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TeacherLore

Paige rolls out National Education Technology Plan

Tuning in to a high tech broadcast

Today I tuned into webcast of U.S. Secretary of Education Ron Paige rolling out America’s National Education Technology Plan. Though I have an enhanced DSL line, the broadcast was sporadic--I would get the feed for a couple seconds then it would break up for 30 seconds or longer. I gave up.

“Promises, promises” might be the theme of those (including myself) who urge a real commitment to using new technologies to improve education. I spend a lot more time fiddling with software and hardware than I would like, trying to fix things that didn’t work as well as I dreamed they would when I bought them or downloaded them. Last week, Bill Gates couldn’t get Windows Media Player to work for his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Convention in Las Vegas. He needed to re-boot twice. Host Conan O’Brien asked, “So who’s in charge of Microsoft, anyway?”

Still, early auto enthusiasts didn’t give up just because trying to hand crank a Model T to life on a cold winter morning was sometimes hopeless and never fun. We need to keep a healthy sense of skepticism about promises, and we need to keep moving forward.

The National Education Technology Plan

Secretary Paige and other officials presented the plan, ”Toward a New Golden Age in American Education:  How the Internet, the Law, and Today’s Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations.” The plan was developed with input from thousands of students, educators, administrators, technology experts, and organizations.

The plan includes support for lots of good ideas that are already being developed. The resources that are here and those that are coming are going to wreak fundamental changes on schooling. This is because the choices that students and parent will have will be too good to turn down. If pubic education doesn’t incorporate these changes, it will be left behind, as it should.

Computer technology is not the future of our work and our living--it’s the present. A high school whose students aren’t working in computerized environments is not educating young people for the world that actually exists.

Things Montana should do

Montanans should pay attention to several of the recommnedations in the plan.  They provide ways to “level the playing field” to a considerable extent, so that young people growing up in rural places can have access to first-rate learning experiences.

For example, the plan recommends that states “provide every student access to e-learning” through the development of virtual schools. Several states now operate successful virtual schools as part of the public school system. Courses are taught by certified teachers and students earn credits just as they do in traditional classes. These schools make it possible for traditional schools to offer courses online that aren’t available locally, they provide a good alternative to the correspondence courses that many students already use.

Online units using video, simulations, databases, primary documents, photos and other information rich tools could be created to augment regular classes. These could be used in many ways. A teacher could send advanced students to an online resource to extend their learning, or an entire class could spend a few days with such a resource.

One way to approach this would be for agencies such as OPI or the Montana Historical Society to partner with technology centers such as the Burns Telecommunications Center at Montana State University or the Information Technology Resource Center at the University of Montana and with Indian Tribes to provide high quality online units teachers across the state could use to augment existing classes. This would allow the state to meet some of its Constitutional and legislative mandate to provide educational support for Native American heritage and it would help with the most common complaint from teachers: not enough good materials.

Another recommendation is that we “develop partnerships between schools, higher education and the community.” We can do this in many ways. The one that I have the most fondness for is that we involve young people as active partners in collaborative knowledge building projects. That sounds more daunting than it is. Dottie Susag’s students in Simms helped professional writers research the history of the 1904 Fort Shaw Indian Girls’ Basketball team that won a world championship at the St. Louis World’s Fair. This involved tracking down descendents of the team members, interviewing them, collecting and examining artifacts that had been handed down in the families. The kids even found the trophy that was won at the fair. After the project, the people of the Sun River Valley erected a monument in honor of the team.

Scientists have found that student researchers can, under professional supervision, gather important data. Students have been used to collect information about bird migrations, water quality, elk and human interactions. Technology, such as GIS and GPS increase the value of work that students can do, just as the advent of portable tape recorders make it possible for high school students to assist with large-scale oral history projects.

What we lack is a state-level leadership to provide an infrastructure to support this sort of thing: researchers who are looking for student teams, classroom teachers who are looking for projects to join, and ongoing data bases that students can contribute to. Such a roject management clearing house and ongoing database development project would greatly simplify the work of getting universities and colleges, community organizations, and students to collaborate. Such projects are already occuring all over the place. Look here, here, here, or here.

I’ve called for such leadership before. If you are interested in continuing a conversation about these topics please email me.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 01/07 at 12:22 PM

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