A local school district loses its federal funding money over teacher behavior. A group of D.C. residents sue to block a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. And a Republican activist in Montgomery County successfully petitions to get term limits on the ballot—but a legal challenge looms.
What tools and skills do students and teachers need to succeed in our digital future? And how can state and federal governments help? Karen Cator, a former Apple executive who is now the Obama administration’s point person on education technology, stops by Tech Tuesday to explore those questions.
- Karen Cator Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. As young people today live their lives online, sharing their thoughts, ideas and videos with friends near and far, education experts say our nation's schools have to keep up. It's no longer adequate to saddle students with a heavy textbook, put the reading assignment on the board and tell the whole class the test is next Friday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIInstead, the goal is to move from paper-based classrooms to ones that rely more heavily on the Internet and to move from one-size-fits-all pacing and testing to individualized lessons that fit the needs and talents of each student. Experts say history and math have to be as engaging as video games, not just to keep students tuned in but to give them the technological skills they'll need in the 21st century workplace.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe question is how to get from here to there. Teachers need more training. Schools need more equipment. And we all need to rethink the ways students learn best. Joining us in studio to have a Tech Tuesday conversation of how education technology can shape the future is Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. Karen Cator, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. KAREN CATORThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDILet's start with your own story. You have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, a master's in school administration. You also worked at Apple before moving to the U.S. Department of Education. How did you go from being a classroom teacher in rural Alaska to being the nation's chief of education technology?
CATORThat's a great question. You know, I think it was just kind of the flow of life happened. I grew up in Massachusetts, went to college there, after college, decided to take a trek for the -- just planned on staying the summer in Alaska and ended up staying for 17 years working in schools and in Alaska. And then I think I came into education about the same time technology did.
CATORSo in the early '80s when people were beginning to think about how these new kind of personal computers could be used to help students learn, I was, at the time, teaching a program for gifted, talented children. And we ended up spending a lot of time, and I got interested. I saw what was possible with the children there and, from there, ended up getting recruited for a job in California with Apple and spent 12 years in corporate.
NNAMDIWhat did you do with Apple?
CATORI spent 12 years there working in education, kind of kept my sort of persona as a teacher, as an administrator, and worked with many of Apple's customers in education about -- worked on policy and leadership and worked with teachers in classrooms and that kind of thing.
NNAMDIYour Office of Educational Technology is trying to move the nation's classrooms from print-based to digital learning. Explain what that transition would look like.
CATORYeah. And, actually, what we're really trying to do is improve the opportunity to learn for all Americans. So whether it be for adults -- we have, you know, 93 million adults in this country who are undereducated. There's about 45 percent of the adults who are below a high school-level proficiency in reading and math and such. We're trying to improve the opportunity to learn and the opportunity to stay in school.
CATORFor many of the high school students in this country, we have about 25 percent that drop out. And we're trying to improve the opportunity to learn and improve the quality of learning because we have about 38 percent of our students who, when they go to college, they need remedial help. So I wouldn't say we're really just trying to use technology for the sake of technology. We're trying to improve the education system in this country for people of all ages.
NNAMDIDescribe the difference between a paper-oriented classroom and one that embraces digital learning. What are some specific things we'd see in one...
NNAMDI...but not in the other?
CATORIt's really interesting when -- if you back up just for a second, if you think about we used to be able to just learn from people before the printing press, before books. Then when printing press came out, we now can learn still from people and our neighbors and our colleagues, but we also could learn from books. And, now, we have this new opportunity. We learn from people. We can learn from books. But now, we can learn with this kind of new online, digital learning environment, so some of the things -- there are many affordances that you can imagine. You can access experts.
CATORYou can hear experts talk about all sorts of things from quantum physics to, you know, entomology to, you know, whatever it may be, whatever your interested in. You also can have -- can watch simulations and visualizations and models of complex data systems. You can have texts on a screen read to you. There are so many affordances as we begin to leverage the digital learning environment that can, again, improve the opportunity for students to learn.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're having a Tech Tuesday conversation with Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. We're talking about how educational technology is shaping the future and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. How do your kids use technology in the classroom? You can also send us email to email@example.com, send us a tweet at #kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDIWhat do you think it would take for kids to enjoy Shakespeare or biology as much as they enjoy Call of Duty or Wii bowling? 800-433-8850 is the number to call. How does technology allow a whole new style of personalized learning where students pursue their own interests, work at their own pace, and not everyone takes the same test on the same day?
CATORYeah. I mean, when you think about it, how all of us learn -- like every morning, when people wake up in the morning and they need to learn something new, whether it be how to change a faucet or they need to learn, you know, about something about the stock market or whatever it is for your job or for your personal interests, there are lots of ways to learn today. So, first of all, we all kind of think of ourselves as learners.
CATORIt helps us kind of envision how we think that students in classrooms and formal education could leverage some of these opportunities. So we can get students to ask better questions. We can ask -- get students to do good research, to find and follow their own passions. It's not an easy transition. It's not something that just comes naturally, but we can begin to leverage these personalized learning environments.
CATORSo it is about interests, but it's also about environment that can adapt to your level so that you're not just doing the same thing everybody else in your class is doing, say, in mathematics. But you are -- you're working at the kinds of problems that are more fine-tuned to the kinds of things that are going to help you move along your trajectory of learning mathematics.
NNAMDIAren't those the major advantages of digital learning over print-based learning, the fact that digital learning can be much more highly personalized than print-based learning?
CATORIt can be definitely -- it definitely can be adaptive. It can be much more personalized. It can focus on you. It also is -- it can -- you as a learner can also leverage your own questions, keep your own portfolio, keep your own music and photos and movies and the kinds of things that are interesting to you. And you can begin to incorporate those into your own learning. So if you think about this, the whole environment of being a learner, it's a great time to be a learner. And if you think about all the kinds of things that you can have at your fingertips, those are the affordances.
NNAMDICan you point to more specific examples of schools or teachers that have successfully used technology to develop individualized lesson plans for their students? I know that Secretary Arne Duncan talked about the School of One in New York.
CATORSo that's an example. There are many different kinds of emerging examples. So the School of One is an example of math that where students come in the morning, and they kind of see a marquee board, and they get their assignments for the day. So their assignment may be that they are working with a small group of students on a game. It may be that they're on a computer working through an adaptive environment.
CATORIt may be that they're with the teacher, and the teacher is doing tutoring with maybe a small group of students. They may be with an aide. There's just a lot of different kinds of interventions and things you can do to move students along. What's interesting about the School of One is it uses a computer algorithm. Every day, students take a little tiny test, and it uses the results of that to assign the kinds of things that they'll be doing the next day. So it's something that kind of self improves. That is one example.
NNAMDIWhat are the skills that today's students need to master to do well in the 21st century and beyond? And how can technology help them to do that?
CATORYou know, we actually -- you know, we don't know for sure exactly the specific kinds of things students will be doing. There are jobs just emerging all the time. When, you know, I was in high school, there was nothing -- there was, you know, biotech, for example. There's all of these new and emerging fields of study. But what we do know is that students need to know how to learn.
CATOREvery person in this country needs to become a more expert learner, so just starting there, some people talk about the four Cs. They talk about the necessity of critical thinking, of collaboration, of creativity, of, you know, things like problem solving and the like. So there are lots of people who have sort of articulated the kinds of skills people need. And then, of course, we still need to have an emerging base of content knowledge.
NNAMDISchools aim to give their students a common foundation of understanding about subjects like math, science, literature, history. I wonder if this emphasis on teaching kids to master technology tools can be shifting our orientation from intellectual mastery to practical mastery. Is that one of the dangers of this?
CATORYou know, I don't think so. I think there's a -- it is a danger if we focus on here's how you use technology. But that is -- that shouldn't be the focus. And anymore, the tools are getting better and better, so we don't have to try to teach people "how to use technology" but rather it's, how do you ask good questions?
NNAMDIAnd is that a focus on people like me who are not digital natives? Does that tend to be our focus? Is the focus of young people different? They don't think it's about understanding how to use the tools.
CATORRight. Somebody said -- I can't remember who I should be crediting for this comment, but they said technology is only technology to those born before the technology, right? So it is kind of true that our sense of technology is, you know, these new interesting things, and we sort of feel like we have to learn how to use them. But, really, young people, they never took a class in how to use Facebook. They never took a class in how to use Twitter or -- but we do need adults, wise adults, the wisdom of adults to be completely sort of in the middle of the kinds of things students are doing with these new technologies.
NNAMDIAnd I know a question that a lot of people have is the one that Ken in Alexandria, Va. wants to ask. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KENHi. I guess I have maybe a couple of comments more than a question. It seems to me that today there's a general trend to use technology to not interact with a customer. In this case, kids are the customer, right? And I don't know how many times I've come across services that -- well, I'm sure everyone has for -- you dial on a phone. You get a mechanical answer. And then you dial around to seven choices. And then, all of sudden, you're back where you started. Well, that's one comment.
KENThe other comment is that I think kids at a very young age, even before kindergarten perhaps, need to be taught how to learn. You know, they're very (unintelligible) of learning that seems to come naturally. But I'm convinced after having seven grandchildren that the teaching, early teaching is a tremendous advantage to those who get it. And that's basically (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWell, what is your concern about technology in the early learning environment, Ken?
KENWell, see, I think it is not all that useful. I -- it's a tremendous time waster for kids to play a lot of games rather than using their hands to build things and to exercise judgment working with other people. Now, I'm well into computers. That's my profession. And I seriously doubt -- I just think there needs to be a good foundation for these young people.
NNAMDIOK. Allow me to have Karen Cator respond.
CATORYeah. So, Ken, I actually couldn't agree with you more on both counts. The -- take the second one first. You know, I don't think we can say enough that we do need to help people learn how to learn, and that starts at a very early age. We need to continue nurturing curiosity, the ability to try things out, to test, to fail. That is how young children learn, and we need to figure out how to nurture that as students get older and older and older, so absolutely.
CATORThe other thing that I think when I -- you know, people who are well-versed in technology and use technology in their work, they know that part of the --one of the skills has to do with being a designer. There's this whole movement called the makers movement that we want to make sure that students -- we want to give students the opportunity to continue to build and design and experiment and try things with real materials. And those are some of the skills that also nurture kind of the art of learning.
CATORYour first comment had to do with interaction, and I could not agree with you more that, you know, kind of badly designed call trees are the bane of our existence. And what we do want to make sure is that in a personalized learning environment, we think that learning is very participatory. Students should participate. They should be fully connected with the other people around them, with their teachers. But we also think that the opportunity, as we use technology, there will be an opportunity for more personal interaction with a teacher, for example, or a tutor or peers.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Ken. We've got to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If you have not yet called and would like to, the number is 800-433-8850. What technology-related skills do kids need to know before they enter the workplace, in your view? 800-433-8850 or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. We're talking with Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education about educational technology and its impact on the future, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. One of the obstacles to increasing digital learning is the cost. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called for every student to have access to digital textbooks within five years. What exactly are digital textbooks? And what will it take to bring them to every child in every classroom?
CATORSo digital textbooks is kind of a bit of a bridge term because we really don't mean textbooks the way we think of them today. We think about environments that are much more powered up. You know, a textbook can have only so many pages. It can only be so heavy. A digital environment can have many more pages, kind of endless number of pages and links and, you know, going off to other sites.
CATORYou can incorporate these visualizations and simulations in these. You can have interactive games. You can have adaptive environments. But you can put all of this in the context that's easy for a teacher to use -- easier for a teacher to use. So you still have kind of a scope and sequence, a table of contents, a flow of the day, of the year, so that teachers aren't just left with a whole pile of stuff on the table, but rather it's well-organized for them.
NNAMDIAnd what will it take to bring digital textbook to every classroom? We're talking about cost here.
CATORYeah, it's going to -- it'll take, first of all, a lot of leadership and a lot of sort of vision and understanding and kind of a commitment to doing everything we can to make the learning environment as powerful as possible. So that's the first thing. There are some things we won't have to spend as much money on, like traditional textbooks, for example, the paper-based textbooks. Some of the sets of books that are actually in the public domain, these can be accessed online for free now.
CATORThere are things like that. There are some people who have done analyses of facilities. So, for example, you won't need the space for the computer lab when students have, in fact, the information in their backpack, so to speak, or in their home and in their school.
NNAMDICan you explain the goals of the Connect to Compete program which will offer low-cost broadband and refurbished computers to families in the free school lunch program starting this fall?
CATORSure. So when we think about the cost of this, we also think it's incredibly important for students to have access outside of school as well as inside of school. Many of us have students -- have children, who, you know, couldn't do their homework without access to a computer. But then there are many students who don't have access at home right now.
CATORWhat Connect to Compete is about is it's providing -- providers across the country have signed up to provide $9.95 a month broadband access and a computer that's -- that families could purchase for, I think, $150 or something like that. So it's the -- goal of the program is to get many more people participating and coming online. There are about a third of Americans are actually not online at this point, don't have broadband access. We're trying to improve that so that they can fully participate.
NNAMDILet's see if that answers the question of Rose in McLean, Va. Rose, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROSEIt may just answer it. Hi. So in McLean, they have started doing textbooks online. And the biggest issue here has been that we don't always have enough computers at home for -- if you have multiple children to use all of your -- like, I have two kids. They share a computer. If they have to do all their homework online, we just don't have enough time on that one computer for both my kids to do all their homework.
ROSEIt's not just the one class or two classes that have their textbooks online. It's all the research that they have to do and everything else. So they're kind of fighting over the one computer that we have, which is getting kind of crazy in our house.
CATORThat is -- I totally can understand and relate to that scenario. You know, where we're seeing the most interesting work is where every student has access to their own device. And this is going to be different from neighborhood to neighborhood and community to community across the country. Some communities can afford. They can provide. It's a safe environment for students to carry something in their backpack.
CATORIn other places, we need to have something at school and at home for students' use. But it is -- we are in a situation where every student does need to be able to manage their own learning by -- with their own device of some kind that they can use to access that learning, keep their own portfolio, keep their own materials, their music, their own searches, their, you know, all of their own work.
NNAMDIRose, thank you very much for your call. Along similar lines, we have a question from Doris in Arlington, Va. Hi, Doris.
DORISYes. Hi. I'd like to know what the Department of Education plans to do to ensure that if students are using computers in school and for all of their homework, how you're going to ensure that it is -- that all the curriculum materials and all the computer-based instructional materials and the textbooks themselves are fully accessible to students who have disabilities and use access software?
DORISAnd, also, how are you going to ensure that the school systems are going to have the computers available to those students so they can equally compete? And I might say, this is also, I think, an issue for kids from low-income families, whether they are in neighborhoods with a majority of kids with low -- who are low income but particularly low-income kids who are in richer counties where some students have access to computers and they don't, and they're falling behind already in schools.
NNAMDIDoris, thank you very much for your call. We discussed that in part in the Connect to Compete program. But, Doris, Andy in Annandale, Va. has a question also about accessibility. So I'll go to Andy now. Andy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDYYes. Thanks, Dr. Cater, and, Kojo. I'm a blind instructor at a local university. And I am impressed with the research my students can do. But I've got to tell you, I'm living in the Dark Ages of accommodation. And I'm expecting some pressure from the administration and some cooperation from companies like Apple to institute, to create, new software that is better than PDF because there's a huge proliferation of PDF files, which are very difficult for me to read.
ANDYNow, supposedly, JAWS, Job Access With Speech, is a technology that will read PDF files, but I have found it not equal to the task. And this would be, you know, this seems to me a problem that's quite solvable with some pressure from government.
NNAMDIKaren Cator, the whole issue of access to -- for persons with disabilities.
CATORAbsolutely. So this is actually something that we need to be absolutely vigilant about, first of all, so the 2008 Act of -- the Higher Education Act called for universal design for learning. There are already are things in place for, you know, 504, 508 compliance. So those are -- this is an incredibly important area, and this -- so, first of all, yes, we absolutely are being vigilant. We're doing things inside the Department of Education. We're looking at our grant programs and shining a spotlight on that, and we're making at -- creating it as a requirement.
CATORBut the second thing I would say is that it is an incredible opportunity to create these environments that are equally accessible and, you know, powerful for people who are blind, for people who, you know, have hearing loss or can't hear, for cognitive disabilities, for motor disabilities, the kinds of technologies that I have seen in my travels for using switches, for having screen readers. The opportunity to create a signal environment that's accessible to all people, regardless of the disability, is pretty amazing.
CATORAnd we do know also that those kinds of things are going to be helpful for all kinds of learners that have either needs or preferences. You know, without getting into the specifics, there just are some amazing technologies, screen readers, devices that you can use out of the box if you are blind that will read to you. The older technologies are much more difficult, PDFs and the like, but I think that there are newer technologies that will make it just, again, much more accessible for many more people.
NNAMDIAndy, thank you very much for your call. Are you any more helpful now than you were three minutes ago?
NNAMDIAre you any more hopeful now than you were three minutes ago?
ANDYWell, you know, I've got to say we already have the EEOC and the ADA.
ANDYAnd we're not using them.
CATORYeah. We're trying to include that in that grant programs as a requirement and, you know, that there's the -- it's one thing to put it on the front end and another thing to work on compliance on the back end. But it's definitely something -- Alexa Posny is the assistant secretary for the Office Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. She's amazing, and we are across the department talking a lot about how we can, in fact, support the development of these -- of newer technologies and the use of those.
NNAMDIAndy, thank you very much for your call. On now to Steve in Rockville, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Steve?
NNAMDIYou're now on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEYeah. I just had a quick question for your guest. I'm just wondering which school systems or which states are more progressive in adopting this new technology. And what are the challenges that they're facing right now?
CATORSo there are many communities across the country. There's a group -- the project called Project RED. And I was talking to the -- those folks. They've probably done the most extensive research. They say they're about, you know, over 2,000 schools or districts across the country that have been working on technology programs where all students have access. The state of Maine has probably had the longest standing project. And they've had -- every middle schooler in the state of Maine has had their own laptop for about the last 10 years.
CATORThere are some of the school districts -- Mooresville, N.C., is an example that we talk about a lot. And I think that there are multiple challenges. There are challenges -- you know, some of the more interesting challenges, I think, have to do with people, obviously, helping teachers figure out new kinds of assignments and new kinds of interactions and projects that they can -- that their students can do, now that they have access.
CATORThe challenges of making sure that students are well-behaved and understanding, you know, that they are, in fact, the CEO of their own personal brand as they go online and begin to, you know, create things and publish, that's a big challenge and something that's incredibly important.
NNAMDII read about one school district in which they allowed Wi-Fi on one of the school buses, and there was a significant change in the behavior exhibited on the bus. Students got calmer. They became more occupied. Earlier this year, The New York Times wrote about the Mooresville, N.C. school district calling it the national model of the digital school. The district gave every fourth through 12th grader a laptop.
NNAMDIAnd test scores went up. Graduation rates went up, but so did class sizes because three dozen teachers lost their jobs to pay for the hardware and software. What can we take away? What can we learn from Mooresville?
CATORYeah, actually, that last piece was misreported. The reduction in force was actually a full year later after they actually instituted, so it wasn't a decision point that we're going to do technology. And it's actually an incredibly false choice to say that we need to choose between teachers and technology. What we do think is that technology coming into the classroom will help teachers be much more effective, will help teachers meet the needs of many more students.
CATORSo, you know, that's, I think, a really important thing. And teachers have incredibly hard jobs. Their -- the work of being a teacher and working with kids every day is incredibly complex. And so if we can, in fact, put more data and information and tools in their hands, it's going to -- it's going to help teachers.
NNAMDISo you're saying that in the Mooresville situation, there was no quid pro quo, so to speak, between hardware and software gained and teachers lost.
CATORI am -- yes, I'm definitely saying that. But what I will say is in Mooresville, what was interesting is the data that they collected over the years, the more students graduated, and they continue to kind of improve that, more students doing better on the test. And remember that the test is just a single data point, so that they're also looking at the engagement every single day. They look at the ongoing data throughout the year. So sometimes we think about the one test as being the most important piece of data, but there's a lot of other data that's helpful.
NNAMDIWhat I mentioned earlier about Wi-Fi on the school bus so the students on the way to sporting events or students with long rides to and from school can use their laptops to do homework, is that the wave of the future?
CATORWell, I think the long rides, it definitely helps. I mean, if we -- if you -- somebody did a study once just to look at what students spend most of their time in school doing, one of the things that was high up on the list was waiting. Whether they are waiting in line, waiting on the bus, waiting between assignments or whatever it is, there is time, I think, some time that we can regain once we can, in fact, kind of provide those kinds of tools in students' hands.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Randy, who says, "It's been said that a good teacher teaches students how to think, not what to think. How will the digital age accomplish this?"
CATORI think that's, again, probably the most important question of the day is how can we improve learning. And part of improving learning is improving the ability to learn, to think, to ask good questions, to solve complex problems. And I think what we'll have is kind of professional tools in the hands of teachers and students to work on some of these problems.
NNAMDIYet technology's also being used in the classroom to determine what students are learning. Talk about assessment and the difference between analyzing instructional methods and evaluating student learning for the purpose of grading.
CATORYeah. Great question. You know, somebody actually just recently wrote something about comparing how we look at data in schools to kind of a baseball team, right, so a baseball analogy. So if you're a baseball player, you have data that's coming in every single time you play. Every time you pick up a bat, every time you make a hit, all that data compiles. That's how we think about the data every single day for students, and we don't -- we haven't had a lot of data every single day. We have just had the Super Bowl or the -- you know, that's not a good baseball. The World Series and...
NNAMDIThere you go.
CATOR...sticking with baseball. There you go. So if we think about, you know, the single point in time where we're getting data, what we need to do is figure out the ways of getting data all the time, every time a student is learning, as they're picking up their books, as they're working through problem sets. That's the kind of data that's going to help us understand more about how children learn and how to create more and more effective learning environments.
NNAMDIOn to Richard in Bethesda, Md. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDYes. I keep hearing that in Europe and Asia, schools do more with computers than we do here. Can she address that, if we can learn from them, or what are they doing that we're not doing? I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, please.
CATORWell, one of the things that's interesting, just in Denmark, for example, they allowed students to use the Internet on their high school exit exams. So if we think about this, what students need to know now to be successful in their high school exit exam has less to do with memorizing facts and more to do with finding information, knowing how to apply it, transferring that learning to maybe a more complex problem. So that's one thing.
CATORThe other thing that we do know is if you go straight to thinking about STEM careers -- the science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers -- in the U.S., we have about 6 percent of our high school seniors who will go on to get a bachelor's degree in a STEM subject. In Europe, it's about 12 percent. In Singapore, it's about 20 percent. In China, it's about 40 percent. So we do, in fact, need to help students understand how some of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers could be helpful to their kind of sense of a productive future.
NNAMDIPresident Obama in his State of the Union address last year set the goal of training 100,000 new teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the aforementioned STEM, in the next decade. Are you involved in that effort, and how will you use -- how will the use of technology in the classroom affect that goal?
CATORYeah. We are all immersed in that effort amongst other efforts, and that's one the things that we think is that -- you know, we won't have enough physics teachers across the country to be physically in every single high school, probably in the next several years, you know, just staying in close future. But what we do know is we can get teachers online.
CATORWe can begin to provide some of the online types of environments and courses that can help local teachers support students learning of something like physics. It's a really important strategy, and we have to figure out how to get many more teachers teaching students. But we also need to figure out how to leverage the teachers that we do have to meet the needs of many more students.
NNAMDIKaren Cator, she is director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. It's Tech Tuesday. You're invited to join the Tech Tuesday conversation on how education technology is shaping the future by calling us at 800-433-8850, sending us a tweet at #TechTuesday or simply go into our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. And, oh, yes, you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Tech Tuesday. We're talking with Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. Teaching is already a demanding profession, but it sounds like it will become a 24/7 job if everything goes digital. The new buzz word in this digital shift is connected teaching. I was going to ask you, what is it and why is it better? But, instead of that, allow me to read this email that we got from Jennifer in Takoma, D.C. and maybe take a call.
NNAMDIJennifer writes, "I teach in a private high school in Montgomery County, and I've noticed that technology has created a paradigm shift, teacher as facilitator rather than teacher as knowledge base. My job is to point them in the right direction within the realm of technology. It allows the students to take more ownership over their own learning rather than relying on the teacher as a source of knowledge. It also allows for self-assessment. Most times, the students do not need my feedback to know if they have learned something.
NNAMDI"They can self-assess based on the objectives for the course. Many educational websites, such as Glogster, have a social networking component, which can actually be useful if students are taught to use it wisely. My concern is equitable access for all students, not just in the affluent schools." And before you respond to that, here now is Amy in Greenbelt, Md. Amy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMYYes. Hi, Kojo. I really -- I enjoy your show, and I appreciate you bringing this topic today. I have a 5-year-old, and I'm very concerned with -- his future, the use of technology in terms of his learning. But I have a question for your guest, which is that we talked a lot about giving tools to the children, give them accessibility. I wonder what are the emphasis or what are the means that we could help them to value or to understand the value of education and to help them make choices of how to use the top technology for their learning? So that is my question.
NNAMDITo what extent, Karen Cator, does Jennifer's email provide at least a partial response to Amy?
CATORYeah. Jennifer's email was great, by the way. I couldn't agree more with all of it.
NNAMDIYeah, I thought so, too. Yeah.
CATORYou know, when you talk about connected teaching, what we want is for teachers to be as highly connected as possible to the tools, the content, the data, the resources, their own experts, other people who can help them be as successful as possible with every single student in their classroom, right? So this notion of being fully connected, it's helping -- giving teachers every possible tool to be successful. When we think about public education, we all need to think about all children, not just our own children.
CATORAnd that's part of the goal in thinking about equity and making sure that every single student has access. Many people in -- many children in more affluent communities will definitely have access at home, and so the school is almost less critical. If you're in a situation where students do not have access at school -- at home, school is going to be the only place that children will, in fact, have access and learn how to use it to power up their own learning.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Amy. We move on now to Kathleen on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. Kathleen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHLEENHi. I really enjoy this discussion, and I have just two quick things I want to just get your thoughts on. One was -- two articles I've read. One was by, I think, the USA Today about the local independent school that -- or I think it was an AP math course. The teacher was uploading a lesson to -- for study at night so that the student could review her lesson over and over again. When they come into class the next day, they would assemble in groups and do their homework. That's one thing I'd like your comments on.
KATHLEENAnd the second one was about -- I think this is from The New York Times. The head of Google, I believe, has their child at a Waldorf school, where there is really no technology, I think, used for teaching purposes. And I thought that was interesting as well. And I just -- if you want to comment, I'd appreciate it.
CATORSure. I can comment on both of those. First of all, the second one first. You know, I don't think it's that instructive to think about how very wealthy people send their children to a Waldorf school. Waldorf schools are absolutely wonderful. They're wonderful places with art, with -- wonderful places. And I think the bottom line is we need to provide the most wonderful learning environment for every single student. Those children probably have access to whatever technologies that they need at home. And if they don't have them today, they will on into the future.
CATORSo, again, thinking about all students is really important. The first part, what you bring up is the notion of the flipped classroom. So this notion kind of started when Salman Khan started, you know, recording lectures and, you know, little snippets of video to help his cousins do their homework. And it -- they became kind of a, you know, Internet phenomenon, a sensation that everybody was looking at these things.
CATORAnd what we started understanding was -- were those -- access to those kinds of things that you used to have to go to a classroom and listen to an expert lecture about something or teach about something, those are the kinds of things that you can, in fact, record so that you can listen to them whenever you want, maybe on the treadmill, maybe at home. You know, wherever you are, you can listen to those kinds of things.
CATORAnd so then you start to think about so what is the benefit, what's the nature of the classroom environment? And what's very cool about this is the nature of the classroom environment becomes much more interactive. It's about interacting with your peers. It's about doing projects together. It's about getting your teacher to help you get you over the hump where you might be stuck. Really interesting work going on across the country thinking about this notion of a flipped classroom, primarily in science and math.
NNAMDIKathleen, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. What role should schools play, in your opinion, in giving students access to the Internet and to computers? 800-433-8850. Or you can just send us a tweet at #TechTuesday. At the college level, there's lots of buzz about online education, with some of the nation's top universities offering free online classes. Will online education also come to the high school level or even middle school and elementary school?
CATORYou know, I think that -- again, if we laser-focus on the best possible outcomes, then all sorts of things will begin to emerge. So -- and may the best environments win, right. So we want to make sure that every middle school student, high school student, college student has the best possible opportunity to learn and has actually multiple opportunities to learn whatever it is. So if online learning, if online courses is, in fact, the best methodology, then we want to make sure that's available.
CATORThere are -- there were -- you know, there was a Stanford professor, Sebastian Thrun, and his colleague, who taught artificial intelligence online. And he told me he had children, you know, high school students, and he probably -- he thought maybe even some middle school students that were taking his artificial intelligence course. So these are opportunities again.
NNAMDIHow are some states and school districts using their Race to the Top awards to increase the use of technology in teaching?
CATORYou know, some of the things we're seeing in Race to the Top, we're seeing people sort of improving the infrastructure, whether it be for improving data systems or improving the teacher's access to the best quality materials. We're seeing people doing -- creating instructional systems that sort of aggregate lots of different open education resources and other resources so that people can, again, access them in a much more organized fashion.
NNAMDIHere's Matt in Herndon, Va. Matt, your turn.
MATTHey, Kojo, Carol. Thank you. Great show. Yeah. I'm a solutions engineer for a technology company out in California, and about 80 percent of our customers are education -- I'm doing my expense reports here actually today. Last week, I was in South Carolina, Alabama, New Jersey, Baltimore City, public schools, et cetera. Interestingly, I was in Scotland County, S.C., where they're using our product.
MATTAnd they're actually doing one-to-one computing in almost the entire elementary school, and it was the first time I'd seen that even though I've been traveling for this company for almost four years. It was fascinating to hear the principal and the teachers comment over and over again about how the discipline rates, you know, issues have really kind of hit the floor. The kids are a lot more engaged.
MATTYou know, they're learning at their own pace, which is really interesting. And to your point earlier also about the Khan Academy, I think that's a great way to get constant data and analyze, you know, where students are at and -- not only for the students, but also the teachers have that kind of visibility. So I think there's a big revolution in education that's changing.
NNAMDICare to comment on Matt's comment, Karen Cator?
CATORYeah. I mean, I think you're absolutely right, and it is interesting. Some of the data that we do look at are what we call secondary indicators of engagement. Our students actually engaged. And it doesn't mean, like, having fun. But are they thinking hard? Are they leaning forward? Are they, you know, talking about the content and the subject matter? Are they working on complex problems?
CATORIs the teacher, you know, fully engaged in the learning as well? Somebody earlier talked about the teacher being the facilitator of learning. You know, teachers can actually be collaborators in the environment. They can be helping students solve complex problems and, again, using the entire wealth of the Internet to find the kinds of tools and resources that will help they and their students learn.
NNAMDIMatt, thank you for your call. Try not to pad that expense report, OK?
NNAMDIHere's Patricia in Washington, D.C. Patricia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATRICIAHi, Kojo. Thank you for your show. This has been really interesting to listen to. So my question for your guest is that I have children who are elementary school students. They are using a lot of computer technology in their homework and in their math exercises and their computer labs. A great source of frustration for them and for their teachers as well is a lot of these programs give incorrect answers. So -- I mean, and there is a real Gold Rush technology with this so that a lot of the programs that are in school are wrong.
PATRICIAAnd there's kind of nothing that the teachers or the students can do to address that. And then, kind of looking into the future when you're talking about the teacher as a facilitator, my further concern is that there's so much misinformation on the Internet and that with -- the idea of textbooks or sourcebooks or even primary sources is that there was kind of an ultimate reviewer out there somewhere before that material was brought into the classroom.
PATRICIAAnd my concern is how to teach kids critical thinking and how to know when the answers they're getting from their computers are simply wrong.
CATORThere you go. There's a -- there's where...
NNAMDIEnter the facilitator.
CATOREnter the facilitator, exactly. I was going to say, you know, extra points for you if you find something that's wrong. That would be one thing. The other thing is just -- this is an evolving world, and it's -- but it's reality, right, so we have to help students understand how to think critically about the things that they're reading. Who is the source? Where did this website come from? Who published it? I mean, understanding how to do reverse lookups, how to think about the information that you're reading where it comes from, that's incredibly important.
CATORThe other thing is we're working -- we're doing some work thinking about, you know, could we create kind of a consumer's union -- not we create, but could there be -- somebody create kind of a consumer's union for learning technologies, a place where people can begin to publish how they're using them, what's good, what's bad, what does include misinformation or bad content or unhelpfulness?
CATORWe are seeing an incredible growth in the number of the entrepreneurs and investors who are entering these sort of education space thinking. Oh, I have a good idea about how people could learn something better. So we would like to see these things evolve, but we want to see the best types of products win, so to speak.
NNAMDIPaul -- Patricia, thank you for your call. Paul in Takoma Park, Md., we're running out of time. Can you keep your question or comment brief, please?
PAULYes. I work for the government. I've been a leader in making government data available. As a private citizen, I'm very interested in working with non-- with open-source software. Is the department of Education doing anything with Moodle or anything like that that would facilitate amateurs making more information available particularly in the educational environment?
CATORYeah. So, yes, the Obama administration has a big kind of open-data initiative, and we're looking across the department to figure out all the different places that we can create data sets available for use for different mash-ups. You know...
NNAMDIYou've said one of the more exciting parts of your job is working with people who are involved in research and development of new technology tools for the classroom?
CATORAbsolutely. And these are the kinds of things -- and there are also people who are involved in start-up weekends. There's one actually out in Virginia this coming weekend where you -- where we -- they bring in -- they have designers and entrepreneurs and data people, teachers, all come together to kind of dream up in 54 hours kind of the best possible solutions they could come up with.
CATORThere's a lot of interest, a lot of excitement about open data and the power of -- again, the power of data and information to help us do better and better and to provide better and better learning opportunities for every single American.
NNAMDIKaren Cator, she is director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. Thank you so much for joining us.
CATORThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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