The timing has never been better for using technology to enable and improve learning at all levels, in all places, and for people of all backgrounds. From the modernization of E-rate to the proliferation and adoption of openly licensed educational resources, the key pieces necessary to realize best the transformations made possible by technology in education are in place.
Educators, policymakers, administrators, and teacher preparation and professional development programs now should embed these tools and resources into their practices. Working in collaboration with families, researchers, cultural institutions, and all other stakeholders, these groups can eliminate inefficiencies, reach beyond the walls of traditional classrooms, and form strong partnerships to support everywhere, all-the-time learning.
Although the presence of technology does not ensure equity and accessibility in learning, it has the power to lower barriers to both in ways previously impossible. No matter their perceived abilities or geographic locations, all learners can access resources, experiences, planning tools, and information that can set them on a path to acquiring expertise unimaginable a generation ago.
All of this can work to augment the knowledge, skills, and competencies of educators. Tools and data systems can be integrated seamlessly to provide information on student learning progress beyond the static and dated scores of traditional assessments. Learning dashboards and collaboration and communication tools can help connect teachers and families with instantaneous ease. This all is made more likely with the guidance of strong vision and leadership at all levels from teacher-leaders to school, district, and state administrators. For these roles, too, technology allows greater communication, resource sharing, and improved practice so that the vision is owned by all and dedicated to helping every individual in the system improve learning for students.
It is a time of great possibility and progress for the use of technology to support learning.
For all the possibilities of technology-enabled learning, it also creates challenges we will face as we embrace the change necessary to realize its potential. With the proliferation of devices and applications, we should build all educators’ understanding of and ability to serve as stewards of student data so that only those with lawful access to the data can access it. We also need to find new and creative ways to solve the problem of connectivity in learners’ homes so that the learning made possible in connected schools does not end when students leave for the day.
As we bridge the digital divide in schools and homes across the country, we also should build educator capacity to ask students to take part in new and transformational learning experiences with technology. This will require more than sharing tips in the faculty lounge or after-school professional development for educators. It also will require systemic change on the part of teacher preparation providers so their faculty and programming reflect more closely the standards and settings for which they are preparing teacher candidates.
These partnerships between teacher preparation programs and school districts are emblematic of the types of partnerships we will need to build across all education groups if we hope to increase the use of technology in learning from an add-on to an integral and foundational component of our education system.
We Already Have Begun
As illustrated in the examples throughout this plan, there are schools, organizations, and partnerships across the country already engaged in the important work of shifting practices to serve students better through technology. Indeed, it never has been easier to share innovations and lessons learned and muster the resources necessary to catalyze learning with technology. From the NETP to Connected Educator Month to LearningRegistry.org, from rapid cycle technology evaluations to education innovation clusters: The work of educators and other stakeholders with vision and a commitment to improving learning in America is well under way.
Section 1: Learning
States, districts, and post-secondary institutions should develop and implement learning resources that embody the flexibility and power of technology to create equitable and accessible learning ecosystems that make learning possible everywhere and all the time for all students.
Whether creating learning resources internally, drawing on collaborative networks, or using traditional procurement procedures, institutions should insist on the use of resources and the design of learning experiences that use UD practices to ensure accessibility and increased equity of learning opportunities.
States, districts, and post-secondary institutions should develop and implement learning resources that use technology to embody design principles from the learning sciences.
Educational systems have access to cutting-edge learning sciences research. To make better use of the existing body of research literature, however, educators and researchers will need to work together to determine the most useful dissemination methods for easy incorporation and synthesis of research findings into teachers’ instructional practices.
States, districts, and post-secondary institutions should take inventory of and align all learning technology resources to intended educational outcomes. Using this inventory, they should document all possible learner pathways to expertise, such as combinations of formal and informal learning, blended learning, and distance learning.
Without thoughtful accounting of the available tools and resources within formal and informal learning spaces within a community, matching learners to high-quality pathways to expertise is left to chance. Such an undertaking will require increased capacity within organizations that have never considered such a mapping of educational pathways. To aid in these efforts, networks such as LRNG, the Hive Learning Networks, and education innovation clusters can serve as models for cross-stakeholder collaboration in the interest of best using existing resources to present learners with pathways to learning and expertise.
Education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility and equity of learning experience.
Born accessible is a play on the term born digital and is used to convey the idea that materials that are born digital also can and should be born accessible. If producers adopt current industry standards for producing educational materials, materials will be accessible out of the box. Using the principles and research-base of UD and UDL, this standard would serve as a commonly accepted framework and language around design for accessibility and offer guidance to vendors and third-party technology developers in interactions with states, districts, and institutions of higher education.
Section 2: Teaching
Provide pre-service and in-service educators with professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase their digital literacy and enable them to create compelling learning activities that improve learning and teaching, assessment, and instructional practices.
To make this goal a reality, teacher preparation programs, school systems, state and local policymakers, and educators should come together in the interest of designing pre- and in-service professional learning opportunities that are aligned specifically with technology expectations outlined within state standards and that are reflective of the increased connectivity of and access to devices in schools. Technology should not be separate from content area learning but used to transform and expand pre- and in-service learning as an integral part of teacher learning.
Use technology to provide all learners with online access to effective teaching and better learning opportunities with options in places where they are not otherwise available.
This goal will require leveraging partner organizations and building institutional and teacher capacity to take advantage of free and openly licensed educational content such as that indexed on LearningRegistry.org. Adequate connectivity will increase equitable access to resources, instruction, expertise, and learning pathways regardless of learners’ geography, socio-economic status, or other factors that historically may have put them at an educational disadvantage.
Develop a teaching force skilled in online and blended instruction.
Our education system continues to see a marked increase in online learning opportunities and blended learning models in traditional schools. To meet the need this represents better, institutions of higher education, school districts, classroom educators, and researchers need to come together to ensure practitioners have access to current information regarding research-supported practices and an understanding of the best use of emerging online technologies to support learning in online and blended spaces.
Develop a common set of technology competency expectations for university professors and candidates exiting teacher preparation programs for teaching in technologically enabled schools and post-secondary education institutions.
There should be no uncertainty of whether a learner entering a PK–12 classroom or college lecture hall will encounter a teacher or instructor fully capable of taking advantage of technology to transform learning. Accrediting institutions, advocacy organizations, state policymakers, administrators, and educators have to collaborate on a set of clear and common expectations and credentialing regarding educators’ abilities to design and implement technology-enabled learning environments effectively.
Section 3: Leadership
Establish clear strategic planning connections among all state, district, university, and school levels and how they relate to and are supported by technology to improve learning.
Although some of these efforts are supported by summits organized at the federal level by Future Ready Schools, state and local authorities are uniquely suited to understand the needs and resources available within their local education ecosystems. Broad, coordinated strategic planning requires a commitment from all parties involved to collaborate consistently across organizational boundaries. These conversations and connections need proactive champions who will invest in working at this level and who can take advantage of existing state and regional conferences to further this work.
Set a vision for the use of technology to enable learning such that leaders bring all stakeholder groups to the table, including students, educators, families, technology professionals, community groups, cultural institutions, and other interested parties.
Although not all parties will be responsible for the execution of a vision for the use of technology to enable learning, by making certain all involved stakeholder groups are part of the vision-setting process, leaders will ensure better community support and the establishment of a plan for learning technology that reflects local needs and goals.
Develop funding models and plans for sustainable technology purchases and leverage openly licensed content while paying special attention to eliminating those resources and tasks that can be made obsolete by technology.
Rather than viewing technology as an add-on component to support learning, leaders should take stock of current systems and processes across learning systems and identify those that can be augmented or replaced by existing technologies. During the planning process, they also should identify systems and processes for which no replacement currently exists within the district, school, or college and set goals for developing more efficient solutions.
Develop clear communities of practice for education leaders at all levels that act as a hub for setting vision, understanding research, and sharing practices.
Building on the model of the education innovation clusters, state, district, university, and community organization leaders should establish cohesive communities of practice—in person and online—to create virtuous cycles for sharing the most recent research and effective practices in the use of educational technology.
Section 4: Assessment
Revise practices, policies, and regulations to ensure privacy and information protection while enabling a model of assessment that includes ongoing gathering and sharing of data for continuous improvement of learning and teaching.
This will require not only greater systems interoperability standards but also increased capacity on the part of educators and administrators to understand the types of systems they want to establish within schools and colleges. In addition, they will need to have an understanding of the standards of interoperability they should demand from vendors. A key component of this increased capacity should ensure educational leaders have a firm understanding of privacy and security concerns, how those concerns are addressed within the school or system, and clear communication of policies and procedures with all stakeholders. Achievement of this recommendation would benefit from the involvement and guidance of organizations, such as CoSN, ISTE, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), that have developed specialized expertise
in these areas.
States, districts, and others should design, develop, and implement learning dashboards, response systems, and communication pathways that give students, educators, families, and other stakeholders timely and actionable feedback about student learning to improve achievement and instructional practices.
The next generation of such tools should integrate across platforms and tools seamlessly, be designed with a mobile-first mindset, and be guided by UD and UDL principles to ensure accessibility by all stakeholders. Although current products and dashboards include basic functionality and features that improve on those of their predecessors, future iterations should be built on a premise of feedback and conversation, allowing learners and families to discuss learning outcomes and evidence and increasing agency and ownership across stakeholder groups.
Create and validate an integrated system for designing and implementing valid, reliable, and cost-effective assessments of complex aspects of 21st century expertise and competencies across academic disciplines.
Interoperable formative assessment formats offered by major testing consortia for use by educators throughout the year are an important first step. However, work remains to ensure more educators have access to high-quality formative assessment tools and to develop additional capacities to assess both cognitive and non-cognitive skills better. Moving forward, increasing educator capacity for the design and deployment of valid and reliable formative assessments will require the concerted efforts of current assessment developers, teacher preparation programs, school systems, and researchers. Furthermore, colleges and universities will benefit from system-wide reviews of assessment practices and from ensuring all faculty have deep understandings of key principles and practices surrounding the design and implementation of effective learning
Research and development should be conducted that explore how embedded assessment technologies such as simulations, collaboration environments, virtual worlds, games, and cognitive tutors can be used to engage and motivate learners while assessing complex skills.
Although some of this research is in its early stages, the way forward will require close collaboration among organizations—such as GlassLab, Games for Change, and iCivics; colleges, universities, informal learning spaces, and schools; philanthropic organizations; and research institutions—that have a deep understanding of how game mechanics increase learner motivation. This collaboration can lead to the development of more effective and engaging experiences to support learning.
Section 5: Infrastructure
Ensure students and educators have broadband access to the Internet and adequate wireless connectivity, with a special focus on equity of access outside of school.
Although connectivity itself does not ensure transformational use of technology to enable learning, lack of connectivity almost certainly precludes it. Working with federal programs such as E-rate through the FCC, as well as with nonprofit partners such as CoSN, EducationSuperHighway, EveryoneOn, and others, states, districts, and post-secondary institutions should make sure technology-enabled learning is available for all students, everywhere, all the time.
Ensure that every student and educator has at least one Internet access device and appropriate software and resources for research, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration for use in and out of school.
Only when learners have the tools necessary to complete these activities are they able to realize the potential of education technologies fully. States and districts should make sure such device purchases are funded sustainably with a plan for device refresh.
Support the development and use of openly licensed educational materials to promote innovative and creative opportunities for all learners and accelerate the development and adoption of new open technology–based learning tools and courses.
Similar to those leading state and local efforts under way in California, Illinois, and Washington state, administrators and policymakers at all levels and in formal and informal spaces should consider the diversified learning paths and potential cost savings inherent in the use of such openly licensed resources.
Draft sustainability plans for infrastructure concerns that include upgrades of wired and wireless access as well as device refresh plans and sustainable funding sources while ensuring the safety and protection of student data.
As state and local education institutions work to bridge the existing digital divide, they concurrently should be drafting plans for the upgrade of infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of increased user demand as well as speeds necessary for the use of evolving technologies. These plans should include specific systems and strategies for protecting student data, be drafted with cross-stakeholder groups, and include special consideration of funding sustainability and possible partners.
Create a comprehensive map and database of connectivity, device access, use of openly licensed educational resources, and their uses across the country.
To understand the digital divide better and progress toward bridging it, researchers, state and local officials, and district administrators should work in concert with one another to test connectivity speeds in schools and homes and to identify the kinds of devices to which educators and students have access and the ratios of devices to users within education institutions. The building of such a map and database would allow for the visualization of inequities of access and targeted interventions to alleviate them. In addition, the level of engagement with openly licensed learning materials should be made transparent as an indicator of progress toward equitable access and effective
allocation of resources.