A Glimpse at the 2010 National Education Technology Plan

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, released the National Education Technology Plan, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology, on November 9, 2010. The plan is presented as “A Model of Learning Powered by Technology,” which is divided into five “essential areas”: Learning: Engage and Empower, Assessment: Measure What Matters, Teaching: Prepare and Connect, Infrastructure: Access and Enable, Productivity: Redesign and Transform. Excerpts from each of these areas are presented below to provide a general overview of the model.

After a quick review of the executive summary, I was left with a number of questions: Does this plan, this model, provide the vision that the U.S. needs to strengthen its educational systems? Is it based on an accurate assessment and projection of the state of technology in the world and in education? Does it logically and clearly point the way to the best possible use of technology in education? Following the excerpts, I present some of my preliminary reactions to these questions.

Excerpts from the Five Areas

Learning: Engage and Empower – The model of learning described in this plan calls for engaging and empowering learning experiences for all learners. The model asks that we focus what and how we teach to match what people need to know, how they learn, where and when they will learn, and who needs to learn…. Many students’ lives today are filled with technology that gives them mobile access to information and resources 24/7, enables them to create multimedia content and share it with the world, and allows them to participate in online social networks where people from all over the world share ideas, collaborate, and learn new things…. The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures. (x)

Productivity: Redesign and Transform – We must rethink basic assumptions and redesign our education system…. One of the most basic assumptions in our education system is time-based or “seat-time” measures of educational attainment. These measures were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s to smooth transitions from K–12 into higher education by translating high school work to college admissions offices (Shedd 2003) and made their way into higher education when institutions began moving away from standardized curricula…. Another basic assumption is the way we organize students into age-determined groups, structure separate academic disciplines, organize learning into classes of roughly equal size with all the students in a particular class receiving the same content at the same pace, and keep these groups in place all year. (xiv)

Infrastructure: Access and Enable – An essential component of the learning model is a comprehensive infrastructure for learning that provides every student, educator, and level of our education system with the resources they need when and where they are needed. The underlying principle is that infrastructure includes people, processes, learning resources, policies, and sustainable models for continuous improvement in addition to broadband connectivity, servers, software, management systems, and administration tools. (xiii)

Teaching: Prepare and Connect – The model of learning calls for using technology to help build the capacity of educators by enabling a shift to a model of connected teaching. In such a teaching model, teams of connected educators replace solo practitioners, classrooms are fully connected to provide educators with 24/7 access to data and analytic tools, and educators have access to resources that help them act on the insights the data provide…. In connected teaching, teaching is a team activity. Individual educators build online learning communities consisting of their students and their students’ peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and after-school programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children’s education. (xii)

Assessment: Measure What Matters – The model of learning requires new and better ways to measure what matters, diagnose strengths and weaknesses in the course of learning when there is still time to improve student performance, and involve multiple stakeholders in the process of designing, conducting, and using assessment. In all these activities, technology-based assessments can provide data to drive decisions on the basis of what is best for each and every student and that, in aggregate, will lead to continuous improvement across our entire education system. (xi)

Preliminary Reactions to the Plan

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the plan turns on the one area that effectively immobilizes innovation – outcome assessments. And the model for this measurement-based hub is industry:

Education has not incorporated many of the practices other sectors regularly use to measure outcomes, manage costs, and improve productivity, a number of which are enabled or enhanced by technology. As other sectors have learned, we are unlikely to improve outcomes and productivity until we define and start measuring them. This starts with identifying what we seek to measure. It also requires identifying costs associated with components of our education system and with individual resources and activities so that the ratio of outcomes to costs can be tracked over time. (xx) [highlight added]

Furthermore, the essential role of technology in this model is also assessment, described in words that take us back to the early 20th century principles of scientific management:

We must apply technology to implement personalized learning and ensure that students are making appropriate progress through our P–16 system so they graduate…. We must leverage technology to plan, manage, monitor, and report spending to provide decision-makers with a reliable, accurate, and complete view of the financial performance of our education system at all levels. (xiv)

Thus, despite the inclusion of the latest buzzwords such as “online learning communities,” “engaging and empowering learning experiences,” “online social networks,” “24/7” connectedness, technological alternatives to “1800s and early 1900s” practices, “a comprehensive infrastructure for learning,” “21st-century competencies and expertise, such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, multimedia communication, and technological competencies,” the plan is held in check by bean-counting, the bureaucrat’s answer to change, innovation, reform. With this emphasis, I can’t help but think that the only viable implementations will be those that are patterned after Michelle Rhee’s.

Finally, regarding online learning, the plan continues to view it as simply an extreme variation, a poor cousin, of blended learning:

As online learning becomes an increasingly important part of our education system, we need to provide online and blended learning experiences that are more participatory and personalized and that embody best practices for engaging all students. (xix)

With this limited perception of completely online learning, we can rest assured that brick and mortar-based practices will continue to anchor institutional change, negating the innovative possibilities of the virtual learning environment.

15 Responses

  1. One of my favorite things about the 2010 Nat’l Ed Tech Plan is the section on improved approaches to assessment. The document features a bunch of great real life cases of technology being used to facilitate assessments that go well beyond the traditional test based approaches. I wrote this article which reviews a number of these back in September: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2010/09/5-examples-of-improved-approaches-to-assessment-from-the-2010-netp-draft/. I hope readers find this informative.

    • Kelly,

      I had not seen this article before. A lot of those sound very promising. Even if they fail in execution, they are attempting to go in the right direction.Thank you for posting it.

    • Hi, Kelly. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and link. I went to your site and read your review and summaries of some of the ways tech can be used for formative evals. You’re right. These examples from the draft report are innovative, fascinating, and definitely worth following up on.

      However, I think you’ve also underscored the central role of traditional, standardized tests in the report: “Over time, the system also learns to predict student results on the year end standardized tests. In fact, ‘the ASSISTment system has been found to be more accurate at predicting students’ performance on the state examination than the pen-and-paper benchmark tests developed for that purpose.'” [emphasis added]

      My concern is that an overemphasis on standardized tests will stifle innovation. Teachers are like everyone else. They’ll take the most direct path to the payoff, and if the payoff is year-end exams, then they’ll teach to the test. Why bother with anything else that doesn’t relate directly to improved scores?

      I know this sounds pessimistic, and I wish I could be more optimistic, but . . . -Jim S

  2. Instead of using technology for efficiency and more traditional outcome assessments should we instead spend more energy towards emphasizing and developing technology that helps teachers with formative assessment methods both at the micro and macro level.

    • Bob, you’ve said what I’ve tried to say, only more directly and effectively. Thanks for cutting through the BS and putting it so clearly.

      Anyone who’s taught or coached real live students in real live classrooms or gyms knows that the only place to begin is where the students actually are. Variables measured in standardized tests serve as general guides, but the teacher/coach has to work with the flesh and blood student.

      They begin by informally observing their students performing the kinds of tasks that they’ll be working on. Do they understand what I’m teaching? Can they apply what they’re learning?

      A writing instructor only needs to glance at a batch of papers written in the first week of instruction to know where to begin. A football coach only needs to observe the first day of practice to know where to begin. And they take it from there, working with their students and players, in groups and individually.

      For one student, being able to correctly set up a blog and post a draft is a monumental hurdle that takes weeks of hard work and teacher handholding. For another, the blog is set up within a few minutes and drafts are promptly posted without any problems and delays. The instructional emphasis with the second student is on issues directly related to writing.

      This ability to understand where students are and what needs to be done to close the gap between that point and the desired goal comes with experience. And as in any craft, teachers and coaches rely on that experience to guide their instruction. This is a kind of built-in formative testing system that we usually refer to as instinct or intuition, and it serves practitioners in the field very well. They watch closely and base their lessons on what they’ve observed. In my opinion, no “outside” formative test can match this natural method.

      Classroom teachers could learn a lot from the coaches in top (i.e., well-funded) athletic programs. Head coaches now rely on assistant coaches who work with computer apps to measure individual and team performance. Computers provide a powerful means to continually measure an athlete’s performance, and this formative info is used to guide instruction.

      I believe this is what Bob is talking about when he says that we ought to be looking at ways to put formative evaluative technology and resources, as well as services, in the hands of frontline teachers to help them manage their day to day instruction.

      Returning to the sports analogy — wouldn’t it be wiser to invest in assessment practices that inform the daily coaching process rather than expensive scoreboards that report the final scores of games? -Jim S

  3. In general, I like the concepts expressed in the remaining document. To be honest with you, even as a major proponent of online education, the somewhat second class nature it is given in this report does not concern me all that much–it is going to happen with or without that blessing and support.

    Let’s start with this one from the summary: “The model asks that we focus what and how we teach to match what people need to know, how they learn, where and when they will learn, and who needs to learn…” That’s a huge statement by itself.

    As it mentions later, what we now think students need to learn is based primarily on the 1892 Committee of Ten. We live in a decidedly different world from they one they lived in then, and our students have decidedly different learning needs in relation to it. Unfortunately, all the work in the last decade or so related to standards has only tweaked that basis. I think that if we were to get a group together who could set aside prejudices in favor of our own areas of interest, if we could form our own 2010 Committee of Ten, we would come up with something very different.

    Next, we need to match what students need to know with the appropriate instructional strategies, breaking loose from outmoded traditions as we do. That in itself is a tall order.

    Finally, changing when and where they learn, making use of the best learning technologies as we do it, will be the ultimate step, for it assumes much of what follows. Seat time as a determiner of educational quality, which is a total farce if you think about it, really does have to go. In its place we need appropriate assessments that will measure their learning in relation to what they really need to know, rather than a seat time assessment of how many times they made it through a doorway.

    Once we get past that final barrier, then online education will get its full value. It is simply inevitable. The stuff that has to happen first is the hard part.

  4. John, I agree. It’s going to happen anyway — with or without the blessing of this or any other report. In fact, it already is. I guess I’m more disappointed than fearful — disappointed that yet another report, which must have cost quite a bit of money, is being foisted on the public as the technological answer to our education woes.

    We ought to require a dollar amount on the cover of every report such as this, which states the exact amount that was spent to develop and publish it. This would include all the fees and services that went into it.

    We could call this the first part of the end of project “exam”; and the second part would be based on the effectiveness of the report. Of course, a set of outcomes would have to be identified at the outset and a test would need to be developed to determine if the report has achieved its objectives. All of these would be included in the cost picture.

    Then, at the end, those responsible for the report would be rewarded or penalized, based on the test outcomes. And we could definitely recommend using the latest tech in this effort. This additional cost, too,would be part of the price of the report. -Jim S

  5. Jim got this up before I could send it to him. The power of technology. But why did I not send it to him? I was working to create awareness of the use of technology in areas of Virginia that have limited access. I was not on line. The high school that I left the SETDA meeting for did not allow cell phones on the property and it did not matter as the cell phone did not work in this area.
    There was furnished a computer and a link, but even the National Geographic site was blocked. I had done a powerpoint to share the National Technology Plan and the reason we should do STEM . I had a good turnout. But here are the problems. The community is not accepting technology as a given. So to put everything on line or to even talk about it is not realistic for that community. I felt I would be unsuccessful in talking with them, but they were just not informed at all.

    At the end of the session they were interested, curious about how to get their school broadband and i shared
    wonderful examples of content and ways of working that are collaborative, of community and that are partnerships from learning sources like the National Geographic, the Commerce Dept, the Fish and Wildlife Dept. and the Smithsonian.

    Have you ever seen Science on a Sphere? It is amazing. One place I know of that many have seen it or who can access it, is on line at the Sant Hall of Science in DC.

    In the meeting was a parent who had cut the cord to the computer because the child used it for all the wrong reasons, a parent who had no technology at home and a teacher who at first said that there was nothing online that could create possibilities for his students. Well that was the start of the workshop
    and we were able to discuss , share, show and give some possibilities for connectivity, funding, teacher workshop and community activists. Maybe the digerati
    are a closed set of people who don’t get out to rural and distant areas or know much about the digital divide. They heed a community outreach.

    I don’t know that I need all books but everything on line is not a comfortable feeling for me, particularly in science there has to be some hands on.

    I see the cooking channel, and learn from it, but still need experiences.

    What do others think?

    Bonnie Bracey Sutton

  6. This was handed out at the SETDA meeting.

    Click to access get_file

  7. I believe that the parents and communities that don’t have broadband will not understand their being LEFT behind again. Bonnie

  8. The FCC has to do something about the e rate and funding to reach those schools without any broadband connectivity. IF they think people are mad now about the cuts in the school budgets and lack of infrastructure, wait until they go into the cloud while some people have little or no access to the information that is going to be on line. ‘
    There is anger in the areas of need.

    Bonnie Bracey Sutton

    Click to access ESA_NTIA_US_Broadband_Adoption_Report_11082010.pdf

  9. Thanks, Bonnie, for your firsthand, hands-on, and up-close views. Nothing like it to keep academic discussions grounded. Your message re the 2010 NETP arrived in my emailbox shortly after I had posted this report. I just happened to stumble on the document in my morning stroll through google alerts.

    Someone has to look out for our students in schools that are most neglected in terms of the latest technology because of remote geography or economics, and I can’t think of a better champion than you, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, who has never given up the fight.

    Like Steve Eskow, I’m convinced that technology can do the most good for our “forgotten” students who are outside the hot zone of online technology or inside but unable to afford it.

    And as Steve says, it’s precisely for these students that technology can serve as an open window to unprecedented sources of learning. Instead of struggling to come up with dollars for a few books or a better school building, perhaps the wiser and more practical alternative is to spend those dollars to increase access to the internet.

    Perhaps the next wave in education will be a national plan to not only upgrade infrastructure in our forgotten school communities but to train and disperse an army of young “teachers” to these locations to provide training and lessons in how to use inexpensive but powerful netbooks and iPad-like computers to access and use the virtual world for learning.

    These Volunteers In Service to Online Learning (VISOL) would spend two years in these unlinked or unconnected communities, working with children and teens, parents and other adults, and, in a wide range of learning environments (i.e., whatever’s available and effective), carry out their mission.

    The learning goal would be young people who are wired and equipped to take advantage of the learning opportunities provided by the web.

    With that window, students in isolated areas and students in economically depressed neighborhoods can have access to a whole world of knowledge.

    And I can’t think of a more dedicated and capable person to take on this task than you, Bonnie.

    -Jim S

    • “And I can’t think of a more dedicated and capable person to take on this task than you, Bonnie.”

      I am sure this is just a wild and unjustified thought, but reading this reminded me of a great moment in the 1960 campaign for the presidential nomination for the Democratic party.

      The two chief candidates were the seasoned veteran and leader of the Senate Democrats, Lyndon Johnson, and the young senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy. In one key debate, Johnson spoke about his near perfect attendance and leadership in the senate, contrasting it with what he viewed as a lesser attendance record and lesser leadership on the part of that junior senator.

      In turn, Kennedy agreed and praised Johnson’s senate attendance and leadership to the hilt. He pointed out that doing that was, in fact, Johnson’s job, not Kennedy’s. In closing, he said that Johnson was doing such a great job in that role that Democrats needed to make sure he stayed in it. This, of course, drew a huge laugh, and even Johnson stood immediately and shook Kennedy’s hand, laughing out loud.

      But that is probably just me and my fanciful imagination. I’m sure Jim had no ulterior motive in nominating you to the post.

      Just kidding!

      • John, thanks for sharing. This is hilarious, and makes me teary-eyed once again for the vacuum that JFK left. The wit, the humor, the humanity, the sheer charisma of the man. Like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., he touched not only Americans but the world. It was all so hopeful: The Peace Corps and VISTA from the Humphrey, Kennedy, Johnson era. And Johnson was as big as Texas in his sense of humor.

        FLASH! Just received this info from Bonnie in my emailbox: The Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States on Nov. 8, 2010. Click here for the NTIA press release.

        Here’s an interesting stat from the report: In 2009, “a significant portion of American households (36%) did not have broadband Internet service at home. Almost one-fourth of American households (23%) did not have any Internet user” (p5).

        (I’d try to post a longer summary in ETCJ but the file is PDF and encrypted so I had to type the stats quoted above. Whose bright idea was it to do this? And perhaps more importantly, why?)

        That’s still a large proportion — over a third of American households don’t have broadband at home and nearly a fourth don’t have an internet user.

        The needs seem clear . . .

        -Jim S

  10. I think I will pass the message on to people who are interested in this work. My mother was from the country and she was always upset about not having the opportunity that others had because in her day there were not even high schools for minorities in the country. She had to go to town to go to Peabody High School. I think that in this day, and time there is a real need for students of any kind who are being challenged by the lack of broadband and teachers who do, to have support. Until I found you guys and a few other people I thought I was going to die and the world will have never changed .. But then I also met Norman Augustine. Let me see what I can do . Doug Levin was receptive of my concern. I will get back to you.
    I have already heard from some people that we in the US are ahead, but I have worked in other countries to know that the US picture is a whole different thing.
    We sort of have universal education just an uneven playing field.
    I like that idea… I really do.


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