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.  

Summer Seminar Gets Personal

Recently teachers from across the country participated in a summer seminar to grapple with an emerging hot topic in education:  how to personalize learning in a classroom full of diverse students with varying interests, skills and learning styles.

The seminar, held at the U.S. Department of Education and via webinar, included presenters who are current and former classroom teachers who offered both the theory and practical strategies for teachers interested in moving their classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Personalized Learning Video Image

Click to watch the second summer seminar on personalized learning.

ED’s Richard Culatta defined personalizing learning as a way if individualizing learning for each student in the room by adjusting the pace, adjusting the approach, and leveraging students’ individual interests and motivations. He presented examples of schools and programs to illustrate some of the ways these strategies are being used in schools to offer teachers, students and parents plenty of data and formative information that empowers them to create systems that adapt to meet each student’s learning needs.

STEM teacher Matt McCrea took participants through strategies he has used successfully when personalizing instruction for his middle school math and engineering classes.  While teaching math, for example, McCrea’s students checked a classroom computer board to see whether they would be working at a computer individually, engaging in a small group task, or reviewing concepts with a peer tutor, pairing with another student, or working with the teacher in a small group or one-on-one setting.

Special education teacher and technology specialist Patrick Ledesma discussed what teachers can do to prepare for personalizing learning and how teacher leaders can help other teachers in their school to design effective personalized learning.

One thing all of the presenters agreed on:  using technology to personalize learning does not reduce the need for an effective teacher in the classroom.  If anything, there is more of a need for teachers who know their students and engage with them, who plan effective lessons, seek out instructional resources, manage student behavior, monitor learning, and modify instruction.  It’s about “moving the teaching profession into the 21st century,” Ledesma said.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is an English teacher from North Carolina currently serving as the Teacher Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.

View the Summer Seminars—including Civil Rights in the Classroom and What Teachers Need to Know about Personalized Learning—and download the slide presentations.

Read the National Technology Plan or the Executive Summary.

Duncan Talks Tech at SXSWedu

Secretary Duncan speaks at SXSWedu

Secretary Duncan speaks at SXSWedu March 8, 2012. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

“The future of American education undoubtedly includes a laptop on every desk and universal internet access in every home,” Secretary Duncan said earlier today at SXSWedu (South by Southwest Education), in Austin, Texas. “But a great teacher at the front of the classroom will still make the biggest difference in the lives of our students.”

Duncan addressed a large audience of educators and tech entrepreneurs at the annual conference that focuses on innovations in learning. The Secretary spoke to the importance of technology in education, and noted that the Department of Education remains committed to doing “all we can at the federal level to support the use of technology.”

In 2010, ED issued a comprehensive Education Technology Plan to support the broader trends in education today. Elements of the plan include:

    • Aligning learning materials with the college- and career-ready standards that states have developed and adopted.
    • Engaging students by tailoring learning to their needs and interests and providing real-time information to teachers about student learning.
    • Connecting teachers with their peers so they can share learning materials and classroom strategies.
    • Building the infrastructure to support this learning environment and using technology to become more productive.

Duncan explained that technology has become essential to learning, not optional. He also reminded the audience that even if Beethoven would have had a computer, “the Fifth Symphony would still have come from the mysterious gray matter between his ears.”

Following Duncan’s speech at SXSWedu, he held a college affordability town hall at Austin Community College (watch here), and will hold a town hall with San Antonio’s Hispanic community later this evening.

Read more about the Department’s Education Technology Plan at the Office of Education Technology’s new website: www.ed.gov/technology, and read Secretary Duncan’s SXSWedu speech.

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.

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

Learning Powered by Technology

Today’s students graduate from high school and college facing a multitude of challenges. Increasingly, the progression and use of technology has resulted in a fluid and interconnected world, one in which new careers emerge overnight. While students entering the workforce ten years ago were accustomed to the idea of working multiple jobs in their lifetime, today’s graduates may have multiple careers. The focus of learning has shifted from basic skills and vocational training to something broader: students must learn how to learn.

Tomorrow’s graduates are growing up in a world where technology dominates various aspects of daily life, from social interaction to data analysis to professional advancement. Their education should reflect this reality, by better equipping them to interact with a digital world, and by using technology to drive student achievement, measure student progress, and create an individualized approach to learning that instills students with invaluable critical thinking skills.

In the spirit of these objectives, the US Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology (OET) is looking ahead to the launch of the 2010 National Education Technology Plan 1.0. This version will incorporate feedback from the draft released in March. This plan will provide a broad vision of learning powered by technology and outline critical actions to getting us there. In addition to the release of the NETP 1.0, expect to see biweekly blog posts on ed.gov related to the plan, the recommendations and the actions.

Also, you are encouraged to follow our postings on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Facebook page, as well as OET’s Twitter. We look forward to sharing our information and ideas with you and hearing what you think as well!

Karen Cator
Director of the Office of Education Technology
US Department of Education

The Learning Registry: A First Look

The federal government plans to make its educational resources much easier to find and use through a new Learning Registry.

The project will make federal learning resources, wherever they are stored, easier to find, easier to access and easier to integrate into learning environments around the country and world. The Learning Registry will enable teachers, students, parents, schools, governments, corporations and non-profits to build and access better, more interconnected and personalized learning solutions needed for a 21st century education.

The project will accomplish this goal by identifying and implementing existing technologies and interfaces, as well as exposing learning resources to search engines so they are easily discoverable. We want to ensure that innovators, educators and the general public can access these resources easily by enabling the development of learning solutions utilizing federal assets in new and unanticipated ways.

If the project is successful it will not only enable access to federal resources, but it could , lead to more consistent methods for accessing learning resources, regardless of source or provider. The end result will be a network of discoverable federal resources that can be used in a wide variety of applications, including textbooks, open educational resources, mobile applications and online learning products. We will invite other learning resource providers to participate in the network, so that students and teachers have access to effective resources from other sources as well.

Learn more about the Learning Registry