Connected Educator Month Kicks Off

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared August, 2012 Connected Educator Month a month-long exploration and celebration of online communities and networks dedicated to broadening and deepening educator participation in learning and sharing, and bringing online community and education leaders together to move towards a more fully connected and collaborative profession.

The National Education Technology Plan articulated the need for teachers and leaders to be highly connected to the content, tools, resources, peers, experts, supportive problem solvers and perhaps most importantly, to their students and their communities. And, as teachers and leaders are at the forefront of developing and implementing innovative approaches to meeting student needs, our ability to share approaches and explore new opportunities is essential to transforming education and improving student learning.

Connected Educator Month (CEM) will be celebrated with four weeks-plus of online events and activities, including:

  • A three day online kickoff event (Aug. 1-3) about connected education in the context of the larger education landscape, featuring keynote addresses by Deborah Meier, Chris Lehmann, Douglas Rushkoff, Larry Johnson, and Connie Yowell, a panel with the directors of the Department’s Office of Educational Technology, and more.

  • Six month-long discussion forums on key educational issues, selected by the participating organizations, and explored in an online community context:

    • Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: 21st Century PD
    • It’s Personal: Personalized Learning for Students and Educators
    • Beyond Top Down: Distributed Leadership & Teacher-Led Change
    • Knocking On The Door: Connected Education & New Technologies
    • The First Six Weeks: Getting 2012-13 Off To The Right Start
    • Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Incentivizing and Recognizing Teachers for Their Investments In Learning

    Each forum includes a core group of thought leaders inside and outside education as well as top practitioners in the field; all are welcome to participate.

  • A variety of resources designed to help educators who are not yet engaged in online communities or networks get connected, including:

    • A starter kit for educators who aspire to build their connections to other inspired classroom leaders, using a 31-day approach (one step per day to get more connected)
    • A starter kit for districts to integrate Connected Educator Month and connected education in their back-to-school professional development
    • A book club (featured book: The Connected Educator, with author Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach participating)
    • Cross-community guided tours showing how online communities can address key educator needs
    • Community open houses, allowing educators to explore specific online communities and ask questions of community leaders and members live as they explore.
  • A culminating two-day event designed to synthesize and distill learnings from the month, and generate takeaways and next steps for the field. All events and activities from the month will be archived, many will continue to be available (and continue to grow) after August, and a distilled multimedia proceedings will be generated for distribution.

More than 100 education organizations, communities, and companies have committed to help get the word out and to put events and activities on the CEM calendar. These include a variety of contests and challenges to generate valuable resources for the field, as well as online courses, classes, content collections, community and feature launches, collaborative projects, and more.

At the end of the day, Connected Educator Month is dedicated to the proposition that no teacher should be an island, but rather have a rich personal professional learning network to support them every single day. We hope you’ll join us in bringing the profession together this month.

Karen Cator is director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Panel Shows What’s Possible in Education Technology

Last Monday, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and committee member Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado co-sponsored a briefing on innovation in public education through the use of learning technologies. More than 50 Senate staff members came to hear from a panel I moderated that featured leaders in the ed tech field.

The panelists, Dr. Stephen Elliott (founding director of the Learning Sciences Institute at Arizona State University), Jennie Niles (founder of the DC-based E.L. Haynes Public Charter School), and Jeremy Roberts (director of technology for PBS Kids Interactive), all concurred that the promise of technology to transform education has fallen short of expectations for the past two to three decades. However, they also all agree that we are finally at a time where many factors are converging to overcome historic barriers: increasingly ubiquitous broadband, cheaper devices, digital content, cloud computing, big data, and generally higher levels of comfort with technology among the general population.

The panelists spoke compellingly about how their institutions are taking advantage of existing technology applications, products, and services to drive new ways of teaching and learning, whether inside elementary schools, college campuses or family rooms. For example:

  • PBS can use information as discreet as how long a student spends reading a passage or hovering over a wrong answer to determine what a student knows, what misconceptions he or she may have, and most importantly, what type of lesson might help that student learn best. With this information in hand, parents can make better-informed decisions about how to support their child’s learning based more and more on evidence rather than guess-work.
  • E.L. Haynes is leveraging technology to empower teachers and enable truly differentiated instruction. The school incubated a new online system for math instruction after discovering that there were very few learning resources that met their needs (i.e. aligned to standards, instructionally excellent, engaging and available anytime-anywhere). The system has been picked up by other schools across the country, demonstrating the potential for broad adoption of well-designed tools and resources. Haynes has also partnered in the development of a comprehensive web-based student information system able to track each student’s real time academic progress and other critical data. As a result of these efforts, teachers have more time to work directly with students and the information to target assistance where it is most needed.
  • Arizona State University (ASU), the nation’s largest public university, faced a convergence of funding cuts, a growing student body with significant developmental education needs, and pressure to retain and graduate more students. ASU brought together researchers, practitioners and entrepreneurs to solve these challenges and turned the university into a model testbed site for scalable technology solutions.   These partnerships produced a technology-enhanced developmental math course that significantly improved outcomes, as well as a monitoring tool (featured in a New York Times article last week) that tracks and supports each student’s progress towards graduation. ASU is now educating more students at a lower average cost per student and has raised its retention rate from 77% to 84%.

While these examples show the promise of existing technologies, they are also evidence of the largely untapped potential of technology to transform learning and improve outcomes.  Participants also discussed the role that the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED) could play in filling this critical gap and why the private market has failed to do so on its own.

An ARPA-ED would be modeled after DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which catalyzed the development of world-changing technologies such as the Internet and GPS. ARPA-ED would similarly focus on transformative research and development, pursuing projects such as digital tutors that are as effective as the best human tutors to support teachers in bridging the gap for every student; courses that improve the more students use them, and new ways to assess student progress that are as compelling and fun as video games.

As historic barriers fall and we attempt to accelerate the pace of improvement of our education system, rethinking the role of technology and leveraging new forms of R&D presents the opportunity to transform learning and teaching versus just “reforming” it. If we are successful, we will not only regain America’s leading position in educational performance and attainment, leap-frogging our global competitors; we will create new enterprises that push our nation to the forefront of a growing $5+ trillion sector.

Jim Shelton is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.  

Taking “Boring” Out of the Classroom

Image of Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton (ed. note: Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton was in Austin, Texas last Friday for the South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive conference and appeared on the panel: “Asleep in the Classroom: A Wake Up Call from Tomorrow.”)

For too many of our students around the country, “boring” has become the adjective of choice to describe their experiences in the classroom.  Students have been locked down by the concept of seat time and locked out of the technological revolution that has transformed nearly every sector of American society, except for education.

To prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs and rapidly changing society, we must build a high quality and highly effective education system that takes advantage of everything we know from the learning sciences and every learning tool and opportunity available.  This is especially true given the “New Normal” of needing to do more with less. At the Department of Education we are committed to this pursuit, from articulating a path forward in our National Education Technology Plan to creating the required infrastructure such as the recently proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED). And with the help of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, we’re working towards providing all students with a robust and affordable Internet that will provide the communications network of the future.

In an age of Facebook, Amazon.com, online collaboration and rapid technological change, the world of chalk and blackboards simply won’t meet the demands of today let alone tomorrow.  Technology has the potential to greatly enhance student engagement, increase personalized learning, enable students to earn credit and progress at their own pace, and equip teachers with the tools needed to differentiate instruction (i.e. diagnose student needs, interests, and learning preferences and adjust their teaching and content based on that diagnosis).  Technology can empower students of all ages to take control of their learning, and to find and pursue their passions – waking them up not only in class but to the many opportunities before them and their own potential.

Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement

Investing in Education Technology to Win the Future

Wouldn’t it be cool if a well-designed videogame could provide a compelling learning environment, grab a student’s attention and teach critical thinking?  Or how about a virtual learning laboratory that would tailor educational material based on student patterns, similar to how Amazon.com and Netflix know that if you like “Sleepless in Seattle” you might also like “You’ve Got Mail?”

By aggressively pursuing new and better ways to educate our citizens, such as the ones above, the United States will be on track to out-innovate the competition and reclaim global leadership in education.

To address under-investment in education innovation, the President’s FY2012 budget proposes to invest $90 million to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED).  ARPA-ED will fund projects performed by industry, universities, or other innovative organizations, and will aggressively pursue technological breakthroughs that have the potential to transform teaching and learning. These changes have the potential to provide breakthrough technologies, just as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, helped develop the Internet, GPS, and robotics.

Earlier today, Secretary Duncan joined President Obama and Melinda Gates in Boston, Massachusetts to visit TechBoston Academy, and to discuss the shared responsibility of government, communities, businesses, and philanthropists to invest in innovative education approaches that will prepare our students to compete in the 21st century.

“There is no better economic policy than one that produces more graduates,” said President Obama.  “That’s why reforming education is the responsibility of every American – every parent, every teacher, every business leader, every public official, and every student.”

Read more about ARPA-ED and how it will help America regain its standing as the world leader in education by supporting the development of game-changing educational technologies.  Watch President Obama’s entire TechBoston speech, and you can also read more about the President’s FY 2012 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education.