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.

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.