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New Ed-Tech Policy Database Unveiled

The State Educational Technology Directors Association on Tuesday announced the launch of a new online database intended to help policymakers, researchers, corporate and philanthropic investors, and educators keep track of developments in state-level policy directly affecting the realm of educational technology.

The State Education Policy Center, or SEPC, as SETDA is calling it, will focus initially on the development of policies and practices in three key areas: broadband Internet access; online assessment; and digital content. The database went live on Monday, in conjunction with SETDA's semiannual member meetings held in Washington, and contains information mostly collected through its members, who are generally state-level educational technology leaders.

"It was cheap for a data gathering effort of this kind," said Geoffrey H. Fletcher, SETDA's Deputy Executive Director, "because we have a built-in data gathering group with our members."

Douglas Levin, SETDA's Executive Director, said to date the effort has cost the association roughly in the range of $200,000 to $250,000. About $140,000 of that has come in the form of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, which also contributes funding to support Education Week coverage.

Levin also indicated that the new effort is in some ways a natural transition and reorganization of efforts for a group whose arguably most well-known publication was an annual trends report examining how states were spending money received from the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT, program. That program was defunded during the spring of 2011.

Levin says the new SEPC site is a reflection of a desire that has existed among the organization's members since before his tenure as its leader began three years ago, but is now able to receive increased attention.

"The states, and our members in the states, really value getting the opportunity to work with each other," Levin said. "This is as much their idea that they've been driving forward as it is ours, and now they're seeing it in a tangible way."

Both Levin and Fletcher stressed that the SEPC site, as currently constituted, is just a starting point, and also that it will not assign a positive or negative value to any particular state's policy. That runs contrary to the work, for example, of Digital Learning Now, a bipartisan coalition aimed at driving digital-friendly educational policy changes, which among its other work has issued policy grades for each of the 50 states.

Fletcher said SETDA hopes to partner with other state-level organizations to perhaps expand the categories covered by the database by integrating already existing research from partner organizations or by working together to collect new data. Further, he said he hopes early users of the site will use its feedback capabilities to indicate when information may be false or unclear.

Currently, users will find a map of the United States on the site's homepage, and are able to click on a state to discover more details pertaining to that state's broadband, content, and assessment policies. Levin also said he hopes to eventually be able to add more functionality to the site, such as the ability for a user to pull up details from two states at the same time to compare and contrast policies.

Levin said the site currently exists in a "proof of concept" phase, meaning it's more important to demonstrate the feasibility and demand for such a database than to perfect all the details.

"Quite honestly it's the reaction over the next few weeks and months," that will determine the future look of the SEPC, Levin said. "I think it's just a question of getting a little bit of feedback on what the priorities are for moving it forward and getting that research."

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