Duncan: Technology Will Transform Student Learning

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan placed technology front and center in the national dialogue over education reform earlier this month when he unveiled the Obama administration’s education technology plan.

The plan, titled “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” was developed over the past 18 months (an initial plan was released last March) by leading education experts, and refined and updated with input from educators, the general public, and industry officials.

The plan focuses on five key goals to revamp education by 2015: 1) create a more engaging and dynamic learning experience for all students, 2) develop more sophisticated and accurate tools for student assessment, 3) ensure all educators have all the latest teaching tools, 4) expand access to broadband, and 5) use technology to cut costs and heighten efficiency in school districts.

“With this technology plan, we have laid out a comprehensive vision for how teachers working with technology can transform student learning in classrooms across America,” Duncan told the State Educational Technology Directors Association Education Forum on November 12.  “We must dramatically improve teaching and learning, personalize instruction and ensure that the educational environments we offer to all students keep pace with the 21st century.”

Central to these goals, Duncan added, is the ability to leverage advanced technologies that are so prevalent in their daily and personal lives – collaborative digital content, mobile Internet access, social networks, etc. – to dramatically improve student learning.

The National Education Association applauded the plan, particularly the openness of the process (stakeholders were invited to submit comments), and its focus on teachers’ critical role. In addition, the plan’s call for more technology-based assessments (including a reliance on research and theory about how students think with multimedia and other interactive tools) is a welcome departure from one-time multiple-choice test at the end of the year.

“Technology is our best friend but it’s also our worst enemy,” NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen told Utah Public Radio last week. “If we don’t have educators and students who aren’t tech-savvy – and that’s about more than knowing which buttons to push. It’s about being able to think.”

Students’ ability to evaluate information is one of the goals of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), a national organization (NEA is a member) that promotes critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and other skills necessary for students to succeed in today’s world. P21 President Ken Kay echoed Eskelsen’s concern that technology by itself is no silver bullet. Still, he is encouraged that the plan recommends an expanded curricula, comprehensive assessments and the professional development required to integrate technology into the classroom.

Importantly, Secretary Duncan in his speech on November 12 also stressed that technology in the classroom only works when paired with effective teaching.

“Technology will never replace good teachers. We all know that the most important factor in a student’s success is the teacher leading the class. That will not change.”

“When I started teaching 30 years ago, no one even dreamed of the technology that is sitting on our desks right now,” Eskelsen said last week. “We’ll probably see that much change in the next five years. So we need people who are adaptable, savvy, smart and what we can do is make sure that technology is the best tool a teacher has ever had.”