Students in Science Lab

“Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.” —James Burke, science historian

The Challenge: Increasing Technology Equity and Accessibility in Central Oregon

The US Department of Education released the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) earlier this year. The plan, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, challenges us to focus on “using technology to transform learning experiences with the goal of providing greater equity and accessibility.”

We tackle the issues of equity and accessibility daily via the services we provide to our districts and students in the High Desert Education Service District. The educational technology services we provide range from high-speed internet connections for staff and students throughout Central Oregon (equity) to assistive technology devices and support for our students with disabilities (accessibility). We have been providing and improving access to these services since the call to action of the first NETP in 1996. Does the 2016 Plan challenge us to do more? Yes.

Merging the Past: The Information Superhighway

The 1996 Plan—Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge—included the following high-level goals:

  • All teachers in the nation will have the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information superhighway
  • All teachers and students will have modern multimedia computers in their classrooms
  • Every classroom will be connected to the information superhighway
  • Effective software and on-line learning resources will be an integral part of every school’s curriculum

I chuckle when I read the phrase “information superhighway” in the year 2016. Twenty years ago, our focus on technology was very tactile. We were fascinated by that superhighway, labs full of computers, CDs full of learning resources, and software labeled edtech. We hired technology trainers who delivered training on a specific edtech product. We checked off the boxes on our goals list with pride. We tackled the technology literacy challenge.

Preparing for the Future: Learning, Teaching, and Leadership

I wish I could tell you today that we have arrived at the post-edtech era and our fascination with devices, blinking lights, and things we can touch has matured. In the post-edtech era, we will not think about technology as a set of things separate from education. We will set objectives and pick up the right device or software to meet them. Our teachers will feel supported and empowered to weave mobile learning and digital content into their classroom practice. Our leaders will plan, budget, and implement sustainable programs (and not one-off projects) to provide greater equity and accessibility. That is the challenge of the 2016 NETP and future-ready education. We are not there yet, but this latest update to the NETP drives us closer to the vision of everywhere, all-the-time learning.

The 2016 NETP does not open with a set of four goals we can check off. Instead, it provides us with recommendations and examples from school districts across the country. It challenges us to design our goals by connecting the domains of Learning, Teaching, Leadership, Assessment, and Infrastructure. It spotlights paths to action for us. Our first step is a renewed commitment to professional learning that we will kickoff with a series of edcamps and professional learning opportunities for teachers. (Join us at Edcamp Central Oregon on April 30 at Ridgeview High School.)

I am excited to unpack the sections of the 2016 NETP with my colleagues and education leaders here at High Desert ESD and our partner districts in Bend, Crook County, Redmond, and Sisters. When we reflect on our past work, we see the miles of steady, purposeful progress guided by past NETPs that have built our current, solid infrastructure for our students. We accept the broader challenges of the 2016 Plan with renewed energy.