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Tackling Hot Tech Topics

My editor Kevin Bushweller and I attended a lively roundtable discussion this morning with ISTE chief executive officer Don Knezek, who addressed wide-ranging ed-tech issues such as federal and state funding, social-networking concerns, mobile computing, digital citizenship, and how the U.S. lines up with the rest of the world when it comes to advancements in educational technology.

There's been an uptick over the past seven years in international interest in educational technology, said Knezek, who noted that over the past two to three years there has been significant ISTE membership growth particularly in Southeast Asia, as well as Latin America, and even the Middle East. Australia and Canada have begun to move forward with education technology investments, said Knezek, investing in professional development, leadership development, bandwidth, and the development of digital content, while the U.S. has cut funding for technology programs, most notably, the Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT, program.

Those kinds of cuts make it highly unlikely that schools will be able to implement the kinds of technological transformations outlined in documents like the National Ed-Tech Plan, said Knezek, which he called "visionary." "It has established a nice vision," he said, "but to get from here to there, it needs funding." For more information about the national ed-tech plan, check out Education Week's coverage here.

Another difference between U.S. schools and other countries is the use of social media in classrooms, said Knezek. While most U.S. schools ban the use of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, and social-networking sites, other countries do not have such policies in place, he said. And by denying students access to social-networking sites and Web 2.0 tools, schools are both truncating opportunities to empower and engage students as well as ignoring a chance to prepare students for the real world. Teachers should be "pointing out expectations" and "establishing a moral compass for students," rather than outright blocking such Web tools, said Knezek.

How social-networking is being used in schools, as well as how that has changed over the past few years was the subject of the cover story of our latest issue of Digital Directions.

One area where teachers and administrators are beginning to do a 180, said Knezek, is allowing students to bring their own technology to classrooms. Instead of banning cellphones, more and more administrators are at least entertaining the idea of allowing them to connect to school networks, he said. This shift is partially spurred by gaps in school budgets that make it impossible for schools to provide students with mobile technologies, Knezek pointed out. That trend was something we here at Education Week noticed as well during our reporting for the Technology Counts report about the use of mobile devices in education.

But in order for students to use technology meaningfully in classrooms, it's imperative for teachers to be able to integrate those technologies effectively, said Knezek, and after talking with many administrators around the country, lots of teachers know how to use technology themselves, but still have a hard time making the leap to using it with their students. Part of the problem, said Knezek, is the lack of technology education teachers receive in their teacher preparation programs, although there are some stand-out programs that do incorporate technology education, he said.

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