US Secretary of Ed Question #4: Govt. Role in Educational Technology

4. What should be the federal government's role in supporting the use of technology in our educational system?

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Note: This is the fourth of four questions being posted. For those in the U.S., Secretary Spellings has asked for ideas on the integration of technology in education. There is a form on the ed.gov site, but no ability to dialog or even leave your contact information if you fill it out. Therefore, I have created a forum thread for each of Secretary Spellings' questions, and propose that we discuss them here and invite her office to view the dialog on this website and even participate. This is a terrific opportunity to not only respond but to also show the benefit of Web 2.0 technology in addressing this kind of issue.

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The Federal Government has a HUGE role and makes a GIANT difference in the effectiveness of the use of technology in schools. The Federal Government can assist in these ways:

1. By setting the agenda-IF the agenda is to increase standardized test scores-like the NCLB agenda it will destroy the use of technology for teaching. The Federal Government can set an agenda that involves learning foreign languages, global awareness, project based learning.

2. By focusing fiscal decisions in ways that encourage effective use of technology.

3. By supporting states as they attempt to support school districts that are using technology effectively. So many states have NO $$$ budgeted for technology. The ONLY money comes from the federal government.
Perhaps one of the ways the federal government can help in supporting the use of technology in our educational system, is to help create and standardize assessments that include technology. Digital natives with access to the Internet are comfortable using technology to write, create, dream and access information (see MySpace, Facebook, Webkinz, and RuneScape). Assessments created in digital formats can be created in a way that makes sure they address standards and challenge even the most capable learner. Made available to parents and educators they can be used to capture a classroom, a culture and a community. It is difficult, in my opinion, to be able to capture the ability of every student and every learner in a standard format. States that take the time to form and implement digital assessments are taking the opportunity to address the needs of digital natives in their own language. The evaluation of these assessments, especially when used in conjunction with individual portfolios, can help students take control of their own learning and help teachers address their needs.

More importantly, in a digital world, where there is access to digital media, and where we have the ability to document our own learning process, why don't we? Having access to this data allows us the ability to target and address areas where we see deficiencies. Is it more difficult to grade an assessment that is multi-layered, uses technology and is project based? I don't think so. When designed well, assessments should provide an overall picture of a student learner. 21st century skills (as defined by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills) can be monitored in various ways. Formative and Summative assessments are still very important to the learning process in terms of understanding what knowledge and skills a student has obtained. Addressing assessments and leading the way for assessments to take on different forms is one way the federal government can help make a difference in the use of technology in education today.

Another way the federal government can support the use of technology in our educational system is to ask states to provide individualized education plans, used today in addressing children with special needs, for all learners. This plan has been used in addressing needs of students and has proven successful. It ensures accountability in that every learner needs to show progress throughout their educational career. The task of evaluating individual student progress is made arduous in an institution where students spend 10 months in one classroom, 2 months out of school, 10 months in another classroom, and so on so instituting mandatory looping/or and other strategies would be one way to address this.

Government also has the ability to shape instructional technology by mandating that educational programs in universities include instructional technology education coursework. In many areas colleges have created their own educational technology programs. First, the amount of coursework mandates a 36 credit course because of the nature of how much technology is learned in these programs and how much research there is on technology and its uses in the classroom. Secondly, in order to ensure the integrity of an educational technology program, members of these department are protective of their coursework. But educational technology does not stand apart from an educational program in terms of instruction. Educational technology is all about instruction. Teachers are graduating education programs with a 3 credit course on how to use technology but most lack confidence in application of these strategies in the classroom. Professional development, for those districts able to afford it, can only go so far. Educational programs at the university level need to be revamped if we are to see a large impact of technology in instruction.

It is a difficult task, to determine what the federal government's role in supporting the use of technology in our educational system when the governance of schools is held by local government. In some cases, funding for technology initiatives like eRate, have left schools dependent on federal funding. In others, progress would have been impossible without it. In terms of equity eRate has afforded even the most remote areas of the U.S. access to the world. Keeping initiatives like eRate alive is one way the federal government has supported and continues to support technology in education.

Without standardization, we see that the lack of some state departments to address technology in schools has left some states more advanced in its use than others. Concerning monies, In some districts technology initiatives may have little impact because the total cost of ownership of these initiatives isn't usually addressed. In order to sustain technology programs you need more support than a one year budget will afford you. When the operability of schools is dependent on monies that they are not sure they'll have in the coming year, this can prove a huge challenge to the implementation of effective technology practices. When you look at the impact of technology in education it is difficult to give recommendations when the overall effect of every suggestion goes beyond impacting instruction. There are issues to address financially. Only through policy, procedure, trial and error will the federal government be able to support technology in schools effectively. One would think that using the technologies available today we should be able to come up with a strategy, that both state, local and federal governments can agree upon.

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