91012 USDOE National Education Technology Plan

Preface Note: I am a proponent of the use of cross-industry innovation systems and transformation models. When my aeronautical engineering domain stopped talking about “flying machines” in the early 1900’s and started using the system descriptor of “aviation” the industry took off (horseless carriages => automobile, etc.). It is time to put aside “educational technology” and consider the system descriptor that has been emerging for a decade: “elearning”.

Introduction:

The U.S. Department of Education is developing a new National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) to provide a vision for how information and communication technologies can help transform American education. The plan will provide a set of concrete goals that can inform state and local educational technology plans as well as inspire research, development, and innovation. A draft plan is expected in early 2010.

This web site is hosted for the U.S. Department of Education by SRI International.

https://edtechfuture.org/

Planning Working Group

This group of 18 leading educators, researchers, state and district ed-tech leaders and policymakers has been selected from the Central-East part of the nation, except for Roy Pea and John Seely Brown from the Stanford/ USC communities. I know, or know of, a number of these pioneers from our work with eSATS (eLearning System for Arizona Teachers and Students) that started in the late 1980’s. These experts have provided the “shoulders of giants” that have, since the early 1990’s, guided and inspired a generation of advocates who have driven the early progress of eLearning adoption. The problem is that half of this working group should have been the bright new minds of eLearning like Susan Patrick and Clayton Chistensen. Also the US DOE Education Technology Director slot is vacant.

Barbara Means of SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning is engaged as the leader of the working group. We first met at a large ed-tech conference at in Stanford/Palo Alto in early 1990’s.

My concern is that the working group’s challenge is to be a driving force behind innovation driven transformation of a legacy system based on human labor. This is a huge task to achieve. Our K-12 education system has a history of innovation cycles that require a half century from start to finish. In the latter 20th century technology driven transformations of other industries were in the 20 year range. The economic, energy, resource and ecological transformation of our global 21st century demands an even shorter innovation cycle.

The foundation for the solution to these challenges is a successful mastery of the K-12 curriculum of – not just 50 to 65 percent of our student population – but 95 percent. A brief glance at our bell shaped performance curve shows a minimum of a one sigma increase for all students, and a pulling in of the tails. The failing student is performing at the C level and gifted student does not drop out. eLearning is the only means supported by meta-studies that show an effect factor in the 0.40 range.

Without a history of innovation driven transformation within K-12 education, the task of the NETP working group seems to be insurmountable. But innovation is always driven by a small group and fired by genius, so the probability is not zero. In business, science and engineering it is well known that the invention and innovation in a narrow sector of an industry is by the young with passion and creative ideas. If an industry transformation is to take place, it will happen with the collaboration of two forces.

One is the disruptive innovation (like microcomputers invented in the 1970’s destroying the minicomputer industry by the early 1990’s). The other is the few – then many – enlightened and seasoned leaders of the mature industry removing barriers and making the strategic planning, organizational design and financial change decisions that will accelerate a transformation. The 2010 NETP is positioned to support this transformational challenge with a innovation based strategic redesign of the K-12 system.

My Response

Over the past 20+ years hundreds of Federal and State technology plans have been written and rewritten every few years. However, they have had little effect on adoption of elearning.

A major exception is the NETP 2004 published from the U.S. DoE’s Office of Educational Technology under the leadership of Susan Patrick. The 68 page publication was titled “Toward A New Golden Age in American Education”, How the Internet, the Law and Today’s Students are Revolutionizing Expectation.” I distributed over a 1000 copies of this “little blue booklet” to Arizona legislators, governance, councils, businesses and educators. I believe it had a material effect on Arizona’s progress. Our legislature formed the Arizona eLearning Task Force that has 8 years remaining to transform our K-12 education system. Other legislative and governance successes were $3 million for a middle school math pilot, P20 council with data and teacher task forces, and all 1500+ Arizona schools enabled as virtual schools.

I recommend that this 2010 National Education Technology Plan reach beyond the 2004 success with a powerful new prescriptive design for innovation driven transformation. It must be more than just a visionary model on paper to be used as an instrument of advocacy. Create this plan with the expectation that it will be fully implemented. Transformation to K-12 elearning will be reaching its tipping point within the life of the plan. The quality, equity and effectiveness of the drive to that tipping point depends on this design.

The most recent data on eLearning adoption are from the 2008 iNACOL annual conference on online learning and Project RED  http://projectred.org/news/ => click on “click here to see the chart”. iNACOL reported 3% of elearning in K-12 education takes place online. The Project RED study had 4% of students in schools with computing devices for (almost) all students. With the hybrid mode online elearning being a significant contributor to classroom elearning. Let’s assume for the situation assessment that 5% of K-12 student learning is elearning based.

The semi-log plot from disruptive innovation theory predicts that 3%-5% will reach 10% by 2012. At 10% we are at the tipping point where elearning will begin its rapid transformation of legacy education.

Our federal NETP 2010 plan has two major roles. It will guide federal policy to drive this innovation and it will point to where significant funds must be invested. I am limited by the SRI web site for the working group, so I can only assess the current stage of their work in four focus areas.

Four focus areas of learning, teaching, assessment and productivity may be a reasonable first cut as system processes. But, historical processes are weak foundations on which to redesign a plan of this scope and magnitude. From both the NECC input and this outreach for public comment, I have to assume that the working group is still in the situation assessment phase. Members/staff of our AZ eLearning Task Force are concerned that a number of critical issues raised during the NECC focus groups were not included by the consultants/working group.

Possibly these four elements of legacy education theory are the conventional wisdom of the working group, and that is why they gravitated to them. In the science and engineering fields we advance rapidly because we understand how conventional wisdom can retard advancement. Inventive and transformational advancements and innovation are not based on best past practices or group processes. They are based on inventive genius and entrepreneurial skills of emerging leaders of the discipline. I wonder why this same old ground is being plowed many months into the process when the plan draft has to be written within a few months. I question the wisdom of not having representatives of the current cadre of K-12 innovation leaders in the working group. I also question the apparent lack of specialized expertise of strategic planning, inter-organizational design, elearning industry entrepreneurship, and school finance on the working group.

Some of this expertise may be provided by the SRI support staff, but to maximize effectiveness, it should also be built into the NETP working group.

The most difficult aspect of the NETP design is the inter-organizational design that will produce the systematic transformation of our entire national education system. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I had the pleasure of initiating –and being in the leadership of –Arizona’s Strategic Plan for Economic Development. We raised $500,000 and engaged SRI International. Critical economic industry clusters and supporting infrastructure were identified. Changes were made in how Arizona’s economy was supported in our government agencies, and new Arizona industry associations were formed. This system-wide effort addressed both our physical and intellectual infrastructures. Based on SRI’s initial engagement with Arizona, they developed a global practice that applied lessons learned on transformational strategic planning to other states and countries.

Since SRI International is the lead consultant for the National Education Technology Plan working group, I suggest that Barbara Means engage their global strategic planning team. They could provide the support needed for the complexity and scope of the elearning transformation of K-12 education in the United States.

The following are a number of elements that might be addressed with a system design process:

  • A vision of the transformed U.S. K-12 system in 2019;
  • The five to ten goals set by the working group to effect the K-12 system transformation, including P-20 goals where linkage is vital.
  • A set of quantitative objectives with time lines;
  • A short set of strategies for each objective;
  • A meta-strategy that addresses the entire system transformation.
  • A system design model presented on the learning ecology dimension with aspects of micro, meso, exo, macro and chrono ecologies* at each of the five functional levels from teacher-student engagement to federal.
  • A system design model based on the major implementation components: teacher practice development, student personal learning plans; digital curriculum, formative and summative data systems, broadband Internet access, student computing devices, technical support, metamorphosis of funding system from “seat-time” to mastery-based, leadership, elearning centered schools and spaces, federally sponsored research, emerging solutions based elearning industry, and “Innovation Centrals” to champion the transformation at all levels.
  • A detailed ten year financial model of the system transformation based on a roll up along the five functional levels of classroom, school, district, state, and federal. It would include a one-time investment spread over that ten year period, new costs, cost avoidance, cost savings and use of net savings either to meet needs like teacher salaries or to decrease tax burdens on communities.
  • An implementation plan with costs and benefits to guide the national efforts. It would deliver models for the state, district, school and classroom levels to support their efforts. Implementation will address changes in systems, governance, funding, facilities, transportation, people, types of positions and student learning pace/calendar.

Summary:

Let’s look at an example. One of several system components being actively pursued under the current Race To The Top initiative is data driven decision support. Three of the requirements (1, 2, 3b) address Longitudinal Summative Administrative Data. The other (3a) addresses Real Time Formative Instructional Data. The administrative data systems are well defined, and have been under development for many years by many states. They are relatively easy to address since only 1 million administrators will be active users. The instruction learning systems are still in the research and development, and must serve the needs of 3.5 million teachers and 60 million students. These systems must be integrated with teacher professional development, digital curriculum, and computing interfaces and systems for all students and individualize learning plans.

Each component of the system transformation must be phased with an appropriate time line and with full consideration of the leads and lags of the other components. There are many other challenges within the five level system, from the teacher-student relationship to national physical, financial and intellectual infrastructure support.

I recommend that your planning working group might take a step back. You might want to reconsider developing a plan and process the is based on a redesign. Then generate a strategic eLearning plan that has both implementation and financial plans as major sections.

* Microsystem—the student’s family, school, peers; Mesosystem—two or more linked microsystems such as home and school; Exosystem—indirect outside forces: districts, states; boards, state standards, federal support and mandates, parents work conditions; Macrosystem—cultural beliefs, values, customs; Chronosystem—student is influenced by different systems at different times.

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