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Master the Moment or Miss it

Greetings from the Consortium for School Networking's 2011 conference here in New Orleans, where things are slowly ramping up. The main item on the agenda today is the 10th annual CoSN International Symposium, which is ongoing. But perhaps more important is the chance to catch up informally with leaders from throughout the country (and world) and get their insights on the conference's theme: "Mastering the Moment."

From my conversations today, it's clear ed-tech advocates are conflicted. While they're excited about the potential for technology integration that the fusion of new tools and the academic needs of today's students provides, they're far from convinced those forces alone are enough. And while ed-tech hasn't exactly been the primary focus of the ongoing Capitol Hill budget discussion, many here are questioning the federal government's commitment to education technology, in part because President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget proposal includes erasing the $100-million Enhancing Education Through Technology program, or EETT, in favor of other pots of funding that could be used toward technology.

This isn't particularly new news, and it's arguable whether it's even important. Any final budget will likely fall somewhere between proposals from the White House and from Congress, all of which leave EETT out of the picture. And the White House has proposed other programs that could also direct funding toward ed-tech initiatives, such as ARPA-ED.

According to those on the ground here, the issue isn't opposition to new proposed programs like ARPA-ED, which aligns with the U.S. Department of Education's pledge in the National Education Technology Plan to ratchet up education research and development. But EETT's significance, they say, is two-fold: 1-even at the $100-million funding level (far below the $500 million requested by ISTE a year ago), educators at least have a familiarity with the EETT program and how to use it productively; and 2-in a time when the economy is restricting budgets, EETT's existence may carry symbolic weight to encourage more states and districts to invest their own money in ed tech.

Of course, measuring sentiment and familiarity can be imprecise. And every proven program was unproven at some point in its history. But it will be interesting to take the temperature of the room when Aneesh Chopra, the White House's chief technology officer, delivers his keynote address tomorrow morning. Stay tuned.

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