Policy | News

National Tech Plan: A Key to Education Success

The National Education Technology Plan can be a significant tool if President Barack Obama is to accomplish his goal of making sure the United States has the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020.

As part of that effort, "we can use education to ratchet up everybody's opportunity," said Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, focusing on the term "educational" in the name of her agency rather than "technology."

"Technology actually will not replace teachers, as many people think," Cator added, "but it can enhance human performance."

Enhancing that human performance is the key to the three most important themes of the technology plan that was released last November, according to Cator, who spoke on the subject during the International Society for Technology in Education conference and exhibition June 27-29 in Philadelphia.

The three themes of the National Technology Plan--and calls to action, as she put it--are equity, innovation, and collaboration.

Most importantly, Cator noted, despite the proliferation of digital resources and increasing access to broadband, nearly 100 million Americans still are disconnected. "We have many, many students who remain underserved," she said.

Changing that and assuring there is equity to access is one of the most significant goals of the plan. "Right now there are people who don't know how much they don't know, and we need to make sure they are able to fully participate."

One goal of the technology plan is to assure that 98 percent of the country has access to broadband in the next five years. As an example of how that can happen, she pointed out a private-public initiative undertaken by Comcast to give every student within its coverage area that qualifies for the federal government's free or reduced lunch program broadband access for $10 a month and a $150 coupon to use on technology.

"That, at least, is a start," Cator said.

Encouraging innovation is the second important theme in the technology plan, she said, noting that one of Obama's goals is to have the United States become a net exporter of technology rather than a net importer, as Cator said it is now.

"Innovation for personalized learning is the goal," she said.

Her hope is that government and business can work together to create a "learning technology ecosystem" that moves ideas from the realm of basic research through traditional research and development to the marketplace and then on to widespread implementation.

That is the path new ideas in many fields take, but has not always been the case with education. "We're trying hard to convince investors and entrepreneurs that educational technology is an unbelievably important space."

The final focus of the plan, collaboration, is incumbent on what she described as thousands of "communities of practice" throughout the United States in which education stakeholders help one another determine the best way to efficiently and effectively educate American students.

"We want to create more and more 'for example' stories," Cator said. "We need to figure out how we move people from observing to co-constructing."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.