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Colleges of Education Are Urged to Focus More on Online Learning

The draft of a new federal plan focuses on improving digital learning at the elementary- and secondary-school level, but it calls for changes in higher education as well.

Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” released this month by the Department of Education, is a draft of the National Educational Technology Plan 2010. It calls for an increased role for online learning in kindergarten through 12th grade and says colleges of education must include online learning in their curricula as well.

Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, said students today have grown up with the Internet and are more comfortable with technology, but also have higher expectations for the online learning experience. Ms. Patrick cited Boise State and Michigan State Universities as two institutions whose colleges of education emphasize online learning. But she said most higher-education institutions haven’t yet added sufficient resources dedicated to that method of instruction.

“It’s incredibly important that our colleges of education, training tomorrow’s teachers, are teaching these skills,” said Ms. Patrick, who worked on the National Education Technology Plan 2004.

The new report is part of a push by the Obama administration to improve elementary and secondary education. The president has called for an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act signed into law by President George W. Bush. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will defend an overhaul to Congress on Wednesday, NPR reported. Obama wants to raise the proportion of college graduates in the country from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2020.

Other proposals to expand digital learning are in the first national broadband plan, released by the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. In its news release previewing the document, the FCC said it wants to give “anchor institutions” such as schools and hospitals affordable access to ultra-high-speed broadband.

Ms. Patrick said her colleagues are excited about the Department of Education report and its potential implications. But she cautioned that financing will be essential for any new policy involving educational technology.

Tracy Mitrano, director of information-technology policy at Cornell University, said she sees the plan as fitting in with the administration’s goals and the need for an educational system that uses technology well. Any improvement to elementary and secondary education will have an impact on higher education, too, she said.

Ms. Mitrano noted the plan’s emphasis on using technology to support different models of learning for elementary and secondary education.

“I think what this report is saying is that we now have a generation of digital natives and we must embrace their interests in technology, their use of it, and their needs to use it in ways that will be generally productive for them as citizens, as workers, and as people with a global Internet identity,” she said.

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