Maureen McTaggart finds out what why US educator Karen Cator is a hot ticket for BETT Week
Karen CatorKaren Cator: schools 'revolution'To keep pace with the 21st century, schools in the United States require "revolutionary transformation rather than evolutionary tinkering" according to the National Education Technology Plan 2010 (NETP). And this involves unleashing the full potential of technology to continuously improve learning and teaching.

Making appearances at both Learning Without Frontiers and the BETT International Conference, Karen Cator, US director of the Office of Educational Technology and a key figure behind the plan, will be spreading this message of "fundamental re-thinking" of how schools should function when she visits London in January for BETT Week.

The strategy is spelt out in the report "Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology" with the pledge: "Technology is at the core of virtually every aspect of our daily lives and work; we must leverage it to provide engaging and powerful learning experiences, content, and resources and assessments that measure student achievement in more complete, authentic, and meaningful ways."

While emphasising national curriculum standards and technology-based learning and assessments ("embedded assessment technologies, such as simulations, collaboration environments, virtual worlds, games, and cognitive tutors") with a call for 360-degree feedback and data-driven decision-making, the report sets out goals and recommendations for five key areas.

  1. Learning: Make learning more engaging and tailored to students' needs and interests and integrate 21st century competences and expertise, such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration multimedia communication and technological competences.
  2. Assessment: Leverage the power of technology to measure student progress and use real-time data for continuous improvement.
  3. Teaching: Support and connect teachers to the tools, resources, experts and peers (including via online social networks) they need to be more effective.
  4. Infrastructure: Provide broadband connectivity for all students, where "adequate" means everywhere - in schools, throughout communities and in homes.
  5. Productivity: Use technology to help schools become more productive and accelerate learner achievement while managing costs.
Full presentation by Karen Cator, a former teacher who has also worked with Apple Inc

Taking into consideration the cornucopia of technologies currently available, the NETP majors on "connected teaching" and wants to see the traditional classroom confined to history. Instead, the new centres of learning should be responsible for closing the digital gap and provide learners and educators with options to work in "large groups, small groups, and work tailored to individual goals, needs".

'Outside school, students are free to pursue their passions in their own way '

The report is explicit about the importance of engaging technologies in schools: "Many students’ lives today are filled with technology that gives them mobile access to information and resources 24/7, enables them to create multimedia content and share it with the world, and allows them to participate in online social networks where people from all over the world share ideas, collaborate, and learn new things. Outside school, students are free to pursue their passions in their own way and at their own pace. The opportunities are limitless, borderless, and instantaneous.

"The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures. In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, this requires that we put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions."

This holistic transformation of education is expected to take five years to complete, and is a crucial part of the Obama administration's plan to close the current students' achievement gap. The ultimate aim is that "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world".

Placing great emphasis on "always on" and lifelong learning, the report backs the provision of a "core set of standards-based concepts and competencies". But educators must allow enough flexibility, changing "what and how we teach to match what people learn and change our perception of who needs to learn" so students can take control of their own learning.

A total embrace of the internet and mobile technologies will, when combined with personalised learning and "Universal Design for Learning", bring engaging and powerful learning experiences to "learners who have been marginalised in many educational settings". These include those from low income communities, minorities, gifted and talented and students with disabilities.

The commitment to radical change is in evidence all the way to the top. "We have an unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools," says US education secretary Arne Duncan. "With this technology plan, we have laid out a comprehensive vision for how teachers working with technology can transform student learning in classrooms across America. We must dramatically improve teaching and learning, personalise instruction and ensure that the educational environments we offer to all students keep pace with the 21st century."

"Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology"

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BETT 2011, January 12-15
Olympia, London

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