Appreciating NETP: Advancing 21st c. Learning

The three things I am most passionate about these days in my educational leadership (and blogging) are the following:

  • Empowering students to be more engaged, active, vigorous learners by providing them the digital tools to go, explore, research, collaborate, publish, create, and communicate in web 2.0, online learning environments.
  • Transforming learning by transforming assessment, by measuring what matters, and by using next-generation assessment tools for this purpose.
  • Recognizing that the most important way for educators to confront and accept the challenge to educate effectively in this fast-changing era is to embrace both the responsibility and the opportunity to grow and learn, ourselves, each and every day, in collaboration with each other at schools which make serious commitments to this collaboration,  and via the power of social networks online.

For me, these three things are absolute hallmarks and essential elements of the 21st century learning environments our students deserve and require.

So, it is great to read the new report from the US Department of Education: Tranforming American Education: The National Education Technology Plan 2010 (NETP), and see in the Executive Summary these three major objectives:

Learning: Engage and Empower:  

The model of learning described in this plan calls for engaging and empowering learning experiences for all learners. It brings state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate, and inspire all students.

Many students’ lives today are filled with technology that gives them mobile access to information and resources 24/7, enables them to create multimedia content and share it with the world, and allows them to in online social networks where people from all over the world share ideas, collaborate, and learn new things.

Professionals routinely use the Web and tools, such as wikis, blogs, and digital content for the research, collaboration, and communication demanded in their jobs. They gather data and analyze the data using inquiry and visualization tools. They use graphical and 3D modeling tools for design. For students, using these real-world tools creates learning opportunities that allow them to grapple with real-world problems—opportunities that prepare them to be more productive members of a globally competitive workforce.

This is something I believe in passionately:  Give our kids these powerful tools, unleash them into the world of web 2.0, and empower them to discover, pursue their passions, communicate, collaborate and create.   (For more, see my In Schools of the Future, Students Learn Best by Doing, Vigorously and Digitally)

Assessment: Measure What Matters:

The model of learning requires new and better ways to measure what matters and diagnose strengths and weaknesses in the course of learning when there is still time to improve student performance. In all these activities, technology-based assessments can provide data to drive decisions on the basis of what is best for each and every student and that, in aggregate, will lead to continuous improvement across our entire education system.

Technology-based assessments that combine cognitive research and theory about how students think with multimedia, interactivity, and connectivity make it possible to directly assess these types of skills. This can be done within the context of relevant societal issues and problems that people care about in everyday life.

Systems can be designed to capture students’ inputs and collect evidence of their knowledge and problem-solving abilities.

I think we are very fortunate to be educating in an era when we have moved beyond the bubble test and have available to us new tools which use computer adaptive testing and provide real time reporting of learning (MAP), and use authentic assessment to evaluate our schools’ success at teaching the higher order thinking skills they desperately need (CWRA).   It kills me, though, how few schools are adopting these new vehicles, but they will come.  (For more, see my Assessment 2.0: Echoing Duncan’s Call for Next-Gen Assessments)

Teaching: Teachers Connect:

Just as leveraging technology can help us improve learning and assessment, the model of learning calls for using technology to help build the capacity of educators by enabling a shift to a model of connected teaching. In such a teaching model, teams of connected educators replace solo practitioners, classrooms are fully connected to provide educators with 24/7 access to data and analytic tools, and educators have access to resources that help them act on the insights the data provide.

In connected teaching, teaching is a team activity. Individual educators build online learning communities consisting of their students and their students’ peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and after-school programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children’s education.

Well, certainly everyone here at Connected Principals is going to enthuse at a call for a new model of teacher growth and collaboration entitled “connected teaching, especially one that entails online learning communities: we are proudly the vanguard of exactly this new model!

Congratulations to Karen Cator, the excellent Director of Ed Tech at US DOE, and to the team there, for this excellent blueprint for the coming educational transformation to 21st century learning for all students.


  1. Purchasing technology is easy. Changing teacher behavior and practice is difficult and often overlooked. Current classroom practice has so much inertia that it is very resistant to change. Even if you take teachers out and try to show them new ways to do things, once they return the pull to continue with the current plan is very strong. Great post. Keep up the good work. Check out DrDougGreen.Com for professional development resources.
    Douglas W. Green, EdD

    November 16, 2010
  2. Lyn Hilt said:

    Our district is currently re-evaluating our assessment practices and admin were asked to investigate various alternative assessments such as the CWRA for use in our schools. I have to admit it’s frustrating sometimes to have to try to balance the state’s standardized testing demands with our desire to better gauge students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills with alternative measures. I know it’s going to be a lot of work for our team, but I know you will be a great resource as we try to plan. Thanks for posting the summary of the NETP’s major objectives… it is encouraging to see they align with our own hopes for students, teachers, and schools.

    November 16, 2010
    • Thanks Lynn for these nice words; as much as there is to be frustrated about by national education reform, I think this report really does have very many valuable elements.

      I do think that as we confront the high stakes testing culture and its many flaws, we need to be careful not to become absolutist in our opposition to any kind of assessment and measurement. One of the best ways to influence what happens in learning is to focus upon, adjust, and clarify the outcomes we intend and how we assess them, and know that that will influence everything backward by design.

      Best to you– thanks for your response!


      November 22, 2010
  3. Greg Gorman said:

    Jonathan I truly enjoy your writings and insights. My only regret is that I got on the digital learning bandwagon so late in my career, but now I just have to make up for lost time and with educators like yourself it helps guide me along. Keep posting thanks.

    November 16, 2010

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