#NETP16: Setting a vision of equity, active use, and collaborative leadership

Photo Credit: Hive NYC/Brooklyn Public Library

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is charged with promoting “…student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” ED’s mission of equity in education served as a central driver in the development of the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP16) — Future Ready Learning: Reimagining Technology’s Role in Education.

NETP16 sets a vision of equity, active use, and leadership in the utilization of technology to support learning in America and is aligned to the Activities to Support the Effective Use of Technology (Title IV A) of Every Student Succeeds Act as authorized by Congress in December 2015.

The Equity We Envision

Equity in NETP16 crosses four key areas. Equity of high-speed connectivity and access to high-quality content and devices represents the greatest change in education technology over the 5 years since the last NETP. Efforts such as the President’s ConnectED Initiative and the modernization of the federal E-rate program, combined with falling price points and an increase in openly licensed educational resources have begun to shrink education’s digital divide.

It is in two other realms of equity that NETP16 calls on the field for the greatest movement. The first is equity of accessibility. While the previous plan drew attention to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), NETP16 takes that a step further, calling on all producers of educational technologies to adopt UDL principles and ensure that their hardware and software are born accessible.

All students, no matter their abilities should have access to the tools they will use to shape our future.

All of this moves toward the final aspect of equity envisioned by NETP16 — equity of experience. Simply put, all learners deserve access to transformative learning experiences. We must act now to prevent the widening of a second digital divide — a digital use divide — where students of historically-disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be asked to use technology in ways that are more passive than their better-advantaged peers. Every child deserves the chance to code. Every child deserves the chance to connect with peers and experts from across the world. Every child deserves the chance to solve real problems, build useful tools, and create authentic artifacts of their learning, and we must continue the hard work of making sure zip codes and income are not predictors of access to such experiences.

The Path to Equity

Beginning in November 2014, ED began reaching out to education leaders across the country as part of our Future Ready efforts. NETP16 builds on those efforts with the inclusion of a new section dedicated to leadership’s role in planning for and utilizing technology to support learning. As part of a research synthesis conducted through our Future Ready Leaders project, we identified four areas — collaborative leadership, personalized student learning, robust infrastructure, and personalized professional learning — as key to sustainable shifts in learning organizations. Moreover, experience has shown the key question to be answered by families, educators, administrators, community members, and students is, “What do you we want learning to look like where we are?”

We establish equity by looking at our answer to that question and constantly asking how we will make that true for all children in our care.

In drawing attention to leadership in the drafting of NETP16, we realized that the responsibility for ensuring educator capacity for utilizing technology to improve student learning should not rest on schools and districts alone. Our teacher preparation programs must provide a strong foundation that blends theory, practice, and application of technology into each facet of a new teacher’s preparation. No longer are stand-alone courses on technology appropriate to prepare teachers for modern classrooms — if they ever were.

Connectivity, collaborative leadership and increased professional capacity will take us much of the way, and it will not be enough. As we work to make sure all our schools have high-speed connectivity throughout their hallways and classrooms, we must turn our attention to students’ access outside of schools. NETP16 calls for new efforts in providing home Internet access that will make everywhere, all-the-time learning possible.

Efforts like ConnectED and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHOME Initiative are paving the way. If we want all of our students to experience deeply transformational learning powered by technology, we owe it to them to remove any and all hurdles to accessing that technology and those experiences. To do this, we must draw on the experiences on those who are leading the way.

Here, too, NETP16 aims to assist. When we began the process of revising the plan, we asked education stakeholders across the country what we could do in the new NETP to make it better. Across groups we heard the same thing — bring it to the practical. This plan does that. Each idea is followed by examples of those schools, districts, higher ed institutions, and non-profit organizations making bold steps into the future to provide opportunities for active equitable use of technology. We hope that sharing these stories will provide educators throughout the nation with a vision of what is possible when we use technology in smart ways to help all students succeed. That, after all, is the vision of NETP16.

Zac Chase is a ConnectED Fellow in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

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