From Laggards to Leaders

Digital Learning Day Event

Secretary Duncan joined FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a Digital Learning Day town hall at the Newseum in Washington. Feb. 1, 2012. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The numbers tell the story.

Two million students, 18,000 teachers, 36 states plus the District of Columbia, 26 national organizations, 24 companies, and 16 state governors joined forces on-line last week to celebrate the first ever National Digital Learning Day.

Their message was clear: Digital technology powers learning.

Technology in the classroom is not just about the latest tools; it’s an imperative for a country with a high dropout rate competing in a globalized world.

As smart use of digital technology expands, it could boost high school completion. More than 1 million of our students drop out every year — something that’s referred to as the “leaking pipeline:”

Across the country, 24 out of 100 9th graders are below “Basic” on NAEP reading scores and only 72 will graduate from high school. Forty-four of those students will enter college, but 16 will need remediation, and only 20 will finish with a college degree.

Digital technology makes it possible for teachers to differentiate more effectively by personalizing the learning to meet the needs of each student at every level. With the right use of technologies, we can shift our time from classroom management to focused learning on HOW to teach depth of content and concepts. This is especially critical for our newest teachers.

Mooresville Graded School District in N.C., understands the important role digital tech can play. The district made a huge push to integrate digital technologies, and raised its graduation rate by 25% and is now 3rd out of 115 school districts with one of the lowest per-pupil expenditures in the state.

But what I most appreciate about digital technology is what it does for the teaching profession.

Smart use of technology simply develops our skills as teachers.

“As a teacher, I’m no longer just a repository of information. My role as a teacher has shifted. With technology, students are engaged,” said 25-year teaching veteran Esther Wojcicki, who teaches journalism in Palo Alto, CA.

And for those who think technology is not feasible because our teaching force isn’t ready, we need to clarify.

America’s teachers know technology. The number of Americans who have grown up on touch phones, Google, Facebook, and Twitter is growing. At the same time, we know that technology has gotten easier and more compelling for everyone: We all use it for work, to research, and to socialize.

So it’s not the technology that we need to train teachers on; it’s the pedagogical shift that needs to happen to use that technology well.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama asked us to think about an America that leads the world in educating its people and digital technology can help do just that.

Secretary Duncan was right when he said, “Technology going forward is going to revolutionize how we provide education.” As a teacher, I can’t wait to be a part of that.

Learn more about ED’s National Education Technology Plan and the Digital Textbook Playbook.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Technology Can Revolutionize Education for College Students with Disabilities

Student Voices Discussion

Secretary Duncan listens to students from Montgomery County Public Schools (Md.) and Project Eye-to-Eye based in New York State (Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood).

Having a disability should not stop any student from pursuing higher education. And through a unique program in Montgomery County, Md., high school students are proving that a disability is not an obstacle to a college education.

Several students from Project Eye-to-Eye recently visited ED as part of the Secretary’s monthly Student Voices series, where they joined Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Alexa Posny, to discuss college equity and accessibility for students with disabilities.

During the meeting, the discussion kept coming back to inclusion in K-12 schools. Research shows that when students with disabilities attend the same courses as their peers, they will have a better chance of attending college.

At the college level, issues in educating students with disabilities are often different from those affecting K-12 education, and the instructional climate is changing. Taken together, these trends call for a systematic method of accommodating diverse learning needs at the postsecondary level, even though the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not apply to higher education.

“With reasonable accommodations, I have succeeded in college,” said Isaiah Walker a senior at Columbia University, who wants to continue higher education and pursue a law degree. “At times, it was as simple as having extended time to complete an exam or having the option to utilize assistive technology devices to take class lectures,” he said.

In many cases, providing an effective assistive technology tool is considered a reasonable accommodation. “As a student who has a visual impairment, providing screen magnification software has provided me access to my school’s library services and to computers for reading, writing, and research—skills that I am using throughout my college career,” another student shared.

In order to access and use technology tools effectively in college, students with disabilities must be adequately prepared in high school. A common theme voiced from all students sitting around the Secretary’s conference table—many with iPads and smartphones—is that teachers and professors need to be trained and encouraged to allow the use of technology, especially for students with diverse needs.

Technology is seen by students as a tool for inclusion. By helping them communicate with their peers and organize their thoughts, they are better equipped to enter the 21st century work environment. In order to compete on a global level, “Our nation needs to take a leadership role; we need a technological revolution,” Duncan remarked.

Sam Ryan, Associate for Regional and Youth Outreach.

Since the Student Voices meeting, ED has released a report from the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities. The report sets forth recommendations for the effective use of AIM at the postsecondary level. Click here to read the report.

Duncan Takes to Twitter to Answer Your Questions

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

During the past week, thousands of Twitter users submitted questions to Secretary Duncan for his first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, and the difficult task of choosing the questions for Arne fell to the event’s moderator, journalist John Merrow. Merrow monitored #AskArne tweets throughout the week and even gave one last look through the steady stream of questions just moments before the camera went live.

Merrow asked Secretary Duncan tough questions covering a broad range of topics, including: standardized testing, cheating, performance pay for educators, and whether Arne truly listens to teachers.

Many Twitter users asked Arne about testing, and whether students are taking too many tests at school.

@pureparents: #AskArne: What specifically will you do to decrease the amount of and emphasis on standardized testing in the US?

Secretary Duncan answered:

@usedgov: Where you have too many tests, or are spending too much time on test prep, that doesn’t lead to good results. #AskArne

@usedgov: Fill-in-the-bubble tests should be a tiny % of what we’re doing. I’m a big fan of formative assessments–more helpful to teachers. #AskArne

A few Twitter users such as Richard wondered if Arne listens to teachers.

@Thanks2Teachers: #AskArne Do you truly LISTEN to the voices & concerns of teachers and parents? Hope this isn’t a hollow public relations exercise.

Duncan explained to Merrow:

@usedgov: I listen to teachers daily, in visits to schools, in mtgs @ ED and through our teaching ambassadors. Visited hundreds of schools. #askarne

Several Twitter users inquired about the Secretary’s stand on school vouchers:

@thefooshshow: #AskArne Heritage Fndn sz vouchers most viable way to *dismantle* pub #education. Will u unequivcbly take v off table?

Duncan responds:

@usedgov: Duncan: I will never support school vouchers. They take $ away from public system. I want great PUBLIC schools in this country. #AskArne

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

During the town hall, Secretary Duncan noted that he’s still a Twitter “novice” and he looks forward to future chats and to engaging with teachers online. If you missed the town hall, you can watch the archived video here, and you can see a more comprehensive list of questions and answers through ED’s Twitter page.

To keep up-to-date on all things ED, follow @ArneDuncan, @usedgov, @ED_Outreach, @EDPressSec on Twitter, or click here to see all of ED’s social media accounts.

Ensuring Technology Is Accessible for All Students

Schools across the country are taking steps to improve their learning models to include emerging technologies that our nation’s young people so heavily use.  The U.S. Department of Education recognizes that this initiative will better prepare students for success in college and their careers.  Now, we must ensure that the benefits of technology serve all students.

Last week, the Department and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) took another step toward the Obama administration’s dual goals of better serving the needs of the millions of Americans with disabilities, and increasing educational opportunities.  In two Dear Colleague Letters, one for Elementary/Secondary and one for Post Secondary, and a Frequently Asked Questions document (pdf), we explained the obligations of educational institutions that provide benefits to students through these technologies, and their responsibility to provide equal opportunity with all types of technology for students with disabilities.

This guidance serves as a follow-up to a letter OCR issued in collaboration with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice around the 20th anniversary of the ADA last summer.  In that guidance, our offices emphasized that not all electronic book readers have the functionality for students who are blind or have low vision. We notified colleges and university presidents of their obligation to provide equal opportunity to use such technology to students with disabilities or make appropriate accommodations or modifications when necessary.  Last week’s guidance stresses what information higher education institutions, as well as elementary and secondary schools, should consider upfront when deciding if technology is the best resource to provide effective instruction.

Under Secretary Duncan’s leadership, we are deeply committed to seeing that OCR enforces the rights of students, as well as the accessibility of all school programs under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Technology changes the landscape of how we interact and learn each day.  Through our collective efforts, we can ensure that all of our students are equipped to leverage it in hope of closing the achievement gap.

Read more from OCR in the original Dear Colleague Letter to higher ed institutions on the use of electronic book readers.

Russlynn Ali is the Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

National Online Teacher of the Year Spends a Day at ED

I recently had the rare opportunity to spend a full day shadowing Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.  It was a day absolutely crammed with meetings but also with deep learning.  As we ran from venue to venue, I wrote down the ideas and phrases that really resonated with me, hoping to not lose any of the great thoughts that are swirling around at ED—thoughts I want to come back to and explore further within my own practice.  I share some of these concepts below in the hopes that they will stretch your thinking too.  Perhaps they’re not the perfect answers but they’re a way to begin the conversation about the future of education and where innovation and research is needed.

The first concept I wrote down was that we need to “find a road between self-paced and a cohort model of online education.”  I had always thought about online education as an either-or proposition.  Either students are completely self-paced or they move together in a cohort model with other students at the same grade level.  However, perhaps it’s possible to create a vision for something in between.  What if students have a “learning positioning system” that guides their learning within a course?  It shows them which standards are their weaknesses and which tasks they need to complete in order to improve on those standards.  They come together with other students to focus on a particular concept and then move away from that group to other areas where they are weak.   This type of model could blend the strengths of a self-paced program (individualization and customized pacing) with the strengths of a cohort program (group projects and collaboration) in a way that’s truly unique for each student.  What a remarkable challenge for our future but also one that has immense potential for student learning.

From left to right: Myk Garn, Director of SREB Educational Technology Cooperative; Kristin Kipp; Karen Cator; and Matlea Parker, SREB Research Associate.

The second concept I wrote down was the idea of “differentiated roles within education.”  One of the things I love about my job is that I get to do it all.  I’m a fully online teacher who is involved in course design as well as working one on one with students, teaching whole group webinars, and customizing for each student’s needs.  Unfortunately I’m realizing that model won’t be scalable on a larger level.  Perhaps we need to consider allowing educators to differentiate their roles.  Some might focus on developing stellar courses.  Then other educators can focus on teaching those courses, modifying for the needs of each individual group of students.   In an increasingly specialized world, the future of education might hold even further specialization for teachers, leading to a completely new way of teaching and learning.

The final concept that I wrote down was the concept of a “teacher-heavy” online learning environment.  The term shocked me at first.  I had never considered myself to be in a “teacher-heavy” model.  Don’t all programs rely heavily on the teacher?  Unfortunately, some don’t.  I think that moving forward it’s a great lens to use in thinking about the quality of online education programs.  Those programs that are “teacher-heavy” a.k.a. have low teacher-student ratios, high teacher-student contact, and high individualization based on student needs are going to be those programs that have the highest level of success.  Students need good courses and good systems but they also need good teachers who are guiding their learning.

As I said, these ideas are just the beginning of the conversation.  I hope that we can work together to merge technology and high quality teaching, ultimately creating truly customized solutions for maximizing student success.

Kristin Kipp is the SREB/iNACOL National Online Teacher of the Year.  She teaches English for Jefferson County’s 21st Century Virtual Academy in Golden, Colorado.  Her blog can be found here.

Read the US Department of Education’s National Technology Education Plan.

Keeping Pace With The 21st Century

“Education reform and our global competitiveness depend on all of us embracing innovative ideas and technologies,” said Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller earlier today at the Educational Innovation and Technology Think Tank at Harvard University. Miller highlighted the fact that millions of American jobs are unfilled because employers can’t find qualified applicants, and the number could rise if our students aren’t prepared to work with technology in the 21st Century workforce.

Increasing the number of Americans who are earning college degrees is going to take an education transformation that relies on technology innovation and new business models.  President Obama made this case during his State of the Union address by noting that “we need to win the future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our global competition.”

Miller referenced the President’s call to win the future, and provided examples of how places of learning across the country are already using technology to save money, improve services, and connect teachers like never before.

Deputy Secretary Miller explained that the Department of Education, through initiatives like the National Education Technology Plan, is doing everything it can to embrace the transformative potential of technology and ensuring that educational environments offered to students keep pace with the 21st century.

Broadband Availability to U.S. Schools and Colleges

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education is providing a comprehensive picture of where broadband is available in schools and colleges across the country with a new interactive map released last week.  The map extends the National Broadband Map effort launched in February by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  The education broadband map can be viewed online at data.ed.gov.

Broadband holds the potential to address issues of educational access and equity of opportunity.  Broadband connections are the building blocks of a digital learning environment, where students and teachers have customizable digital learning resources at their fingertips, instead of one-text-fits-all print materials. Such digital tools greatly extend the quality and variety of materials available to support teaching and learning.  In these classrooms, broadband powers learning environments that respond to a student’s needs in real time and move aggressively to elevate achievement.  Quality broadband service also provides students in rural America the same online access to these digital resources as students in the heart of New York City.

Where exactly does the data for the interactive map come from? A nationwide understanding of broadband access in schools is now available through the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, a matching grant program that implements the joint purposes of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA) administered by the NTIA.  In less than one year, grantees performed two rounds of data collection from 3,400 broadband providers operating in states, representing more than 1,650 unique broadband companies nationally.  Grantees also surveyed broadband connectivity at community anchor institutions, which included schools, colleges, universities, libraries and community centers.

The conclusions from the data show that community anchor institutions are largely underserved. For example, based on an analysis by state education technology directors, most schools need a connection of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students. However, the data show that two-thirds of surveyed schools subscribe to speeds lower than 25 Mbps. In addition, only four percent of libraries reported subscribing to speeds greater than 25 Mbps.  To see which areas have quality access to a high-speed Internet connection and those that are reported underserved, visit the Education Broadband Map.

The Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan sets a goal that all students and teachers will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning, when and where they need it. Broadband access is a critical part of that infrastructure. This map shows best data to date and efforts will continue to gather better data and continually refresh the maps.

For additional information on this project, please see The National Broadband Map, Broadband Classroom, National Broadband Plan with Chapter 11: Education.

Karen Cator is Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.

Answering Questions About ED Tech

The National Education Technology Plan seeks to apply the advanced technologies used in our daily personal and professional lives to our entire education system to improve student learning, speed up the adoption of effective practices, and use data for continuous improvement.

Edutopia.org, a project of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, sought questions about the National ED Tech Plan from its Edutopia community for the Department of Education’s Director of the Office of Educational Technology Karen Cator to answer on YouTube.

Betty Ray, an Edutopia Community Manager said that:

“It’s extremely encouraging to hear Ms Cator speak so clearly about what it takes for the U.S. to remain competitive in the 21st century. She speaks in explicit terms about what technology can (and can’t!) do. She describes meaningful learning environments and outlines steps needed to get there. She acknowledges very real issues like disabilities and learning styles as well as privacy.”

You can read the National Education Technology Plan, and don’t hesitate to join the conversation in the comments below.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

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