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The National Educational Technology Plan
An Interview with OET Director Susan Patrick

On January 7, 2005, the U.S. Department of Education released the National Educational Technology Plan, a report that both assessed the current state of technology in U.S. schools and provided concrete steps for improvement. Recently, Education World asked Susan Patrick, director of the DOE's Office of Educational Technology and a primary architect of the report, to share her thoughts about the power of NETP and to respond to its critics. Included: Links to NETP resources, and a chance to share your opinion about the report.

The National Educational Technology Plan (NETP), a report that provides an overview of the current status of educational technology, examines how technology can help improve academic achievement, and recommends seven action steps for increasing and improving the use of technology in education, was released by the U.S. Department of Education on January 7, 2005. Recently, Susan Patrick, director of the DOE's Office of Educational Technology (OET) and a primary architect of the report, talked to Education World about the NETP, its impact on K-12 teachers, and recent criticisms of the plan.

“For the cost of a bottle of water you can transform the way you teach and learn and get real-time data. Systemic transformation of how money is spent [should be the goal].” -- Susan Patrick

Ms. Patrick, who has served as OET's director since March 2004, previously worked for the state of Arizona, overseeing technology legislation, policy, and communications. She also is widely recognized for her work promoting telecollaborative efforts.

Education World: Ms. Patrick, as director of the Office of Educational Technology, what do you see as OET's primary role?

Susan Patrick: Our role is to help guide the federal government and the Department of Education in understanding how technology can revolutionize education.

EW: How does your office fit into the mandates and initiatives of No Child Left Behind?

S.P.: Our office is all about how technology can improve learning. NCBL requires data to understand how students are doing, and it relies heavily on technology to improve education.


EW: What was your involvement in the research behind, and the creation of, the NETP?

S.P.: As director of the OET, I was the key architect in developing a two-way feedback process involving thousands of educators, parents, and students. The feedback we received during that process led us to eight major themes; themes that affected the plan dramatically. The NETP would have looked very different if it had been written without the feedback. The feedback helped guide us to a practical framework for using technology in a way that best fits the immediate environment. The eight major themes the feedback identified eventually became the seven action steps of the NETP; student involvement was the final theme.

EW: How would you describe the NETP?

S.P.: The NETP is a big-picture vision of what is possible using technology in education today. It highlights the major challenges and opportunities of education technology, offers examples of successful school technology programs, and presents seven action steps and a series of recommendations. The NETP is not a top-down document from the federal government; it's meant as a comparison and a framework, grounded in practice and reality. Wherever a school or district is in the use of technology, it can benchmark itself against that framework.

EW: Which of the seven action steps do you personally see as most critical?

S.P.: Action Step #1 -- strengthening leadership. So many teachers work so hard on their own, but without the support of an immediate leader. Leadership would make all the difference in the world. The second part of that step calls for empowering students in the planning process. Leaders who include students and teachers in decision making from the beginning always are far ahead of their counterparts.

EW: /What is the current "tech-status" of the nation's school administrators?

S.P.: All over the map! Some are very tech-savvy, using data on a daily basis to personalize, direct, and tie together instructional -- and other -- systems. Those administrators provide data to teachers on a daily basis, and give their educators support.

The administrators who are farthest behind don't realize how far behind they are. The NETP framework should help. Remember the old metric of a 5:1 student-computer ratio and everyone on the Internet? Those still are good guidelines, but they don't say anything about student learning. The new metric, instead of just measuring boxes and wires, asks: Do students and teachers have the speed and access they need for e-learning?

What Do You Think?

Do you want to know more about the National Education Technology Plan and what educational leaders are saying about it? Check out The National Education Technology Plan Offers Action Steps for Success.
Share your thoughts about the NETP at the Education World Technology Integration Message Board.

EW: Let's talk about student participation in the development of the plan. What was the rationale behind soliciting student participation on such a large scale?

S.P.: This was the first time in the history of the federal government that the government asked for students' views on education and included student voices in a major policy document. Today's students were born into the age of the Internet, and we wanted to know if technology had made this generation different. How can we teach if we don't know the students?

So, first, we convened a focus group to try to draw information from existing studies from the business sector (because education didn't have the data). Second, we partnered with NetDay to hear the voices of the students themselves. We were hoping to get 5,000-10,000 open-ended surveys. Instead, we received 210,000 -- from students in all 50 states! Their input helped provide us with a much better picture of today's students.

EW: When you reviewed the data, what surprised you most?

S.P.: Three things surprised us:

  • that the education community did not have any specific data (which pointed to a bigger issue);
  • that experts in student data, some with proprietary information, were absolutely willing to share their information with the federal government in order to improve education; and
  • that no one had ever asked the private sector for that information.

EW: As you've mentioned, student data for the NETP came from the business sector. The NETP also mentions changes that the corporate world has made to adapt to a technology-infused world. What lessons can the education community learn from the business sector?

S.P.: Business and education have very different objectives. But when business simply used technology to scan forms online, for example, nothing much changed. The lesson to draw from that is that, when you just add technology into existing structures, you add cost, but not benefit. You have to rethink how you do things, restructure environments, simplify, do things digitally, and provide real-time access to information. In education, we should not just take technology and layer it onto existing teaching. Right now, only 31 percent of our fourth graders are reading at or above grade level. It's time to rethink instruction.

Here's one example. Without technology, one teacher with 30 students can't personalize instruction for each student. With technology, we see teachers do a 5-minute assessment, know where all 30 students are, and customize instruction with software or teach them one-on-one with data. That happens every day.


EW: In times of budget cuts, technology staffing is often first to go. Yet, it is a priority in the NETP. Some critics are asking how you mandate staffing as a priority?

S.P.: If we continually spend money in old ways, we'll keep getting marginal results with NCLB and other educational goals. We'll get marginal results if we continue to spend every dollar on antiquated methods; if we [allocate] technology spending one place, and technology methods spending elsewhere, and technology assessment spending elsewhere. Henrico County in Virginia has learned how to fund technology and reduce costs. For the cost of a bottle of water you can transform the way you teach and learn and get real-time data. Systemic transformation of how money is spent [should be the goal].

EW: Diversity seems to be a prominent theme in the report, but it's mostly defined in terms of ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Does the NETP apply to students with disabilities as well?

S.P.: The report looks at all students. We included students with disabilities throughout the report's creation. We heard from students with disabilities, including many from New Jersey's School for the Deaf. Specific language in the digital content action step calls for more accessible content that meets the needs of all students. We tried not to single out any particular group.

We heard in our feedback about the need to paint a broad vision and to include all students. And, we will continue to add documents and supporting reports, including some on universal design, at our National Educational Technology Plan Web site.

EW: Some critics argue that the NETP is vague, allowing states, districts, and schools to interpret the report as they wish, without pushing themselves to do more. How would you respond to that claim?

S.P.: The seven action steps are broad, but the specific recommendations for each step are quite detailed. If you can measure and show that each teacher is participating in e-learning and that all students can access technology 24/7, then you've done what you need to do. Those types of things are specific and far-reaching. People can read the report and not get caught up in technology jargon; they can see how far they've come in their own environment and how far they have to go.

EW: Other critics argue that the plan emphasizes the "what" (e-learning, digital content) over the "how" (how to address each student's needs and skills). What are your thoughts on that?

SP: I'm not sure how they get there. The whole goal of the plan is directed to student learning. The plan, in fact, is trying to change the conversation from integration to transformation. It's not about overlaying tech and putting five computers in the back of the classroom. That's not enough. It's about students who use technology to engage themselves, to individualize, to access new content, to learn how to research, and to learn to think critically. If we focus on integrating technology, we won't realize the true benefit tech offers.

EW: What role does information literacy play in the NETP?

S.P.: We tried not to reinvent the wheel; the federal government already is involved in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. We have a white paper on information literacy. I also helped commission a policy paper on that topic. Rather than recreating any of those resources, we see them as complimenting the NETP. You can't achieve student-learning goals without effective use of technology, and students must have those skills in order to move forward.

Moreover, the very first NETP in 1996 was titled "Technology Literacy." The second plan was titled "E-learning." Look at how far we've come. Students now know keyboarding; now they want to know how to translate it into useful knowledge, and they want to partner with teachers to explore new educational possibilities.


EW: How will the NETP impact today's K-12 teacher?

S.P.: My great hope is that the report will be read by teachers. They need to know what students today are saying. For example, 70 percent of the students who responded to the survey said they want to be involved in community service and they want to give back to their school and community. Teachers can learn from the report how teachers and students can partner together.

EW: Do you have suggestions for the K-12 teachers who read the NETP and want to do something to make the action steps happen in their communities?

S.P.: First, try to pull together a group of people (student, parents, and teachers) with similar perspectives to do an informal audit. Ask: What are we doing in our school? What are we not doing in our school? Which of these steps can we take to improve student learning? Having the NETP at your fingertips can provide the framework to ask those questions and to move forward.


Article by Lorrie Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World