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ConnectED Could be a Game Changer for Technology in Schools

Children at School taken by Lucelia Ribeiro

In June 2013, President Obama announced the ConnectED initiative intended to equip schools with the best technology available to improve the nation's education system. The administration secured pledges of over $2 billion from leading technology companies. Despite that headline grabbing figure, a lack of specifics about the nature of the donations themselves made it difficult to evaluate. The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) recently shared new details about ConnectED pledges, which allows for some preliminary observations about the program. It appears the Obama administration and its private partners are taking the right approach to integrating technology into the nation’s classrooms.

Professional Development is Key

Many program participants have included training for teachers as a component of their contribution to ConnectED. Lack of guidance in how to use new technologies is a huge barrier to successful implementation. According to a recent survey, 46 percent of teachers “report lacking adequate training on technology they use.” To address this issue, companies like Autodesk have committed to offer training along with free access to its 3D design software. Teachers have many demands on their time and pairing professional development along with new technology is critical to improving instruction.

Making High-Speed Internet Ubiquitous

ConnectED partners have also prioritized providing high-speed Internet access to students. To take full advantage of new education technologies, students need high-speed Internet access in their schools and in their homes.  Far too many lack this essential learning resource. Only 18 percent of teachers report that “all or almost all” of their students had “access to the Internet and other digital technologies they need to effectively complete school assignments.” The tech giants participating in the program are tackling this problem directly. AT&T has committed to providing free mobile broadband to middle and high school students in impoverished communities. Microsoft and Sprint have also pledged to help reduce this digital divide.

ConnectED Partner Commitments

Partner

Value

Commitment

Esri

$1,000

ArcGIS map making software to all schools

Adobe

$300

Software and professional development

Autodesk

$250

3D design software to secondary schools along with training

Apple

$100

iPads, MacBooks, and other professional development tools

AT&T

$100

Mobile broadband services, devices, and teaching

O'Reilly Media

$100

E-books for high school students covering programing & software

Prezi

$100

Pro version of their presentation software

Sprint

$100

Off-campus high-speed mobile Internet connections

Verizon

$100

Training for STEM teachers using mobile technology

Microsoft

Unknown

Discounts to all schools on its Windows OS

Total

$2,150

 

*In Millions

Source: SETDA, White House

Devices are not a Panacea

In the past, public-private partnerships have focused on providing schools with donated software and hardware. But these tools are useless if they are not incorporated into the curriculum.  The hardest part of bringing America’s classrooms into the 21st century is not securing the necessary funding. The difficulty is developing strategies that empower teachers to improve their instruction. The focus from the ConnectED partners on training and Internet access suggest the program could help thousands of students enjoy the benefits of education technology.

More information on ConnectED is available from SETDA.