Education Week - January 6, 2016 - (Page 8)
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > Tracking news and ideas in educational technology
U.S. Ed-Tech Plan Calls Attention to 'Digital-Use Divide'
By Benjamin Herold
& Leo Doran
The U.S. Department of Education's most recent blueprint for
how technology should be used in
schools calls for improving teacher
training and drawing attention to
what it describes as a "digital-use
divide" between active and passive
uses of digital and online content
"We really see the plan as a vision for the country of what ed tech
could be in our classrooms if it's
implemented in the way we think
is best," said Joseph South, the
deputy director of the department's
office of educational technology, in
But while educators and observers hailed the fifth National Education Technology Plan-released
last month and the first one issued
only in a digital format-as a compelling statement of what's possible,
attempts to institutionalize the vision it lays out will face big hurdles,
according to ed-tech experts.
Among the most significant: the
newly reauthorized Elementary and
Secondary Education Act. The comprehensive federal education law, now
known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, has left states
and school districts to face tough
choices in the coming years about
whether to use federal dollars for
technology or other pressing needs.
The last national ed-tech plan
was released in 2010, a time when
digital tablets were just coming on
the market and the notion of digital
"personalized learning" was still
being developed. Five years later,
the conversation has shifted from
whether schools should use technology to how it can be used most effectively, the new plan contends. The
country has also made big strides
in improving the broadband and
Wi-fi infrastructure serving schools
and in providing classrooms with
laptops, iPads, Chromebooks, and
other digital devices.
The new plan focuses on five
areas: learning, teaching, leadership, assessment, and infrastructure. As a guide to educators and
policymakers, the document profiles
various exemplars, ranging from
the Cities of LRNG initiative, a nonprofit that uses technology to connect young people to a wide range of
learning opportunities inside school
and out, to a digitally enabled classroom collaboration between teachers in Denver and Cook County, Ill.
Even though such "early adopters" have garnered plenty of attention, some longtime observers say
the real challenge confronting the
ed-tech field in 2016 and beyond
is helping best practices take root
"We need to be very clear-eyed
about where we are in terms of ac-
cess, types of technology usage, and
the challenges of institutionalization,"
said Douglas A. Levin, the president
of the consulting group EdTech
Strategies and a contributor to the
new plan. "The reality out in many
districts around the country is that
we are actually pretty far away from
the vision that is laid out in the plan."
Focus on Equity
Like its predecessors, the new
document places a heavy emphasis
on issues of equity.
Now, though, the most pressing
digital divide has to do with how
technology is used in the classroom,
the plan contends. The department
hopes to see more "active" uses of ed
tech, such as coding, creative media
production, design, and collaboration with experts.
The plan also calls for districts
to shift away from buying print
textbooks and instead make wider
use of digital open educational resources, which are licensed to be
free to use, revise, and share.
The legacy of this plan
is dependent entirely
on its influence over
the regulatory work
the department is
about to embark on
DOUGLAS A. LEVIN
President, EdTech Strategies
And one of the plan's greatest areas of focus is on improving
teacher training and professional
"Across the board, teacher-preparation and professional-development
programs fail to prepare teachers
to use technology in effective ways,"
the document says.
The department's South said
teacher-preparation programs bear
the primary responsibility for fixing
the problem. Ideally, he said, colleges and universities would move
away from single stand-alone technology classes for prospective teachers, and they would also focus more
heavily on training teachers to
work in blended environments that
merge face to face with computerbased instruction.
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which
represents about 845 of the nation's 1,500 or so university-based
teacher-preparation programs, took
exception to the criticism.
"I can't think of one teacherpreparation program that doesn't
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 6, 2016 | www.edweek.org
OUTLINING A NATIONAL VISION
FOR BETTER TECH USE IN SCHOOLS
The U.S. Department of Education's 2016 National
Education Technology Plan includes a call to action,
examples of best practices, and recommendations for
the field in key areas, including:
LEARNING: Technology can support "engaging and empowering
learning experiences in both formal and informal settings," the NETP
says. Especially important are "personalized" learning opportunities
optimized to meet the needs and preferences of each child; choice for
students over what, when, and how they learn; and a focus on "noncognitive competencies," such as persistence. Games, simulations,
and 3-D imaging software are emerging technologies to watch,
the plan contends, and schools should focus on using technology
to provide "active" learning experiences such as computer
programming and media creation.
TEACHING: "Effective use of technology is not an optional add-on or
a skill that we simply can expect teachers to pick up once they get into
the classroom," so teacher preparation and professional development
around effective technology use must improve, the NETP argues.
Federal officials hope to support teachers in collaborating via online
communities and in taking leadership roles in their own schools around
the effective use of ed tech. One key recommendation: developing a
"teaching force skilled in online and blended instruction."
LEADERSHIP: Responsibility for articulating and implementing a
strong vision for using technology in schools cannot be delegated,
the NETP says. Through its Future Ready initiative, the U.S. Education
Department is supporting superintendents in collaborating with
each other and key local stakeholders, providing the resources and
guidance needed to implement personalized learning models, and
ensuring school access to adequate technology infrastructure.
ASSESSMENT: The NETP calls for the use of technology to "imagine
and redefine assessment in a variety of ways," including more
unobtrusive measurement of students as they learn; greater focus
on assessing complex skill sets, such as problem-solving ability;
more real-time feedback for educators and students alike; and better
dashboards to visualize assessment results and other data in more
INFRASTRUCTURE: "Reliable connectivity, like water and
electricity, is foundational to creating an effective learning
environment," the NETP says. Reform of the federal E-rate program
should help in school; now department officials hope to see similar
efforts to improve access at home. One area that some ed-tech
experts would have liked to see addressed in greater depth:
interoperability issues, so that information from the various software
programs used by districts can be merged more easily.
have integrated technology in their
curriculum," said Rodrick Lucero,
the group's vice president for member engagement and support. "The
naysayers who are critical maybe
haven't spent time in classrooms."
The focus on training was also
part of the recent legislative struggle around reauthorization of the
As recently as this past summer,
ed-tech advocates hoped that a new
federal education law would include
an amendment known as I-TECH,
which would have meant dedicated
funding for schools to address the
issue of teacher education around
Although the U.S. Senate approved the amendment, it did not
make it into the Every Student
Succeeds Act ultimately signed by
President Barack Obama. Instead
of dedicated technology funding,
states and districts will receive block
grants that may be spent on a broad
array of needs, ranging from arts
programs to Advanced Placement
classes to suicide-prevention efforts.
A New Set of Problems
Advocates and department officials say they're glad that spending on ed tech is allowed under the
new law but disappointed that the
money is not specifically earmarked
for technology-related purposes.
"It's going to mean challenging decisions for states and districts on how
they allocate those resources across
a number of diverse possibilities,"
South said. One concern is that the
gap between technologically savvy
states and districts and the rest of
the country could grow even more
pronounced. Those who have articulated a strong vision for how digital
tools and content should be used
have developed the capacity to turn
those plans into reality, and should
be able to find ways to further incorporate the tenets of the new National
Education Technology Plan. Others,
however, might struggle.
As it stands, said Levin of EdTech
Strategies, the new national ed-tech
plan "looks like a hymnal for the
true believers" to use for inspiration
But whether the federal government's new blueprint can take root
more widely may hinge on the degree to which it shapes the federal
government's philosophy and rules
around distributing the resources
to be made available through the
new block-grant program.
"The legacy of this plan is dependent entirely on its influence over
the regulatory work the department
is about to embark on under ESSA,"
"It's going to be the implementation of the new law that really actually drives people's behavior."
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 6, 2016
Education Week - January 6, 2016
News in Brief
Wash. Ruling Could Inspire Charter Opponents Elsewhere
As New SAT Looms, Anxious Students Ramp Up Testing
Digital Directions: U.S. Ed-Tech Plan Calls Attention to ‘Digital-Use Divide’
Standards for Principals’ Bosses Sharpen Focus on Role
Blogs of the Week
High Stakes in Union-Fee Case Before Supreme Court
New K-12 Law Adds to Buzz as State Legislatures Set to Convene
Ed. Dept. Budget Sees Slight Boost In FY 2016 Deal
Blogs of the Week
Amanda VanDerHeyden, Matthew Burns, Rachel Brown, Mark R. Shinn, Stevan Kukic, Kim Gibbons, Ggeorge Batsche, & W. David Tilly: RTI Works (When It Is Implemented Correctly)
Ron Wolk: To Change Education, Change the Message
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Paul Herdman: As Feds Step Back, The First State Steps Up
Education Week - January 6, 2016