Education change for tech?

Commerce Department's Technology Administration

America's public education system must fundamentally "transform our 200-year-old approach" to education and training otherwise it won't fully realize the benefits from emerging technologies, said a senior Commerce Department official.

"Rather than using technology to imitate or supplement conventional classroom-based approaches, exploiting the full potential of next-generation technologies is likely to require fundamental, rather than incremental reforms," Phillip Bond, Commerce undersecretary for technology, said in a speech yesterday at the Enhancing Education Through Technology Symposium in Pasadena, Calif.

"Content, teaching, assessment, student-teacher relationships and even the concept of an education and training institution may all need to be rethought," he continued, adding technology's beneficial effects on learning could change U.S. competitiveness and standard of living.

For example, students can use digital models, simulations and 3-D desktop programs to study subject matters or be immersed in a fully visual and virtual classroom with other students nationwide.

Bond said the private sector learned this lesson. They moved from using technology to automate old ways of doing business to re-engineering the business itself, he said. However, the country's education and training institutions have "applied technology on top of their traditional teaching practices" rather than reinvent themselves.

In a recent Commerce analysis of 55 industries, the educational services industry, which includes elementary, secondary and vocational schools, colleges, universities and libraries, came in last in terms of information technology intensity. Annually, private-sector investment in IT per employee is about $6,000. "Yet a back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that annual investment in technology per K-12 student is about $120," he said.

Under the White House National Science and Technology Council, Bond said, the Commerce Department established a high-level working group with representatives from 17 federal departments and agencies to advance learning technologies.

The working group will inventory and examine federal investments in the development of such technologies and explore and prioritize the roadblocks to commercialization and deployment of such technologies. It will work with a variety of public- and private-sector stakeholders to speed development of such technologies, he said.

"In closing, we cannot afford to leave education and training behind in the technology revolution," said Bond. "But, unless something changes, the gap between technology's potential and its use in education and training will only grow as technological change accelerates in the years ahead."

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