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August 14, 2012

After 25 years of hearing the same calls for action in education technology, I'm throwing down the gauntlet.

I started in education technology in 1986 as an editor at one of the early educational software publishers, Sunburst Communications (raise your hand if you had one of those traffic-cone-orange binders in your classroom). It was a great place to begin my career in ed tech: The emphasis was on the power of computers to teach problem solving and creative thinking. We believed that these were the kinds of skills--not rote memorization--that students needed to thrive in the 20th century.

In 1992, I became editor in chief of Electronic Learning. The cover story for the first issue I oversaw was entitled "The New Literacy." The subhead read: "The literacy skills of the last 20 centuries will not take our students into the next one."

My career took a slightly different turn in 1997. I stayed in education publishing, but I broadened my focus to work on issues like leadership, learning differences, assessment, and professional development.

It's now 2011 and I'm taking up the helm of the venerable T.H.E. Journal. Feeling a bit rusty about what's happening in K-12 tech, I decided to educate myself on the big, burning issues of the day.

What did I learn? Oh dear. Do I tell you it seems to me that we are still having the same conversation we were having a quarter century ago? That we're still talking about the role of technology in changing education from a 19th century to a 21st century institution? That students still need digital literacy skills? That teachers still do not use technology as an integral part of their instruction? That teachers and students still don't have access to the right kinds of learning technologies?

As I heard all of these things spoken at a recent conference, I turned to my colleague and asked: "What year is this?"

Which leads me to the headline of this column. Karen Cator, the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the United States Department of Education, declared at a recent State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) meeting that Aug. 14, 2012, was "the date that schools are going to flip from being print to digital institutions." She came up with the date as a response to a challenge from a fellow panel member. In talking later, she conceded that, yes, setting the date was done mostly facetiously--but not entirely so.

"What we need," Cator says now, "is a point in time to say, 'Okay, do we believe that digital learning environments will provide a better opportunity to learn for more students?'" If we believe that, she says, then let's just set a date "so that people can plan for it."

After 25 years of hearing the same calls for action, I'm with Karen on this. This magazine is throwing down the gauntlet. Starting now, we are instituting an Aug. 14, 2012 Watch. Send me signs of yours and others' progress toward making technology so integral to teaching and learning that we don't even have to talk about it anymore. Let's make Aug. 14, 2012, the date we'll look back on and say, "That's when the conversation on education technology changed."

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at therese@educationworksconsulting.com.

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