National Ed Tech Plan: What’s New and What’s Coming in Schools

Tracy Gray

Remember the digital divide? 

Ten years ago the mantra was “Having three computers in the back of the classroom was like having three pencils for a class.” The “digital divide” then was between schools with plenty of computers and those with few. So schools got computers—by the thousands. 

Now we have a “digital divide” and a “digital use divide.” Some students use computers to complete worksheets and do drill-and-kill lessons. Some teachers use the new technology tools mainly to post lesson assignments.

But some students and teachers are doing a lot more. Some are transforming learning by collaborating with schools and laboratories around the world, offering students the chance to develop apps with marketing potential, working with businesses, universities, libraries, authors, artists, historians, and government leaders in today’s classrooms. And that’s just the start.

The latest 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP16) released today shows how far schools and out-of-school programs have come and offers resources and recommendations to encourage educators to reimagine how technology can enhance learning. The report, published every five years, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and produced by AIR to provide an update on the state of technology and education.

The plan details ways that a growing number of U.S. educators are using tech tools and free educational resources both in and outside school to meet students’ diverse needs. It also identifies the other key ingredients—leadership, infrastructure, and assessment—in the successful implementation of technology.

In school

  • Teacher Jennie Magiera’s fourth grade science class in Chicago was having a hard time understanding how elevation and other environmental influences could affect water’s boiling point. Then it hit her. No wonder this was a tough concept. Her students had never seen a mountain range. She used social media to find a Denver teacher who collaborated with her on a lesson plan that would include real-time video of Colorado mountains and a contest to see which class, Denver (5,470 feet above sea level) or Chicago (673 feet), could boil water faster. Denver won.
  • Maggie Bolado, a teacher at Resaca Middle School in Los Fresnos, Texas, was asked to help a visually impaired student navigate the school’s campus. Working mostly during extracurricular periods in school, she guided six seventh and eighth grade girls as they built an app called Hello Navi. When the mother of a visually disabled two-year-old asked for a similar app, the girls attended a developers’ forum to track and upgrade their app. Not only did they help their friend; the girls also won an award from the Verizon Innovative App challenge—$20,000 for their school and tablets for each girl. A high tech company just bought the app to expand and distribute it worldwide.

Out of School

  • Black Girls Code (BGC) has engaged hundreds of girls in computer programming through workshops and field trips. In Oakland, more than 100 girls, ages 7 to 17, took a one-day workshop at DeVry University to learn how to code HTML, format webpages using CSS, and design basic web structures. BGC sponsors 10 to 12 similar events in Oakland each year. Other BGC chapters are in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Raleigh and Washington, D.C.
  • Cities of LRNG works with schools, businesses, and foundations in cities across the county to teach young people about a wide array of tech subjects, including coding and game designing. The program provides a single online platform where young people and their families can discover learning activities from hundreds of community organizations.  Participants earn digital badges that showcase their skills and achievements.

The NETP16 emphasizes that sustained state, district, and school leadership is central in leveraging technology to strengthen teaching and learning. Leaders create the vision, infrastructure, and professional development that must be in place before teachers and others working with students can use the latest technologies and resources to improve instruction.

Leaders also build a solid infrastructure. That means access to high-speed Internet and wireless connectivity for all students—both in and out of school. It means maintaining and updating computers, tablets, smart boards, and other tools. Quality digital learning content and responsible policies to protect student data and privacy are also part of the package.

Finally, schools need innovative assessments that use technology to identify teaching and learning strengths and weaknesses—for all teachers and students.

NETP16 shows that it has never been easier to share innovations and lessons learned. And it has never been easier to collaborate across classrooms, districts, and even across the globe. But commitment, planning, and resources are needed to leverage the technologies that can transform education.    

Tracy Gray is a managing director at AIR. She led the development of the 2016 National Education Technology Plan and two national technology centers that focus on students with disabilities for the U.S. Department of Education.