On Friday March 5th the US Department of Education released a draft of the National Educational Technology Plan: “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology.” Launching the document the US Secretary of State Arne Duncan said that it “was prepared for the Office of Educational Technology by leading researchers and practitioners. It represents their best ideas about how we can bring forward our schools—making them centers of learning designed to close the gap between the technology-rich and exciting experiences that dominate students’ lives outside of school while preparing them for success in today’s competitive global marketplace”.
You can find the draft document at www.ed.gov/technology and you are invited to review it and comment on it so that the US Department of Education can refine and improve the policy. Two things struct me on reading the Executive Summary. Firstly we can review and comment on the “DRAFT” educational policy for the USA from Ireland – imagine if we could do the same on any future plan here at home?
The second thing that struck me was the title – “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology” and the focus on Learning not ICT. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending a meeting with Karen Cator, the Director of the Department of Education Office for Educational Technolog, where she outlined the five priorities in the plan and how “Learning” is the focus not technology. The plan has five priorty areas: Learning, Assessment, Teaching, Infrastructure and Productivity – note where infrastructure is in terms of priority, number four not one as is so often the case! The plan focuses on transforming the US education system so it can meet the demands of a 21st century society, a topic we constantly address on TeachNet. That phrase “transforming education powered by technology” is found throughout the Executive Summary.
The plan is recommending a “revolutionary transformation” of the US education system. It describes a system where technology will play a key role in transforming the existing system to better meet the needs of students today – a system that is more student-centric and is accessible 24/7. The plan is advocating a move to “connected teaching” so that teachers will no longer have to work as “solo practitionaers” and where, with the help of technology, they can teach in teams.
Interestingly from a TeachNet perspective the plan has this to say about CPD:
“Episodic and ineffective professional development is replaced by professional learning that is collaborative, coherent, and continuous and that blends more effective in-person courses and workshops with the expanded opportunities, immediacy, and convenience enabled by online environments full of resources and opportunities for collaboration (p. vii)
So they are saying that the one-off “ineffective” professional development episode should be replaced by professional learning communities that provide deeper and more teacher-directed opportunities – something we believe strongly in. The plan goes on to outline how there is a need to transform the way we organise our schools by reconsidering issues such as the length of class periods and grouping children by age. They suggest that we move to a system that focuses on learners and that we monitor, using “Learning Dashboards”, student performance constantly and not just when they fail an exam.
There is plenty food for thought in this plan and this is a “Call to Act Now” by the US Department of Education and I am sure many countries, including Ireland, will be watching carefully.