Education Technology Policy Review: A Power-On Yesterday, a Transforming Today and a New Golden-Age Tomorrow
From the 1980s’ stand-alone computers, to the 1990s’ network-based multimedia, to the 21st century’s wireless campus, educational technology has evolved significantly. Consequentially, educators’ visions and the policies of the technology have changed as well. The educational technology policy documents over the past 20 years, from A Nation at Risk of 1983 to PCAST Report 1997, from the No Child Left BehindAct of 2001 (NCLB) to the new National Education Technology Plan 2004, have addressed multiple aspects of understanding the process of using technological tools to change teaching practices and improve learning outcomes. These aspects, however, has drawn three distinct approaches to thinking about and investing in technology. They are: investing in technology to support specific and long term needs of educators, transforming education through technology, and matching technologies to public priorities for educational improvement (Culp, Honey, & Mandinach, 2003). After a brief review of these documents in chronological order, I found that three policies, including one from the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s, have played important roles in developing our vision for how technologies can impact teaching and learning. These particular documents helped to shape how we view the promise and potential of technology in education and marked significant steps in the evolution of educational technology enlightened by the spirit of the A Nation at Risk report and the NCLB Legislation.
The 80s – a Power-On Yesterday
The educational reform reports of the 1980's were being issued parallel to the establishment of the personal computer and interactive technologies as important tools in education. Both the reform reports and the emergence of new technologies during the 1980's pointed to the American economic transition occurring simultaneously (Doyle, 1994). According to A Nation at Risk report, schools were seen as failing to turn out productive citizens as well as failing in academic preparation. The needs of the American marketplace were changing from an industrial orientation to that of information/service. This would lend impetus to the reform movement by the business community. Educational Technology policies such as Power On! New Tools for Teaching and Learning initiated by this reform movement, were to study the potential of interactive learning tools for improving the quality of education. The Power On report also “analyzed the technological, economic, and institutional barriers to achieving the technologies future promise” (OTA, 1988).
During this period, however, there was no best solution for all level of government and school districts to develop a comprehensive plan and to share funding responsibilities. Although interactive technologies were identified as powerful and important educational tools, they were not able to be fully developed due to lack of a unifying conception.
The 90s – Transforming for Today
With the emergence of the Internet and technology becoming more a central force in economic competitiveness, policies in mid-90s have changed the focus from technology as tools to technology as a driver of school reform. Instead of focusing on isolated, skills-based uses of technology, Panel on Educational Technology under the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) claimed that schools should promote the use of various technologies for sophisticated problem-solving and information-retrieving purposes (Panel on Educational Technology, 1997).
One of the major voices of the documents during this period is the emphasis on infusion of technology into the curriculum to promote learning through the technology instead of learning the technology. As articulated in the Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strenghen K-12 Education in the United States (PCAST 1997), school should be transformed to a place where students should be introduced to and instructed through the technology as a tool for understanding, exploration, and problem solving. The documents in this decade primarily advocated improving access, connectivity and infrastructure as well as defining and promoting the roles of multiple stakeholders.
The 21st Century – Towards a New Golden-Age Tomorrow
The launch of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 further deepened education reform in the 21st century with new standards of accountability. Driven by the NCLB, recommendations focusing on the need for new regulations and policies regarding educational technology have emerged. The National Education Technology Plan (NETP) 2004 generated 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 has meant as a comparison and a framework, grounded in practice and reality (Jackson, 2005). By matching technologies to public priorities for educational improvement, the plan started a campaign that will accelerate “a nation on the move” towards a new golden age.
The Changes and the Challenges
Within the defining frame of the A Nation at Risk report and the NCLB legislation, the policies reviewed have empowered the technology to renovate traditional education landscape and gradually changed the conversation from integration to transformation. Meanwhile, the under-funding of the NCLB, digital divide/disconnect, lack of adequate training, and lack of understanding of how technology can be used to enrich the learning experience seem to have posed both physical and philosophical challenges on the evolution of these policies. However, with some latest policies pointing out some solutions such as using the existing resources and budget creatively, creating a new student-teacher partnership, and strengthening leaderships at every level, we are cautiously optimistic about the future of the technology-based educational improvement.
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