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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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May112007

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:

  1. In what ways has technology improved the effectiveness of your classroom, school or district?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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 edtech@ed.gov, 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:

Secretary Spellings:


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 . 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

Responses

#1 In what ways has technology improved the effectiveness of your classroom, school or district? (There is a 1,000 character limit):

It has enabled me to provide authentic forms of assessment for my students. For instance, my replacement for the traditional news article summary has been my weekly Podcast assignment. Students now no longer turn in substandard writing… because once they turn in their work, they record it. And then I post it to our Blog where it is syndicated (RSS) to Apple’s iTunes Store, where it can be (and is) downloaded by people all over the world. Now students think hard, revise, and turn in their best work.

#2 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? (There is a 1,000 character limit):

By evaluating performance on small levels, now possible by analyzing Wonderlic Basic Skills Tests, NOCTI Tests, and other tests, my school is better able to identify students’ needs and communicate those needs to teachers. Because I work for a Vocational-Technical school, we use these scores to DIRECTLY influence the job-ready tasks that the students need to work on - and also to identify those skills that students do NOT need instruction in, saving time for learning new skills.

#3 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? (There is a 1,000 character limit):

First, I don’t believe that ALL students have the capability of meeting high standards unless we drop the standards, or increase the time it takes for some students to complete these goals. I don’t believe that we should drop those standards, instead, students should be grouped in homogenous levels and instructed at their respective paces. One great way to do this is for the DOE to conduct research on “best practice” differential education. Then, once research shows a “way” to achievement, the DOE must fund this research-based methodology in schools. So far, I have seen small examples (Plato Learning, NetTrekker, Study Island), but none has stood out as “best practice”.

#4 What should be the federal government’s role in supporting the use of technology in our educational system? (There is a 1,000 character limit):

As I stated in the previous question, I believe the federal government’s role is that of sponsoring research into “best practice” for school performance. Note that “best practice” is different for varying socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and that there must be a diverse learning plan to match the diverse learners in our country.
Then - and this is critical - the research-driven decision making must be funded appropriately. Schools that are the worst performers must be the heaviest investments - contrary in my opinion to the current trend of punishing low performing schools (taking money away from them and handicapping an already crippled system).

I believe that technology in the hands of innovative teachers uniquely addresses global competition in education. Web 2.0 technology such as blogs, wikis, and moderated social networks can expose students to global content in an authentic way. Here is one example…

To read the rest of my comments: http://tech4teaching.blogspot.com/2007/05/us-secretary-of-education-margaret.html

I am in the Graduate program at East Carolina University and studying to become an Elementary School Teacher. My background is a software analyst for International Trade.

We are studying this week Educational Technologies.

I have read more con opinions re technology within the academic profession. Some cons were sedentary; lack of face-to-face interaction; deficit in imagination and no social cognitive. What is your opinion?

Does the teacher have full command of what percentage she integrates education technology? or is it mandated by the school district?

One article that was facinating was speaking about ‘Story Centered Curriculum’. Has anyone used this approach?

Thank you in advance for responding. Another teacher on the way!!!

#1 In what ways has technology improved the effectiveness of your classroom, school or district? (There is a 1,000 character limit):

The distance writing program of the Center for Talented Youth at the Johns Hopkins University began in 1983 using the postal service. Postal service logistics precluded serving US students overseas. The advent of low-cost PC’s and the Internet allows us to reach students around the world, as well as to serve students in remote US locations. Any school can now offer differentiated instruction for gifted students.

#3 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? (There is a 1,000 character limit):

Computers are great record keepers. Humans are not. Record keeping eats teacher time. Technology can help teachers identify what needs to be taught to whom and when. For example, a bit of clever programming in math could cluster students by errors on a multiple choice test. The teacher then teaches to specific needs rather than teaching everyone what some already know. Using technology to test and record frees teacher time. When you make teaching easier, you give teachers reasons to use technology.

#4 What should be the federal government’s role in supporting the use of technology in our educational system? (There is a 1,000 character limit):

As it does in the sciences, the federal government should fund forward looking software programming. Simply putting hardware in a school won’t work. Teachers need reasons to use it. Don’t give teachers more work to do. Give them software that will let them do their job better.

I am a high school Life Skills teacher of students with moderate levels of retardation. In just a few years of teaching I have seen computers have a profound inpact on my students’ lives.

To address the first question of how technology is improving the effectiveness of instruction I have to relate a story about a student I had last year. She has Down Syndrome and is mostly nonverbal and very noncompliant. While she was using a program on Starfall.com, I was able to see her emerging reading skills. She started talking to the computer as she went along. I had her Mother come to the class and just watch so she could be proud of her daughter and realize that a lot more was going on inside her than she is able to convey to us.

Another one of my students has ceberal palsy. He cannot use his hands. We have gotten him a headstick to type out words and emails on the computer. This exercise has provided a means for him to show us that he can spell, write, and communicate with written language.

Both examples have given me additional data on my students and have helped me frame instruction. Computers provide the means for their growth.

I think the federal government should continue to promote computer technology for all students in schools. We especially need them for our exceptional students and I hope that the government will continue to support research in how we can adapt curriculum on the web to meet the individual needs of students.

Even as we’re at a crossroads in education vis a vis technology, I would argue that we are at a crossroads in our society regarding the discrepancy in access to technology among socio-economic classes. This discrepancy is even driving some of our school reform.It is imperative that we as educators integrate new technologies in an informed and deliberate manner so as to impact our students effectively. Some of the online education we now are subjecting our students to is the opposite—ineffective, awkward, and cobbled together with out of date programs—WEB CT to be exact. Let us learn from fully integrated programs that put training of teachers at the forefront of the program implementation and let us work at creating avenues for access for our disadvantaged students.

Andy,
You know I never even thought twice about posting the email, it’s just what you do now, isn’t it?

I appreciate your post and the way you handled it. I think you are spot on in your call for action. Let’s not make education blogs forums for complaining, let’s make sure that they continue to be places for new ideas and tools for change. ACTION-EDUBLOGS :)

Down off my soapbox…Thanks again. I look forward to reading more of your work.
Be Good,
Ken

Educators in Boston and LA. are using a program called Peace Games for K-8 grades.

PEACE GAMES imagines a world where every child has the skills, knowledge, supportive relationships, and opportunities to prevent violence and build safer communities. A world where individuals and institutions believe in the power of young people and that violence – in all of its forms – can be prevented. Peace Games believes that this goal is best achieved by building the capacity of schools and community groups to implement holistic, peace and justice education programs.

More information is at www.peacegames.org

Technology is a tool and it can only be as effective as the person using it. Therefore, the role for the government would be to ensure funding for technology equipment as well as funding for teacher support. This could be in the form of a technology instructional specialist for each building, or provide alternative professional development options to teachers. You can give an instructor all the equipment, often a very high cost, if they don’t know how to utilize it. The focus should be the students and how they learn best. New teachers are graduating colleges fully equipped in their understanding of new technology; often times it is the veteran teachers that would need the professional development. This training should be ongoing in order to be the most beneficial.
Parents are the second component of technology in the classroom. Through the use of technology, you are able to open up another support system for the child through invaluable communication.

As a special educator and preschool board member, I believe there is a great need for exposure to technology to begin in the preschool years. Prereading and premath computer programs, used with discretion, can do a great deal to prepare students for a structured classroom. Learning reading and math should be supported by computer programs in elementary schools.

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