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

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November072008

What’s Your Memo to President-Elect Obama?

The longest presidential campaign in history is over. We now know Barack Obama will become president, but what will he accomplish in the realm of education technology policy? What do you want him to accomplish?

It’s hard to say how much of a priority edtech in itself will be for President-Elect Obama, given the enormous policy challenges looming over the country at the moment. When you read his education agenda, there’s no reference to the Internet. His technology agenda, though, kicks off with a quote of his regarding the role of technology in increasing America’s competitiveness, alluding directly to the role of schools.

“Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age,” he says. “Let’s set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed.”

His technology agenda goes on to describe the problem: a country where its citizens are not fully connected to each other or their government, and are lacking the skills to compete in the 21st century. It goes on to describe a vision of transparent government, ubiquitous broadband, and a renewed emphasis on math and science education in K-12 classrooms.

Obama didn’t spend much time offering much detail on his vision on the role of technology in the classroom, except in broad terms like these. One of the few times he did, though, was about a year ago, in an interview with Michael Arrington of the blog TechCrunch. Michael was kind enough to use some questions I sent to him regarding edtech and the digital divide, because I hadn’t heard Obama - or any of the other candidates, for that matter - talk about these issues.

One of my questions asked his position on the E-Rate, the federal program that subsidizes Internet access in schools and libraries. Obama’s response:

I consider the E-rate program a success because it has helped make broadband nearly ubiquitous in America’s public schools and I am honored that Reed Hundt and Bill Kennard, the FCC Chairmen under President Clinton who oversaw the plan’s creation and implementation, have chosen to endorse my candidacy for President. Unfortunately, we have not made further progress under the Bush Administration and I will recommit America to ensuring that our schools, libraries, households and hospitals have access to next generation broadband networks.


I will also make sure that there are adequate training and other supplementary resources to allow every school, library and hospital to take full advantage of the broadband connectivity. In terms of bridging the digital divide outside of schools, I will reform the two major programs which can drive broadband into underserved communities. I described a bold approach to reforming spectrum policies in the previous question. In addition, my administration will establish a multi-year plan with a date certain to change the Universal Service Fund program from one that supports voice communications to one that supports affordable broadband, with a specific focus on reaching previously un-served communities. Finally, I will encourage innovation at the local level through federal support of public/private partnerships that deliver broadband to communities without real broadband.

I was also interested in having him offer a definition of technology literacy. “No Child Left Behind mandates that all students must be ‘technologically literate’ by the eighth grade but doesn’t expand on the subject,” I wrote in my original question. “In your mind, what technology skills should every eighth grader possess, and why?”

Obama’s answer:

To me, technical literacy means ensuring that all public school children are equipped with the necessary science, technology and math skills to succeed in the 21st century economy. As president, I will make math and science education a national priority and provide our schools with the tools to educate 21st century learners. Access to computers and broadband connections in public schools must be coupled with qualified teachers, engaging curricula, and a commitment to developing skills in the field of technology. All children must have access to strong math and science curriculum at all grade levels, including the pre-K level. That’s why I will also invest in research and development in science education to determine what types of curriculum and instruction work best.

At the college level, I will work to increase our number of science and engineering graduates, encourage undergraduates studying math and science to pursue graduate studies, and work to increase the representation of minorities and women in the science and technology pipeline, tapping the diversity of America to meet the increasing demand for a skilled workforce. If we export our best software and engineering jobs to developing countries, it is less likely that America will benefit from the next generation innovations in nanotechnology, electronics, and biotechnology. We must have a skilled workforce so that we can retain and grow jobs requiring 21st century skills rather than forcing employers to find skilled workers abroad.

Obama’s position papers and statements offer a general glimpse on his perspective regarding education technology, but I think there’s much more detail he can offer in the coming weeks and months. For example, what does he hope the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology will accomplish during his term? What new opportunities for technology-related professional development will be created for teachers? Will he take advantage of the new national center created by Congress for edtech research? And can his goal of making government more open and accountable be a way of making classroom learning more authentic and impactful in the real world?

We all have different visions of how our schools can thrive, what role technology should play in them, and what it means for our students to become 21st century century citizens. Perhaps it’s time to take a memo. Obama’s transition team is even seeking feedback from the public on all sorts of issues, so let’s tell him what we think. Unfortunately, the new website for the president-elect, Change.gov, is rather Web 1.0, so there’s no way to see what answers people are submitting. So while you should go and tell Obama your thoughts on edtech policy, I’d encourage you to tell the rest of us as well. Write a blog post, upload a YouTube video, however you want to do it. And then include the phrase “Memo to the President-Elect” in the text. That way, we can all track it down easily via Technorati or Google.

So let’s see what everyone has to say. Maybe - just maybe - the new administration will listen. -andy

Filed under : Digital Divide, Media Literacy, Policy

Responses

I would like to see President Obama committed to protecting our most vulnerable citizens-post conception children and the aged. Both of these groups contain our nations greatest resources-prospective voters and experienced voters.

I tried to make the case a day or so ago that edtech initiatives cannot reach fruition from the ground-up alone. I tried to make the case here: http://nashworld.edublogs.org/2008/11/13/increasing-our-level-of-vitamin-a/
that there is a huge need for administrative action from the top-down as well.

I think this applies here as well. And honestly- I think that if anything gets done along the lines of edtech, it will happen with this president. Twitter during the campaign? “Fireside chats” to be widely published on YouTube? I’m thinking this guy gets the culture as it is.

What we need now is to have him (and his minions of course) transfer that enthusiasm into the serious business of our schools.

Thanks for this post… very appropriate.

Sean

I think the United States made a very good choice in picking Barack Obama. Now I am just a teenager but I think I will make a good adult as in picking the right people. I am also glad that the United States picked split ticket because even though Barack Obama is a democrat, we still needa republican or two like Mike Warner(I think he is republican) but anyway you all get my point I hope. Thank you for reading this.

I believe students should be computer literate and it is interesting that we have a definition of computer literacy. But is that enough? I am past middle-age and 30 years ago I knew computers existed. Just six years later, I was sitting at an IBM clone, teaching myself WordPerfect 1. — it took me a couple hours a day for about 3 days. Eventually, because of employment, I learned a few things in QuatroPro, and then some specialized software program. I dropped out of the technology arena to give birth a second time and then I became a single mom, looking for work. I was no longer computer literate. I then learned Word and then Excel and now PowerPoint and html codes and web postings, and… you get the picture. Still, I am not what I would consider computer literate. It changes so rapidly, how can you predict the future of technology when you are out-dated as quickly as a month after purchasing a computer? Instead of micro-managing computer learning for students, why can we not just have students be placed in front of a computer, in as safe an environment as possible, and let them learn for themselves? I know that is pretty radical, letting children do their own learning, but they are going to be functioning as adults in a world we current adults have no idea what it will be like. Did my parents “educate” me in space travel… computers… medical advances… etc.? Of course not, because they did not know about them. What they did do for me was give me a solid foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic and I took that knowledge and built more knowledge and acquired more learning. By the way, how many of us still use a slide rule? I daresay none, because it is outdated technology. Even if we make students take classes in current technology, will that help them next year? Provide funding for schools that permit technology to attempt to stay current and the students will teach themselves. The less our government is involved in designing curriculums, the better the teachers will be able to teach and students will be able to acquire useful learning. Thank you for reading this. By the way, this is the first time I have ever blogged and I haven’t a clue — so again, I am learning more about technology.

Dear Mr. Carvin and Learning.Now Blog Readers:

I am writing to you today because I am admirer of your efforts in pushing change in our public education system and I am equally interested (both as a parent and an educator) in bringing about the change we need this critical institution.

I have long been concerned about the direction that our nation’s public schools having been moving. The bipartisan enactment of the No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002 brought hope to many schools but quickly became a lightening rod for controversy when promised funding fell short while strict adherence to mandates increased. Like most of our nation’s major institutions (economy, military and healthcare) education is at a tipping point. The election of Barack Obama as President this past week represents a dramatic cry from the American people to bring change to all facets of our lives. Clearly, ensuring that our next generation of leaders receive a high quality public education that prepares them to be productive and engaged citizens is arguably the most important change needed for our nation’s continued survival and growth. Since most of the public debate about how to change public education in America has come primarily from those who do not work in or have a vested interest in it, I have decided to utilize the same medium our new President used to share his ideas and mobilize his supporters to develop and facilitate an online forum (see link below) to spark and archive a conversation about the direction our public education systems needs to be moving. This forum is open for anyone and everyone to participate in. I invite you to engage in this debate and help us make others aware of it through promotion on your blog and via your social and professional networks. Ultimately, after the forum closes on January 18, 2008, the summary of ideas, comments and statements will be collated and submitted to President Obama, his designated Secretary of Education and the members of the Senate and House Committees dealing with any public education related topics for review and implementation.

Please visit http://educationdebate.blogspot.com to participate. I truly believe that we the people have a profound responsibility to influence the policy of our nation with respect to such an important issue.

Thanks for your support in this endeavor,

Gregg Festa
Concerned Parent & Educator

Hi there,

This is how my school and another school in my neighborhood left numerous questions that we were interested in finding out about Barack Obama our president elect. We made a website using voicethread. Check it out at:

http://voicethread.com/#u213976.b261567.i1367491

Thank you for your time.

Marc Stegman

I want to see some changes in how we pay for our education. Most of us had to get student loan after student loan to get to college. Most of us are paying those back, and will be for years.

NCLB requires us, as teachers, to have all these qualifications but there is no money to help us get them. I’d like to see a little more incentive for people to go to college. I’d like for us (not just teachers, but everyone) to be able to go to college and have some other funding available besides student loans.

I am inspired by Obama’s vision re: schools, technology, global issues… and am eager to see him follow his vision in these areas by involving other highly educated, articulate leaders in our country’s top levels of administration… people who support and can help implement and expand his visions, and involve people from all levels of America, empower them, and help all Americans to understand how to become more informed and caring about our planet and our global neighbors- and to reach out to them with support services … not self-centered military services. Jill Watrous, teacher, Desw Moines, Iowa

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