Ask Arne: Connecting All Schools to High Speed Internet

“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?” –President Obama, June 6, 2013

Last month, President Obama and Secretary Duncan traveled to Mooresville, North Carolina to announced ConnectED, an initiative to connect almost all schools to high-speed Internet. Following the announcement, Secretary Duncan spells out the vision in a blog post titled “Empowering Learners in the 21st Century.”

It’s a major move that doesn’t require Congress. Over 50 national education organizations have co-signed this letter of support for the ConnectED vision.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to pick his brain on ConnectED and his ideas about digital learning. (Spoiler alert: He likes Mooresville’s plan for phasing out buying physical textbooks, and reallocating those resources for technology-related investments.)


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

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. 

Duncan Highlights Power of Tech and Barriers to Overcome at The Cable Show

Cable Show 2013- Technology and Education Panel

Secretary Duncan is joined by John Danner, Co-founder & CEO of Zeal, David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation, Valyncia Hawkins, elementary school teacher, and moderator, Gloria Borger, CNN’s political analyst.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the final day of The Cable Show, the cable industry’s huge annual conference, along with Secretary Duncan and several other colleagues here at the Department. Secretary Duncan delivered the keynote speech and participated in a lively panel discussion addressing, among other things, the potential of technology to be a great equalizer in education. After highlighting technology’s promise, he described the vexing problem that stands in the way of realizing it: most of our nation’s schools don’t have fast enough Internet connections to create 21st century learning experiences using 21st century technology.

At its core, that’s what President Obama’s ConnectED initiative is all about: equipping our schools and our teachers with the tools they need to harness the power of technology to better serve our nation’s students.


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

Read Duncan’s speech and watch the full event, including Duncan’s speech and the ensuing panel conversation at The Cable Show.

Sujeet Rao is a special assistant in ED’s Office of Innovation & Improvement.

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.

Closing the Broadband Gap for Students and Teachers

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)

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)

Yesterday, President Obama and Secretary Duncan launched the ConnectED Initiative—a call to connect 99 percent of schools across the country to broadband Internet within five years. The President issued this challenge while visiting North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District, one of the most heralded examples of tech-infused education in the country. Mooresville, one of the lowest-funded districts in North Carolina, invested six years ago in a district-wide “digital conversion,” and has since leapfrogged to top of the state rankings.

The Internet is a powerful tool for putting engaging learning resources, on-demand explanations of concepts, and primary documents and tools for solving real-world problems into the hands of students and teachers. Yet today, most US schools lack the bandwidth to support using these digital learning resources in the classroom.

President Obama described fixing that problem as an essential step in the high-quality education that will keep America a leader in an increasingly competitive global economy.

“Today, the average American school has about the same bandwidth as the average American home, even though obviously there are 200 times as many people at school as there are at home,” the President said in Mooresville. “Only around 20 percent of our students have access to true high-speed Internet in their classroom. By comparison, South Korea has 100 percent of its kids with high-speed Internet. … In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?”

Because of those digital deficits, the learning experience in these schools is the most un-connected part of the day for many students and teachers. Without broadband access, students can be constrained by the limits of resources at their specific schools. Yesterday, the President has called on all of us to close that gap and ensure that all students and teachers—regardless of geography or income—can access the rich opportunities afforded by digital learning that the students and teachers from Mooresville have enjoyed.

But this is not just about cables and wires. As Mooresville superintendent Mark Edwards has explained, “It’s about changing the culture of instruction—preparing students for their future, not our past.” Ensuring connectivity in the hands of students and teachers is a catalyst for reimagining the learning experience itself by enabling personalized learning and connectivity to experts.

“Imagine a young girl growing up on a farm in a rural area who can now take an AP biology or AP physics class, even if her school is too small to offer it,” President Obama said in his Mooresville remarks. “Imagine a young boy with a chronic illness that means he can’t go to school, but now he can join his classmates via Skype or FaceTime and fully participate in what’s going on.”

The ConnectED initiative will also invest in improving the skills of teachers, ensuring that every educator in America receives support and training to use technology to help improve student outcomes. The Department of Education will work with states and school districts to better use existing funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to strategically invest in professional development to help teachers keep pace with changing technological and professional demands.

The following are the key elements of the ConnectED initiative outlined by the President:

  • Upgraded Connectivity: Within five years, connect 99 percent of America’s students and teachers to broadband and high-speed wireless at speeds no less than 100 Mbps. The President called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to immediately modernize and leverage the existing E-Rate program, and leverage the expertise of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to deliver this connectivity to states, districts, and schools.
  • Trained Teachers: The ConnectED initiative will invest in improving the skills of teachers, ensuring that every educator in America receives support and training to use technology to help improve student outcomes. The Department of Education will work with states and school districts to better use existing funds through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to strategically invest in professional development that supports teachers to provide a technology-enabled education to their students.
  • Build on Private-Sector Innovation: These investments will allow our teachers and students to take full advantage of feature-rich educational devices that are increasingly price-competitive with basic textbooks and high-quality educational software providing content aligned with college- and career-ready standards being adopted and implemented by states across America.

Today’s teachers face the responsibility of preparing students to thrive in a world of ever-rising expectations and an ever-widening pool of international competition for jobs. In response to the widely recognized need for increased rigor, 46 states and the District of Columbia are currently in the process of transitioning to new, college- and career-ready standards. We can’t afford to deny teachers the tech-supported teaching tools they need to ensure that students achieve to these standards and do their best work every day.

As Secretary Duncan put it to reporters aboard Air Force One yesterday, technology is “a game changer” that empowers students and helps teachers. “Teachers can collaborate across the country with their peers. They can individualize instruction in ways that just hasn’t been able to happen historically… If we can invest to create access to high-speed broadband, we open up a new world of educational opportunity.”

Richard Culatta is the acting director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Technology Gives Students with Disabilities Access to College Courses

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Program Coordinator Jennifer Lang-Jolliff (green sweater) speaks about Mission Middle College program with guest Michael Yudin, seated on right.

Last week, I met with a group of high school students with learning disabilities who attend a dual-enrollment high school/college program at Mission Middle College in Santa Clara, California. The program emphasizes the use of technology, including the Bookshare accessible library, to help students earn college credit while still in high school.

The Mission Middle College educational program is a collaboration of Santa Clara Unified School District and Mission Community College. The program takes on a student-centered learning environment where seniors can complete required high school courses while accumulating college credits. Each student focuses on individual educational choices and academic and vocational studies relevant to future goals. The idea is to provide learning choices and empowerment for students.  The program is inclusive of all students, with or without a disability.

Some of the students have print and learning disabilities that impede their ability to easily read and comprehend grade-level text and complex curricula in print. Many of these students felt stuck and considered dropping out of school. Their instructors believe in every student’s learning potential and set high expectations. They teach students first to choose appropriate reading technologies for their learning needs, and then to find the reading assignments in digital accessible format, such as DAISY text and DAISY audio.

“We expect high standards from all students,” said Jennifer Lang-Jolliff, the Program Coordinator at Mission Middle College. “And we provide them with the instruction, tools, and resources to rise to the challenge of learning rigorous curriculum. Individualized instruction and timely access to curriculum in digital formats enable many students to feel more confident and prepared. Our high expectations and the e-literacy services available to students helped to shift their views of themselves personally and academically. They see their way through to college, community service, and good careers.”

Indeed, I was pleased to learn that starting with the graduating class of 2009, 100% of graduates at Mission Middle College had a viable postsecondary plan that included a college or university. This is right in line with President Obama’s key goal of being first in the world in college completion by 2020, and Mission Middle College is helping America meet that goal.

The students at Mission Middle College with print disabilities (including visual impairments, physical disabilities, and severe learning disabilities) are empowered to find the right assistive technology, computer software application, or device to help them achieve academically.

yudin1

A senior demonstrates technology for Michael Yudin (center) and Benetech’s GM, Betsy Beaumon (standing). Kate Finnerty observes the tech demo.

The students I met are members of Bookshare, a free and federally funded online library from the U.S. Department of Education. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. Bookshare provides timely access to curriculum in digital formats and offers a large collection of eBooks (currently over 190,000 books and growing) as well as reading technologies to enable students to experience multimodal learning—the ability to see and hear text read aloud.

I met Kate Finnerty, a high school senior with dyslexia, who qualifies for Bookshare. Kate has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that requires technology accommodations to aid her in her studies. She told me, “The library is very helpful. I use it to keep up with reading and research. Without it, I would have fallen behind.”  Kate is pursuing graphic design—she received acceptance letters from five U.S. colleges!

During the roundtable discussion, students, educators, parents, and administrators explored how Mission Middle College’s use of assistive technologies (AT) helps each student face their learning challenges with individualized approaches, which include digital books and reading technologies. Roundtable takeaways include:

  • The emphasis on self-advocacy. The students set clear goals and high expectations for their future.
  • Teachers give each student individualized attention, creating plans for their future and how to get there.
  • Students who qualify with print disabilities can receive timely access to curriculum and feel more independent and empowered in the reading process through Bookshare and the AT it provides.
  • Many of the students will be doing internships at Benetech this summer and will get work-based experience that will help prepare them for college and career.
  • Technologies can deliver flexible instruction based on learning needs and preferences, including multimodal reading (to see and hear text aloud) that may unlock the reader’s ability to decode words and more fully comprehend information.

Programs like this at Mission Middle College are about making sure every student graduates from high school and is college and career ready. Students who once had to wait for books now receive timely access to the curriculum in alternative formats. Many activities are streamlined for students who may not fit traditional models, and those who once felt like academic failures are now completing high school courses and are on track to college.

I often speak about the broad values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity for youth with disabilities to actively participate in all aspects of school and life. Programs like that of Mission Middle College, which use assistive technologies and digital accessible books provided by Bookshare, are truly models for others. They promote high academic standards for all, enabling more students to be college and career ready.

Michael Yudin is acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.  

Back to School During Teacher Appreciation Week

ed goes back to school

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited DC Prep’s Benning Elementary Campus faculty and students, as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

As part of our celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), more than 65 ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” shadowing teachers and experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a day in the classroom. Our team had a unique opportunity to hear about ways the Department can provide greater support for teachers’ work and better understand the demands placed upon them.

Each ED official was assigned to shadow one teacher at various institutions in 13 states and the District of Columbia including; early childhood, K-12, special education, adult learning and English learning programs. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned. ED officials benefit greatly from this experience and it helps to inform their work throughout the Department.

Our team had high praise for the teachers they shadowed. Senior Advisor Jo Anderson, visiting second-grade teacher Nicole Lebedeff at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. compared her teaching style to that of a “symphony conductor” and called the way she managed her classroom a “work of art.” Special Assistant on Early Learning Steven Hicks was impressed with the social and emotional development of the young students at DC Prep, a charter school network with campuses in Northeast Washington D.C., and Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert was surprised at the advanced level of the curriculum being taught in Riverside Elementary School classes in Alexandria, Va.

newtech

Veteran English teacher Linda Golston makes writing lessons engaging for sophomores by harnessing students’ individual passions and 21st century technology at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary Community Schools Corporation. Photo courtesy of Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

Outside of the D.C. area, Diana Huffman from ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) in Denver, visited preschool teacher Cindy Maul at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., and said, “I wish every child in America had the opportunity to be with this woman.  Her interaction with the kids was so in tune with them.”

Julie Ewart of ED’s communications office in Chicago, praised the way veteran English teacher Linda Golston harnesses students’ individual passions to make writing lessons engaging at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary public schools in northwest Indiana. “I was not a good student last year, but now I’m an honors student,” said sophomore Charles Jones, who credits his improvement to Golston’s classwork that “relates to the real world.”

At the end-of-day wrap up discussion, Secretary Duncan asked the teachers what they would like him to know about what is working and what’s not. The teachers offered honest feedback, including:

  • One teacher thanked him for the recently released blueprint for the RESPECT plan (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) – the result of an unprecedented national dialogue for reforming and elevating the teaching profession.  She said that it accurately reflected the concerns and needs of teachers. The RESPECT blueprint calls for teacher salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law; more support for novice teachers; and more career opportunities for veteran teachers.
  • Several other teachers expressed support for President Obama’s commitment to investing in early learning because a lot of students are coming into kindergarten behind the mark. Building on the state investments in preschool programs, the President is proposing $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds.
  • Teachers from all grade levels also expressed concerns about the frequency and content of testing, state implementation of the new college and career ready standards, parental engagement and how to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.
  • One high school teacher said that we must help students and parents understand that education is the most important tool for social mobility and success in college and career in a global society.

As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week 2013, we should make a commitment to remember all year long that our teachers need and deserve our support in transforming America’s schools.

Read Secretary Duncan’s.“More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast,” on the need to support teachers year round.

 Elaine Quesinberry is a Public Affairs Specialist and Media Relations at the U.S. Department of Education.

Games Win Big in Education Grants Competition

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog.

“I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create… educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up.” - President Obama, March 2011 

ostp-ed-games graphicToday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the final winners of this year’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract awards—funds that are reserved for entrepreneurial small businesses using cutting-edge R&D to develop commercially viable technologies to solve tough problems.  And there’s something that may surprise you about the winning contracts: More than half—or 12 in all—are for games and game-related projects, more than in any previous year. That says a lot about the increasingly creative field of educational games, and the growing base of evidence indicating that games can be an important and effective component of our strategy to prepare a highly skilled 21st century American workforce.

The SBIR program at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the Department of Education’s research division, provides up to $1.05 million to small businesses for the R&D of commercially viable education technology products. The program holds an annual competition and awards funds in several phases: Phase I awards, up to $150,000 for 6 months, allow for the development of a prototype and research to demonstrate its functionality and feasibility; and Phase II awards, up to $900,000 for 2 years, are for full-scale development of the product, iterative research to refine it, and a pilot study to demonstrate its usability, feasibility, and promise. A small number of Fast Track awards are made each year for funds to cover work in both Phase I and Phase II.

This year’s prominent success of games-related proposals reflects three factors. First, the IES SBIR program has gained a reputation for recognizing and supporting—and so increasingly, attracting—bold innovators such as Filament Games (winner of the National STEM Video Game Challenge in 2011), Sokikom (winner of several industry awards and recent recipient of $1M in angel funding), and Triad Interactive Media (winner of a 2013 SIIA CODiE award). Second, educators are increasingly learning to use games to motivate students in new ways, creating increased demand for new ideas and products in this sector. Third, the recent meteoric rise in popularity of mobile devices has enabled game-playing anywhere and at any time, providing an expanded market of players interested in purchasing education titles.

This year’s SBIR games winners share several themes:

  • Most include an adaptive component that auto-adjusts the game difficulty to the competency level of the player.
  • Several use story-based narratives to engage students.
  •  Most include rewards and competition to drive game play.
  • Most include a teaching component that supports the implementation of the game as a supplement to or replacement for standard instructional practice.
  • Several include teacher dashboards, where formative assessment results are provided to the teacher in real-time to inform them of player status for further instruction and remediation.

The winning 2013 IES SBIR awards for games this year are:

Phase I

Phase II                                                               

Fast Track (Phase I & II)

Information about other awards can be found here.

Congratulations to all the winners and we can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

Mark DeLoura is Senior Advisor for Digital Media at OSTP

Edward Metz is a developmental psychologist and Director of the Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.

Rural Teachers Turn to Tech to Support Teaching and Learning

Inside a classroom at Chantry Elementary School in the small town of Malvern, Iowa, four 1st grade students are gathered around a table facing Becky Curtis. She is teaching them to read.

It appears to be a traditional reading intervention class. However, they are not alone.

A state away in Omaha, Neb., Mrs. Patty Smith is observing the small group via WebEx software and a webcam on an open laptop sitting on a table behind the students. Occasionally Mrs. Smith speaks with Ms. Curtis through a small listening device. The technology is allowing Mrs. Smith to communicate, see and hear the students’ responses and their teacher’s instruction.

Children ReadingThey are part of Project READERS, a large-scale distance coaching study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). UNL is using technology to connect trained coaches with more than 200 teachers in over 40 rural schools in eight states, where reading-support experts would not be available otherwise.

Ms. Curtis is a special education teacher who volunteered for the professional development project to improve her skills and serve as a reading intervention specialist.

As they begin to read a story together, the students are hanging on their teacher’s every word, using their fingers to point and decode letters, repeating words, blending sounds, and improving their phonemic awareness.

Ms. Curtis is working with precision, making sure her pupils can hear patterns and the rhythm of stressed and unstressed pieces of compound words. They identify and repeat the smallest units of sound.

When incorrect, the students and Ms. Curtis repeat and persist until the sounds are exactly right.

This rural education R&D, using a high-speed broadband connection, appears less intrusive than traditional coaching with an additional teacher physically in the classroom. At no point is Ms. Curtis competing for her students’ attention.

UNL is investigating the effects of distance coaching using technology on rural teachers’ knowledge, practice and student outcomes. Early elementary school teachers also learn and apply methods for collecting and using data to make instructional decisions.

The large-scale study is part of work conducted at UNL’s National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed), which is funded by a five-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.

Near the end of class, Ms. Curtis bursts into laughter, unable to contain the private conversation she is having with Mrs. Smith about her students and their responses to her instruction.

The children immediately log-in, asking “What did she say? What did she say?” With a smile on her face, Ms. Curtis removes her hand from her mouth to tell her students, “She said I was awesome you guys!”

There are high-fives all around as Ms. Curtis tells her students how well they were reading. Before class ends, Ms. Curtis unplugs her ear-bud from the laptop and asks the students to turn to face Mrs. Smith for a quick debrief conversation.

Their time is up and class ends for the day. As the children run from the room, it is obvious their secret is out.

From Omaha to Malvern they’re all learning together.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Youth Succeed with Great Educators, Help from ED

Think back to that moment when you decided to pursue your dream. Who influenced your decision? A mentor? A parent? Or maybe a friend? For many people, their moment was sparked by an educator.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education (ED) welcomed four individuals to participate in an ‘ED Youth Voices’ panel discussion that introduced students, teachers, and communities to the policies and programs that the four youth credit with helping them succeed.

Let us introduce you to these inspiring individuals:

Student speaking

Linda Moktoi, senior at Trinity Washington University

Meet Linda Moktoi. As a current senior at Trinity Washington University, Moktoi is proud to say she’ll be achieving her dream of graduating college in just a few short weeks.  “I chose to pursue knowledge over ignorance,” she said. Moktoi did so with the financial support provided by Pell Grants from ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Moktoi’s grace, confidence, and determination shined through and will no doubt lead her to succeeding her next dream of becoming a news broadcaster.

 

 

Student speaking about GEAR UP program

Nicholas Robinson, junior at Potomac High School

Meet Nicholas Robinson. An enthusiastic junior at Potomac High School (Oxon Hill, Md.), spoke of how the early awareness college prep program GEAR UP, changed his “mind & heart” in 8th grade about whether to go to college. “Before I got involved in GEAR UP, I didn’t think I was going to college, but they were always asking me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be.” That extra support and guidance has helped Nicholas stay on track to graduate and focus on his future goals.

 

Educator speaking about IDEA Act

Scott Wilburn, teacher at Pulley Career Center

Meet Scott Wilbur. As a current teacher and former student that struggled with learning disabilities, Wilbur shed light on how programs funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helped him as a student and continues to help him serve others with disabilities as a teacher at the Pulley Career Center in Alexandria, Va. “IDEA provided me with access to support, helped me graduate college,” Wilbur said. Each year the IDEA Act helps thousands of students with disabilities receive support to assure success in the classroom and that they have the tools needed for employment and independent living in the future.

Student speaking about School Improvement Grants

Carl Mitchell, senior at Frederick Douglass High School

Meet Carl Mitchell. Carl is just one of the many students that have benefited from the recent changes at Frederick Douglass High School spurred in part by an ED School Improvement Grant (SIG) which has helped turnaround their school and provide a better learning environment for students. Mitchell, a bright college bound senior who also doubles as the school mascot (Go Mighty Ducks!), attested to the sense of community that is fostered at Frederick Douglass. When asked what motivates him, he responded by saying “It’s not just about getting the degree for me, it’s for all the people that helped me. I owe them and don’t want to let them down.” An aspiring graphic designer, Mitchell will be the first in his family to attend college. His support team, including his principal, teachers, and peers joined him at ED as he proudly represented the Douglass community.

Linda, Nicholas, Scott, and Carl are just four of the millions of students and educators that are able to achieve their dreams with the help of great educators and federal programs from the Department of Education. Little do these individuals know though, that by sharing their story they are following in the footsteps of those who inspired them, and are inspiring us.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Our next ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session will include students reforming education at the local level: teacher evaluations, DREAM act, school safety and more. Watch the session live on June 27th from 10-11:30am at edstream.ed.gov. 

Cloudy With a Chance of Data

Recently, a lot of people have been talking about cloud computing and asking what it means to store student information in the cloud.  Unfortunately, confusion and misunderstanding can sometimes cloud the issue (pun intended).  In order to understand the potential risks and opportunities, we should take a minute to understand what it actually means to put data “in the cloud”.

Online systems are powered by computers called servers.  In the past, servers were generally located in the same physical vicinity as the people using them. Email servers were stored somewhere near the office where the users worked; student information system servers were stored somewhere in the school or district where the students attended. As demand for online tools increased and tolerance for “down time” decreased, the requirements for storing (or hosting) web servers became increasingly complex.

Row of web servers

Row of web servers in a large data center.

Fortunately, as network speeds have increased, data can travel faster and web servers no longer need to be stored in close physical proximity to the users in order to have access to the data. This allows the creation of remote hosting centers that can be designed specifically to meet the requirements of storing web servers for schools and districts. Since servers for multiple schools and districts can be stored in the same data center, the cost to each district could be reduced even while adding features (cooling, power, backups, physical security, etc.).  The concept of hosting web servers in shared data centers became known as “cloud storage”. Server rooms needed special cooling systems, backup generators, and redundant internet connections. In addition as more and more data began to be stored digitally, increased physical security was needed to guard against unauthorized access to the server room.  Meeting these demands added an enormous burden to district IT budgets – not to mention increased space requirements in buildings that were already overcrowded.

It is important to note that the co-location of servers for multiple schools in a single data center is not the same as comingling the student information into a single database. This may be the most widely misunderstood concept about storing student data in the cloud. Think about how email works. An email account is hosted in a remote “cloud” data center along with thousands of other email accounts. But just because our email accounts “live” in the same data center does not mean that I can read someone else’s email or vice versa.  Along the same lines, organizations that provide cloud data solutions for schools would not be able to amass a single database of student data or allow unauthorized individuals to access that data without violating privacy laws and the terms of contracts with school districts on which they depend.

Whenever student data is being stored—whether on paper, on servers in the back room of a school building, or “in the cloud”—security, privacy and other legal and operational issues must always be addressed. While specially–built data centers can offer additional physical and digital protections for student data, appropriate credentialing requirements, audit trails, and access controls must always be in place. In addition, state or federal laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) may apply. Check out this blog post by our Chief Privacy Officer for answers to common questions about privacy in the cloud.

We encourage parents and students who want more information on how their schools employ cloud computing to contact their schools directly. It’s important for everyone to stay informed about how data is being protected and how student data is being used to improve the learning experience.

Richard Culatta is the Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Bridging the School-Community Divide in Digital Learning

Michael Robbins at SXSWedu

ED’s Michael Robbins led a session on digital learning and collective impact in education at this year’s SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Instagram user chbrenchley.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at SXSWedu – a national education convening leading up to the South by Southwest festivals and conferences in Austin, TX. What began three years ago as a handful of education-focused sessions at SXSW Interactive has grown into an inspiring and informative gathering of over 4,000 participants from across the world.

Jeff Edmondson, the managing director of Strive, and I led a session on digital learning and collective impact in education – how technology can improve how schools, families, and communities collaborate to advance student engagement and learning. The power of technology to transform education was a major theme at SXSWedu, but the discussions in Austin underscored my concerns about how K-12 digital learning transitions are evolving.

Many conversations were intensely focused on technology to support school-based initiatives, but missing attention on how digital learning should connect students to their passions, peers, communities, and careers. We will miss essential opportunities to transform schools if transitions primarily create digital versions of traditional analog education processes – trading textbooks for tablets and paper files for databases.

At the other end of the spectrum were SXSWedu sessions on learning outside of schools, many of which approached schools as hurdles to be overcome instead of partners in learning. Frustrated by the slow pace of change, efforts like the maker movement and open badges have chosen to move ahead outside  K-12 institutions and bureaucracies. Despite significant advancements, most of these are on the sidelines of school district digital learning transitions, more likely to be the subject of TED talks than digital curricula or school turnaround plans.

Students and families are mostly left to themselves to connect the dots between school-based and non-school learning. The students most disadvantaged by these silos are ones already facing the greatest challenges inside and outside the classroom, and they could benefit the most from the digital learning that transcends the school-community divide. Partnerships between schools, families, and community-based organizations are an important way to bridge this divide, and ensure the success and sustainability of digital learning transitions.

I’ll be facilitating conversations to delve deeper into these issues as part of a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) that begins April 8 – advancing the Department’s efforts through Epic-ed to support digital learning transitions. Please join us for the MOOC to share your ideas on partnerships among schools, districts, teachers, community organizations, education technology companies, families, and others to ensure the digital learning revolution propels engagement and achievement for all students.

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Community Partnerships for the Digital Learning Revolution

I wasn’t surprised to learn that my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama –The Rocket City – has launched one of the largest school district transitions to digital learning in the nation. I recently visited Huntsville to learn from their experience, and my conversations there reinforced for me that community and family partnerships are essential for the success of digital learning. We have unprecedented investment in education technology, but we don’t yet have the corresponding developments in partnerships to help transitions to digital learning succeed.

Boy with tablet deviceCommunity partnerships are key to realizing a digital learning revolution that is more than trading textbooks for tablets. This is an inflection point in education – a critical opportunity to transform how schools, parents, and community-based organizations collaborate to ignite student curiosity and engagement in learning.

Community and family partnerships can also reduce the possibility that digital learning transitions will exacerbate achievement gaps. Students that face the greatest challenges in and outside school need comprehensive supports to evolve so that digital learning doesn’t further disadvantage them.

Our community organizations, including faith-based organizations, have tremendous opportunities to support and shape the digital learning transition through four key areas of collaboration:

    • Expanding access and digital literacy;
    • Bridging between schools, families, and communities;
    • Service and volunteering in education; and
    • Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning.

Expanding access and digital literacy.

Many students don’t have access outside school to computers, broadband connections, and basic technical support. The Obama Administration is working with a public-private partnership called Connect2Compete to expand low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy instruction to low-income families.  Connect2Compete is building a network of local community partners, and community organizations can go here to learn more and link up with their efforts.

Bridging between schools, families, and communities.

Community and faith organizations can bridge the gap between home and school with their strong connections to families. Internet-based student data and learning management systems can improve collaboration between teachers, families, and community partners. Community-based organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, a Together for Tomorrow challenge winner, are using joint data systems with schools to focus student support services where they have the greatest impact.

A new report from the Department on Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, highlights the need for more efforts that connect community partners with school data systems. The report emphasizes that “young people learn and develop in a wide range of settings,” and we need to better use data “to support the full range of student needs and interests—both inside and outside schools and classrooms—to improve learning outcomes.”

Service and volunteering in education.

Digital learning systems are making it possible for partners to assist students using lessons developed by educators that are aligned with the school curriculum. This is expanding the range of volunteers that are confident and effective at assisting students inside and outside the classroom. Service and volunteer partners can also advance student learning through digital tools such as remote connections into classrooms, Open Education Resources, and internet-connected real-world experiences.

Digital partnerships aren’t limited to academic assistance, and can boost other key student outcomes.  iMentor is using digital learning to improve student behavior and increase college access. Their internet-based systems help train and support adult volunteers, who mentor students both virtually and in-person.

Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning

Digital learning partnerships can help community-based organizations transform American education by expanding learning beyond the classroom. “Anytime-anywhere learning” is a key goal in our education technology plan and schools can’t accomplish this goal alone. Schools can partner with community-based initiatives like the HIVE Learning Networks that use new technologies and media to better connect students to their interests, aspirations, communities, and careers.

Community partners are using digital badges to change how and where students earn academic credit. For example, the Providence After School Alliance is developing digital badges as a central component of their credit-bearing afterschool and internship programs.

Getting started with digital learning partnerships.

The Department is participating in Digital Learning Day on February 6. Community organizations can learn more and jumpstart their digital learning partnerships at digitallearningday.org.

There are valuable information resources at our Office of Education Technology web page and Epic-ed, our initiative to support digital learning transitions. If you are already part of a digital learning partnership, share your examples on our Facebook page at facebook.com/edpartners.

The guidebooks on community partnerships and digital learning are yet to be written, so it is vital that community partners, families, schools, and education technology initiatives work together to develop their pathways to digital learning partnerships. Together we can ensure that digital learning boosts engagement and learning for all of our students. Education technology can help us create a community culture of education success, where everyone sees education as his or her responsibility, and there are clear and compelling pathways to assist.

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education