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Obama's Ed-Tech Promises in 2008: #TBT, and a Look Ahead

Barack-Obama-2008.jpgSix holiday seasons ago, Barack Obama—far more popular and far less grey-haired than he is today, halfway through his historic presidency's second term—was preparing to become the country's first "Internet president."

After an election victory fueled in part by his campaign's savvy use of online and digital technologies, the President-elect—at the time, seemingly surgically attached to his BlackBerry—talked up the importance of improving access to broadband and computers for the nation's school children. My former colleague Katie Ash detailed the promises in a December 2008 story:

Although the details have yet to be revealed, Obama has indicated that the economic-stimulus plan, which aims to create 3 million jobs--up from a target of 2.5 million in late November--includes money to put more computers in schools and provide both homes and schools with widespread broadband access.

"It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption," Obama, who will take office Jan. 20, said in a December radio address. "Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online," he said, going on to link broadband access to the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.

Improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education was also part of the president-elect's focus. So was better professional development for teachers. And many hoped that the Obama administration would be a model of technological efficiency and transparency, according to Ash's story:

Aside from any legislative or financial changes President-elect Obama may make in regards to ed tech, the way he models the use of technology as an infrastructural necessity in government might have a powerful effect on the way technology is viewed in schools, says Hirsch.

"When the federal government begins to model very positive models of collaborative technology, it's only a matter of time before schools do the same," he says.

Tracy Gray, the director of the Washington-based National Center for Technology Innovation, or NCTI, agrees.

"He really is the first president-elect to have harnessed the power of technology," she says. "His campaign systematically used technology not as an ATM machine but as an effective vehicle to communicate and develop a sense of engagement of individuals across the country and across all age groups."

But one of the biggest ed-tech issue in 2008 was, of course, the E-rate. Advocates hoped the new administration would expand and modernize the federal program, which provides billions in subsidies for schools and libraries to purchase telecommunications services:

Keith R. Krueger, the executive director for the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, or COSN, thinks that reforming the federal E-rate program, which has an annual budget of $2.25 billion, is a key step to achieving universal broadband access.

"Educators and students need to have [around-the-clock] access to [high-speed] broadband in order to make use of the myriad of online educational tools and services--everything from multimedia content to video-conferencing," he says. "We think that the E-Rate, which has already played a major role in providing broadband access to schools and libraries nationwide, can be the tip of the spear here and that the Obama administration should look closely at raising the currently inadequate annual cap so that more can share its benefits."

The latter, at least, proved to be a big win for the ed-tech community. Just last week, the Federal Communication Commission voted to approve a $1.5 billion annual increase to the E-rate.

But what about everything else? To what extent has the sober, often-stymied-by-Congress two-term president delivered on the ed-tech promises made by the hopeful, BlackBerry-wielding president elect?

Tune in next week, when my colleague Michelle Davis takes stock of President Obama's record on ed-tech.

Photo: Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama speaks at a community meeting on rural economy and green jobs at the Hocking College of Energy and Technology in March, 2008, in Nelsonville, Ohio.--Rick Bowmer, /AP-File


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