The Next National Education Technology Plan

Policy and Government

The Next National Education Technology Plan

By Tony Wan     Dec 10, 2015

The Next National Education Technology Plan

“The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

A variation of the prophetic quote attributed to cyberpunk novelist, William Gibson, introduces the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) released today by the U.S. Department of Education.

“If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education,” writes Arne Duncan, outgoing Secretary of Education, “then it’s not really a revolution.”

This emphasis on equity, and ensuring that all teachers and learners of all backgrounds have access to quality technology tools, anchors the many ambitious goals laid in this fourth and latest national education technology plan. The 106-page document envisions what education could look like in coming years, describes how technology can play a role, and outlines steps that education leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, researchers, policymakers and others can take.

Many of the high-level goals of this 2016 plan are consistent with the 2010 NETP report:

2010 NETP 2016 NETP
1 Learning Learning
2 Assessment Teaching
3 Teaching Leadership
4 Infrastructure Assessment
5 Productivity Infrastructure

Highlighting “leadership” is one of the most notable changes. The 2016 NETP devotes an entire section to leadership and to “creating a culture and conditions for innovation and change.”

Creating and articulating a shared vision is one important step; budgeting funds to pursue the vision is the next. (Here the NETP unabashedly recommends leaders turn to openly licensed educational resources.) But even with vision and a budget, the plan recognizes that edtech tools can still fail without an effective implementation plan. Too often, poor implementation leaves schools and districts with a hodgepodge of expensive tools that neither work together nor align with instructional needs.

These are daunting tasks, but education leaders shouldn’t operate them in silos. Just as teachers need professional networks and support communities, so, too, do administrators, superintendents and other education leaders. The 2016 NETP highlights the work of Future Ready, an initiative launched in November 2014, and so far boasts a network of over 2,000 superintendents, along with 44 national and 12 regional partner organizations. (Full disclosure: EdSurge is a partner of Future Ready.)

New Future Ready commitments, announced with the release of this plan, include:

  • Follow-up resources to Future Ready Planning Dashboard, which include toolkits, webinars, courses, workshops and mentoring for district and state leaders;
  • State-wide initiatives, sponsored by state departments of education in California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin;
  • Five regional Future Ready Summits in 2016, organized by the Department of Education, in Austin (TX), Boston (MA), Madison (WI), Seattle (WA) and Tampa (FL), held in partnership with Apple, Google, Microsoft and McGraw-Hill.

Other noticeable additions and emphases in the 2016 National Education Technology Plan:

Student agency: While technology tools can automate and recommend content and learning pathways, the report recognizes that “learners should have the opportunity to make meaningful choices about their learning, and they need practice at doing so effectively.” The 2016 NETP report recognizes that students should own their data: “When they have access to their data, students can play a larger role in choosing their own pathways.”

Greater emphasis on privacy: The need to protect student privacy made a cameo appearance in 2010 plan. Now it has a lead role. Given the backlash the edtech industry has faced over improper safeguarding of student data, the 2016 NETP shines a spotlight on how schools, companies and parents can raise and redress concerns.

Teacher preparation: “Effective use of technology is not an optional add-on or a skill we simply can expect teachers to pick up once they get into the classroom.” The 2010 plan raised the need to rethinking to train and prepare teachers for the digital classroom. But the new plan offers case studies into how university teacher-prep programs in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Rhode Island are shaking up the process.

“Beware of Bring Your Own Device”: BYOD was a popular acronym and strategy, especially for schools with scarce funds to purchase devices. But the 2016 plan astutely acknowledges that device ownership “is distributed disproportionately to students whose families can afford the devices” and “can widen the very gaps that technology is capable of closing.” For teachers, managing a classroom of different devices can cause major headaches as well.

“Enable Enhanced Question Types”: The previous plan was replete with hopes for digital assessments but short on details about what that might look like. Now there are examples, including “graphic response” (drawing, moving, arranging or selecting regions) “hot text” (select and rearrange words within a passage) “equation response” (entering an equation) and “performance-based assessments” (a series of complex tasks).

Microcredentials: Badges make their debut as a promising form of digital micro-credentials that can track skills and competencies mastered by both students and teachers over time.

Even as many challenges lie ahead, much has changed since the 2010 report. As this document notes: “The conversation has shifted from whether technology should be used in learning to how it can improve learning to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational experiences.”

—With reporting assistance from Patricia Gomes

Five Years of a Changing US Education Landscape

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