting you to send your responses via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, which means you can write longer if you wish. Just don’t be too longwinded - I’m sure the staff at the Department of Ed hate rambling manifestos as much as the rest of us do.
As I was reading the request for comments, I began to ask myself how many people would reply. And then I wondered if anyone had shared their comments publicly. As it turns out, at least one blogger has done it so far: Ken Pruitt on his Technologically Literate blog. Rather than just submitting his answer privately, he also posted it as an open letter:
I teach 7th grade communications at DuBois Area Middle School in DuBois, PA. I have three years of classroom experience and I am actively working on my master’s degree in technology integration. Technology has improved our schools and classrooms immeasurably. The consistent and concise flow of information has allowed both administration and staff to have what is necessary to make decisions about individual educational needs. Paper costs have gone down due to the use of an electronic database and student engagement is on the rise due to learning occurring in context.
In my opinion, as an educator and technology coach, the integration of technology has dramatically increased my efficiency and effectiveness. An access to current data through professional networking along with online organizational tools has provided me with the most precious gift in education, time. I use that extra time to develop engaging material and to connect with 120 students on a personal level.
Technology on its own does not have the power to prepare our students for the future or come close to meeting the 100% proficiency goals set by NCLB. However, a knowledgeable educator, with access to the right information, can help build a foundation that will give students the tools they need to be successful in any avenue they may choose. I am not usually in the business of telling the federal government how to operate, but in my opinion, if you want globally competitive students that are meeting the lofty goals set by NCLB then you need to invest in district specific support systems. Do not try to mandate an across the board position, but give the districts the support and resources they desperately need to develop and implement specific plans that benefit their situation.
Thank you for your time and the opportunity to voice my opinion.
Whether you agree with Ken’s perspective or not, I think his decision to post it publicly is a great idea - so much so, I want to suggest that you do the same. So for all of you who are bloggers, please respond to Secretary Spellings’ questions through either their form or email address, but then share it with the rest of us by posting it on your blog and tagging it Dear Secretary Spellings. That way, anyone will be able to click that link and see what everyone has to say. And if you don’t have a blog, feel free to post your reply in the comment thread below.
Just to be clear, the purpose of this exercise isn’t to bombard the Department of Education with either praise or criticism. It’s to offer them our collective expertise, whatever your opinions might be. While government entities often try to make an effort to hear from the public, sometimes what happens is they get overloaded with form letters generated for supporters of the political extremes of a given issue. We shouldn’t let that happen here. This is an opportunity to offer thoughtful perspectives, our expertise and our diversity of opinions to help them make informed policy decisions. And by posting our replies publicly, it will allow all of us to benefit from each other’s ideas and engage in our own conversation on education technology and government’s role in it. Conversations are no longer limited to a two-way dialogue. They’re peer-to-peer, a community enterprise - and that’s a good thing.
This is a chance to speak and be heard. I’m sure Secretary Spellings is eagerly awaiting your replies. I know I certainly am. -andy
Filed under : Policy