Celebrating Connected Educator Month 2013


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In support of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology is proud to announce that October is Connected Educator Month. Throughout the month, educators will have opportunities to participate in online events, build personal learning networks, and earn digital badges by demonstrating technology skills.

Online communities help educators share effective strategies, reduce isolation, and provide “just in time” access to knowledge and expertise. However, many educators are not yet taking advantage of all the benefits of connected learning. Schools, districts, and states can dramatically enhance their professional development by integrating digital learning opportunities into their formal professional development and teacher quality efforts.

“One of the most important things we can do to support teachers and students is to put modern tools in their hands, and give them access to the limitless knowledge and connections that the Internet makes possible,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “That’s why President Obama has made a priority of getting our schools connected to high-speed broadband, and it’s also why I’m so enthusiastic about Connected Educator Month.”

Nearly 200 educational organizations are participating in Connected Educator Month. These organizations will provide a variety of interactive activities, such as webinars, live chats, open houses, contests, projects, and badges for connected educators to earn.

Activities and events will range from a design challenge, in which educators will develop strategies for helping kids develop creative confidence, to a webinar in which five U.S. organizations will team up with UNESCO to share insights about mobile learning around the globe. State and locally focused activities will also engage communities of educators across the nation.

“Connected Educator Month provides an opportunity for all educators across the country to join a vibrant community of teachers and leaders using technology to reimagine learning,” said Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Connected Educator Month events can be found at www.ConnectedEducators.org/events. The site will be updated continually to reflect new activities, as they are added throughout the month. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the #CE13 hashtag.

For more information about Connected Educator Month, visit http://www.ConnectedEducators.org.

Q-and-A: Back to School with Arne Duncan

With back-to-school season in full swing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sat down to respond to some pressing education questions from SmartBlog on Education. Below is the full Q&A:

What is the biggest challenge that teachers face as they go back to school this fall? What guidance would you give them to help them meet the challenge?

Back to school stampThe large majority of states are now making the shift to the Common Core State Standards, a state-led effort to raise standards for which the U.S. Department of Education has provided some support. Educators across the country have embraced the enormous, urgent challenge that goes with this transition to more rigorous academic standards, new assessments, and updated teacher evaluation systems. Teachers are faced with a level of change and reform in schools and districts that is unprecedented.

Overwhelmingly, I’ve heard teachers say that it’s the professional challenge of a lifetime to raise standards so every American student can compete and succeed in the global economy. In discussions with more than 4,000 educators, my team at the U.S. Department of Education and I also have heard teachers say that it’s imperative that we, as a nation, get this right for our kids.

The  Common Core State Standards focus on college- and career readiness and have been adopted voluntarily by a majority of states. The new standards set the bar for student performance high. But they also give teachers the opportunity to go deep into content and innovate. In surveys, three out of four teachers say these standards will help them teach better.

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Empowering Learners in the 21st Century

There is so much need, and so much potential, to bring innovation to the learning of our students. Several events over the past two weeks have left me charged with enthusiasm about what’s possible: a real upgrade for the education of all students.  From my trip to Mooresville, NC with President Obama last week to my experiences at the Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World conference in Washington, DC on May 28-29, I sense a groundswell of excitement and support for a new approach to learning that is better designed for our times.

Obama at Mooresville Middle School

President Barack Obama views student projects created on laptops during a tour at Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, N.C., June 6, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

We co-hosted the Reimagining Education conference with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation because we know that none of this will be accomplished by government alone.  Together, we convened teachers, leaders, academics, advocates and entrepreneurs from many different sectors to think about designing student and teacher learning experiences for today and, more importantly, for a future that we cannot even imagine. The result was a rich discussion and a series of concrete recommendations for new approaches that will better engage, inspire, and prepare students.

Critical to supporting our students’ success is making sure the latest technologies are available and integrated into their learning environments. In this digital age, with tools like open online courses, handheld tablets, and enhanced learning diagnostics, we have the capability to give each student a personalized learning experience tailored to their interests and needs, and the opportunity to give every teacher the advanced tools and training that they deserve.

That is why I was thrilled to join President Obama this past Thursday to announce our plan, called ConnectED, to equip our schools with 21st century technology. The President challenged the nation to work with us to meet the goal of providing high-speed broadband internet to 99% of students within five years. Countries around the world are outpacing us in providing high-speed Internet to their students and their investments are getting results. Through the ConnectED initiative, we can level the playing field and give our students the best chance to succeed in the global economy.

During President Obama’s visit to Mooresville, the words of Professor John Seely Brown resonated with me.  He kicked off the Reimaging Education conference by outlining a vision for a dynamic learning environment in which we “teach content, mentor skills, and cultivate dispositions.”  This means we must expand our idea of the classroom beyond daily lectures and homework assignments. Our students need to experiment, engage, and create in the areas they find truly exciting. Schools are a crucial part of that vision, and better access to technology and the worlds that technology puts at our fingertips, is an essential part of this work.

To accomplish this, we need mentors, employers and artists working together in new ways to get all of our students involved and interested in their own learning. This doesn’t mean diminishing the role of teachers. Nothing can replace the importance of having a great teacher working with students. This does mean redesigning the school environment and its connection to what takes place outside of school so that teachers are not limited by their classroom.   Often it is the limitations of the system and the technology that keep them from getting the access and the support that they need.

I often hear people say that students are dropping out because school is “too hard.” But I think it’s more often the opposite: they think it’s too easy and they do not see the relevance to their daily lives.

In the days since the summit and the President’s call for a modernization of E-rate and a better connected education system, several exciting commitments and projects have been announced that further support this approach of connecting learning to student’s passions and real world experiences.   The MacArthur Foundation’s upcoming Summer of Making and Connecting and the Department’s Connected Educator Month, scheduled for October, will provide limitless opportunities to engage students and teachers in their own learning.

The President and I are committed to this work in our budget proposal as well. Our high school redesign proposal—a plan introduced by President Obama at this year’s State of the Union—would establish a $300 million program to support innovative high school models that better link students to college and careers, providing the relevant experiences that our students want and need. The high schools supported by this program would prepare students for both college and the workforce—a preparation that is not an either/or proposition.

These are all steps in the right direction. We’re planting seeds that will bear fruit in the years to come, and we must act now. These changes are about whether we want to be leaders or laggards as a nation in achieving great futures for our students. In order to provide the best education in the world again, we must develop educational opportunities and resources that excite and prepare all of our students. Technology alone won’t solve this, but we also cannot succeed without it.

Teacher José Rodriguez, with whom I participated in a panel discussion at the Reimagining Education conference, best summarized the importance of this work when he said: “Many of my students asked me why I was absent the last two days. As I tried to explain to them my experience at Reimagining Education, I looked them all straight in the eye with excitement and said, ‘I went to their future. What I saw there was beautiful.’” Let’s make that future today’s reality.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Connected Educator Month: Game-Based Learning

The topic of “game-based learning” is gaining considerable attention as more and more young people are learning from games outside of school and more and more teachers are leveraging the power of games to engage students in school.

Well-designed games can motivate students to actively engage in meaningful and challenging tasks, and through this process to learn content and sharpen critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Education gaming experts have identified some of the key features of games that may have the greatest potential to affect student learning, including:

    • exciting narratives and video-game quality graphics that motivate and engage students;
    • challenging discovery-based tasks;
    • adaptive supports that adjust to and support individual learners;
    • formative assessment; and
    • competition and rewards.

With the advent of modern web-based delivery mechanisms including smartphones and tablets, games are now available to young people anytime, anywhere.

The Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), recently announced a new round of awards through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, including several awards that focus on the development of game-based learning education technology products. This year the program made 11 new Phase I awards (eight of which are for games) of up to $150,000 to support the development and research of commercially viable education technology products intended to support student outcomes in regular and special education settings.

In this first phase, awardees will develop prototypes of their products and conduct research on their feasibility. A second round of competitively funded awards will be made in 2013 for awardees to further develop these prototypes into marketable products and conduct additional research in schools. Awards for Phase II will be in amounts up to $900,000 for two years. For abstracts for all of the projects, please click here.

Even before the Phase I awards were announced in June, the IES SBIR program has invested in several projects that use games to support student learning. Below are details on three such projects.

(Note: The Department has provided the information and links in this blog post as a convenience to educators, parents and students. The Department does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, completeness or effectiveness of these resources. The inclusion of particular resources is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed or products or services.)

Sokikom

Screen shot from Sokikom

With awards in 2009 and 2010, IES SBIR funded the development of a Sokikom, a web-based set of math games for elementary school students. Results of a pilot study demonstrated that after one month of play by students in two 3rd grade classrooms, the technology worked as planned, and students were engaged when playing the game. Compared to a control group of two classrooms that followed regular instruction and didn’t play games, game play was associated with higher scores on end-of-unit math tests. Since the product launched in 2011, Sokikom has been used by schools and students in all 50 states. Sokikom has been recognized with several industry awards, including the 2012 CODIE Award from the Software & Information Industry Association for the best educational game,  the Distinguished Achievement Award from the 2011 Association of Educational Publishers, and the Winner of the Academic Gaming Solution from the Edtech Digest 2011 Cool Tool Award. For a video overview demonstration of Sokikom, please click here.

Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science (GILS)

A screenshot of the GILS game

With a 2010 award, IES SBIR is funding the Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science (GILS) suite, a set of five web-based life science games designed to facilitate conceptual understandings of the scientific inquiry process among middle school students, and especially among learners with disabilities. Research is currently underway to examine teachers’ best practices as they implement the games and to assess the promise of the games to improve student learning. GILS has received several prestigious technology awards. Most recently, the Software & Information Industry Association’s Ed-Tech Business Forum Innovation Incubator competition awarded GILS First Place: Most Innovative Education Technology Product. (Note: Another IES SBIR awardee won this award in 2011 for a dynamic program to support teaching and learning math). GILS took Grand Prize at the 2011 National STEM Video Game Challenge and Best in Show at the 2011 Games and Learning Society Conference. For a video overview demonstration of GILS, please click here.

Zoo U

A screenshot of the Zoo U game.

With awards in 2010 and 2011, IES SBIR is funding a web-based environment for elementary students to engage with pedagogical agents (animated life-like characters) to solve tailored, social-problem-solving tasks. Through game-like scenarios and interactions, Zoo U supports students’ practicing and improving in areas such as cooperation, communication, emotion regulation, empathy, impulse control, and initiation of play. The Zoo U product will provide self-paced learning for individualized instruction, student progress reports, and implementation supports for teachers. For a video overview demonstration of Zoo U, please click here.

The SBIR program holds one annual competition each year. IES will seek applications in late fall 2012. For information on the program, and for video demos of more than 20 products supported by this program, click here.

Edward Metz is the SBIR Program Manager at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences

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.