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Obama's ConnectED Plan Seeks to Improve Teacher Tech Use

This week, President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to increase funding to the federal E-rate program, as Education Week's Sean Cavanagh reports. The plan, called ConnectED, aims to give 99 percent of U.S. schools high-speed Internet access within five years. It also prioritizes training for teachers on the use of technology in the classroom and aims to provide them more technology resources.

A White House memo about the plan states that the U.S. Department of Education will work with states and school districts to fund PD that helps teachers "keep pace with changing technology." In addition, it says, ConnectEd will allow all teachers to:

... open their classrooms to interactive demonstrations, lessons from world-renowned experts, or the opportunity to build learning communities and to collaborate with other educators across the country or world. New digital education tools that allow for real-time assessments of student learning, provide more immediate feedback to drive professional development, and enable the creation of interactive online lessons can empower teachers to understand each student's strengths and weaknesses and design lessons and activities that better meet their needs.

Teachers' comfort with and use of technology has been the subject of much recent research. In December, the National Association of State Boards of Education released a report stating that teachers lack the familiarity with technology to use it effectively in their classrooms, and that ensuring they receive the PD and tools to needed to integrate digital tools into their teaching should be a policy focus.

A survey by PBS Learning Media earlier this year found that teachers are generally positive about the effects of technology on student learning, and that 60 percent of teachers—and 75 percent at low-income schools—would like to have more classroom technology at their disposal.

On the other hand, in the most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, both principals and teachers ranked "understands how to use technology to improve instruction" at the bottom of a list of important skills for a school leader to have. (That said, about half in each group did still rank it as "very important"—and the survey did not delve into the importance of the skill for classroom teachers.)

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Many observers are focused on the how the federal initiative could help districts struggling to meet the broadband demands for upcoming online tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. But the implications for classroom instruction could be more wide-ranging.

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