How to Push for Progress? The Key is Tranparency

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In the third installment of my interview with Karen Cator, Director of Educational Technology at the Department of Education, we talk about how transparency in the digital age can help to motivate the education community to push for progress.

I've heard a lot of frustration from the education community about decision-makers either not showing interest or being unable to push for some of the progressive tactics detailed in the National Education Technology Plan. What can educators, parents, or others do to help keep the momentum going from the ground level, even when it's stalled at the top?

I think we need to increase transparency around what’s happening in schools today. A school might be perfectly happy with the system they have if they’re meeting the needs of students. If that’s the case, they don’t have much inclination to try something new.

If, however, they have students who are not engaged, not coming to school, or those who are graduation but still needing remedial assistance wherever they go, or graduating but not being prepared for what they need to do next -- if we build transparency around the kind of data and outcomes that are happening now, people will have more of an inclination to try some new models.

That said, I think we need transparency around schools that have been successful. What we have now is that everyone’s trying to figure out how to do it all over again. So we’re doing some work around how we can we build much more collaboration and interaction online for education professionals so people can find places that are like them or a little ahead of them, so they can follow rather than figuring it out on their own all over again.


And the third thing is, we’ll see more opportunities that are directed for students outside school: online courses, other materials and resources that students can use outside school or to augment school experience, that wouldn’t require teachers and administrators to be provisioning it.

What do you mean when you say "transparency"?

Nationally, we need a campaign about education, the lifetime costs of failure, the economic imperative of improving our education system dramatically. We really need way more people to understand that.

The other kind of transparency is about what schools are doing on a more national scale. The Department of Commerce is working on a map with the FCC that will provide a visualization into where broadband is available and not available across the country. If we can build those kinds of maps that we can layer on what’s happening in all these schools around country, that provides transparency and something that people can aspire to, follow.

When it comes to educators sharing information, how do you recommend they figure out which professional network to choose? There are so many different ones to choose from.

First of all, we’re applauding all the different efforts that people are working on in terms of creating highly connected professional educator. We do think improving the ability of teachers getting assistance when and where they need it will help them. It'll help with finding resources, content, new strategies, and all that is important.

We’re interested in developing the teaching profession, building up the vision of the professional educator as one who builds and improves practice over time. So our project is to understand what all these online communities have in common, what the successes are, how to measure what’s happening in these communities, and how to understand the opportunities with these online communities.

The other part of this is to see if we can figure out how to work with folks to create a persistent educator profile. So for example if I’m a teacher, I maintain a profile, I let others into my professional learning network to see the conversations and the communities I’m a part of. I can follow fellow educators that might be involved in interesting projects and trying new projects in the classroom. So it goes beyond just following people on Twitter, but creating a profile for professional educators.

We hope that this network leverages a variety of technologies that people are already developing and that those technologies and opportunities for people to connect get better and better.

[Read Part I and Part II of the interview.]