#286 – The National Educational Technology Plan, with Zac Chase

Unpacking Education May 8, 2024 46 min

In this episode, we are joined by Zac Chase to discuss the United States Department of Education’s National Educational Technology Plan (NETP). Zac serves as Digital Equity Impact Fellow within the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. Zac has led the Office of Educational Technology’s development of both the 2016 and 2024 National Educational Technology Plans. Zac helps us explore three digital divides outlined in the plan as well as some strategies for moving purposeful and effective technology integration forward in PK–12 schools.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Technology can be a powerful tool for transforming learning. It can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent our approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink long-standing equity and accessibility gaps, and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.

U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, from the Priorities section of their website

Addressing Three Divides

The committee drafting the 2024 National Educational Technology Plan felt that using the language “digital divide” was insufficient in today’s context. Zac Chase, who led the project, explains, “Just saying digital divide is perhaps too general, so this [the NETP] pulls that concept apart into three specific digital divides: the digital use divide, the digital design divide, and the digital access divide.”

To address these divides, the plan offers context, examples, and recommendations. Among these recommendations is an encouragement to develop local “profiles” of learners, educators, and learning spaces that are specific to each school district. These profiles can provide a clear vision of where effective educational technology should be directed, and it can help guide local planning for achievement of those goals.

Tune in as Zac helps us break down this resource and explore how it can effectively be used by educators. The following are a few highlights:

  • About Our Guest: Zac Chase serves as Digital Equity Impact Fellow within the United States Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. Zac has led the development of the 2016 and 20224 National Educational Technology Plans. Zac has rich experiences in education, having served as a teacher, instructional tech coordinator, ELA coordinator, and library and media services coordinator.
  • National Educational Technology Plan: The NETP was initiated in 1996 and has been updated every 4–6 years since. It has historically been used to describe the state of educational technology while also outlining goals in this area.
  • A Different Approach: Zac describes the 2024 plan as being a bit different from past plans. He says, “This one is very much a problem-and-solution document, where others were perhaps more of a survey of the field. . . . This takes stock of where we are in a different way in a post-pandemic society.” He adds that edtech “is more than emergency remote learning, and so this is hopefully a resetting of that vision of what we can hope for all of our students—and our teachers, for that matter.”
  • Significant Input: The department sought out significant input while developing the plan. They heard from more than 1,000 people across the United States and its territories through interviews, focus groups, workshops, and surveys. This input informed the writing team that people wanted a plan that was practical and included examples of how to solve edtech problems.
  • An Unequal Playing Field: Zac shares, “There’s a body of research that says that students from historically marginalized backgrounds are asked to do more passive things with technology than their peers and that that passive use of technology can have a neutral or negative effect on their learning.” In that context, he says, “We need all students having high-quality, actively engaged experiences with technology. Are they creating? Are they producing? Are they analyzing? Are they collaborating? . . . Are we using technology to bring students together, and to facilitate active learning, and to connect them with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have?”
  • Design Divide: Effective instructional design is a key component in getting students to equitable learning experiences with technology. However, not all educators have equal access to learning about quality design. Providing teachers with this training is a core strategy in closing the divide.
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL): UDL plays a prominent role in the 2024 NETP. One of the key questions that comes from a UDL lens is: “Are we creating multiple pathways for all students to get to the learning they need to, and then to show their learning through multiple pathways as well?”
  • Access Divide: In addition to having a computer and connectivity to the internet for all students, we must also ask if they are able to access those tools effectively on a personal level. This includes the use of assistive technology and opportunities to learn about digital health, safety, and citizenship.
  • Use Divide: This again focuses on professional learning. Are we training our teachers in effective edtech design strategies that go beyond simply rostering of students and the  completion of administrative tasks? Skill and knowledge in technology-infused instructional design are required to empower teachers and close this divide.
  • Developing Profiles: The plan suggests developing local profiles for what a tech-empowered teacher, administrator, student, and learning environment should look like. Based on those profiles, we then must develop ways to measure the systems that are in place to reach the profile goals. Because each school system is different, the plan leaves the creation of these profiles up to individual schools. Zac explains, “Context matters, and where you are matters, and your community matters, and your culture matters. All of those pieces are incredibly important. . . . People need to build the systems to support their communities. That is the idea of local control.”
  • A Collection of Examples: A key part of the NETP is a catalog of examples from real schools. Zac says, “Our hope for the examples was that folks would see the problems they’re facing and see a road that someone else has already taken.” He adds, “These examples illustrate the great work that’s going on across the country because there are educators doing very difficult things after several very difficult years.”
  • Flexibility: The NETP does not attempt to address every form of technology. Rather than calling out every innovation, the plan is “a call for systems to have a plan for emerging technologies. AI caught us unaware. It will not be the last technology that changes our thinking overnight. . . . If there’s not a plan for emerging technologies, we’re going to get a very messy situation.” He adds, “Do you have a plan for the unknown and how you’re going to handle it? Not tool X or tool Y because we don’t know what innovation will look like, but do you have a plan for when that next thing happens, and what are the steps?”
  • Educator Preparation Program (EPP): Another challenge is to align higher educational programs with the needs of PreK–12 systems. In this light, the Office of Educational Technology has developed an EPP Pledge that calls for colleges to take steps to better prepare education candidates “to thrive in a tech-enabled space.” So far, 102 institutions have signed on to the pledge.
  • The Importance of Systems: Zac leaves us with a final thought: “Do we have systems that allow teachers to build these capacities? Do we have systems that support their development of these design skills? Do we have systems that make this kind of space? Rather than just saying, ‘We expect teachers to do this,’ saying, ‘Have we created systems where teachers can do this?’ . . . It’s not just asking teachers and educators to do a thing. It’s asking if we have given them the space, and the tools, and the support they need to be able to do these things.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How is technology used in your school?
  • Which digital divide do you see as the most significant in your school community?
  • What about the 2024 NETP do you find most salient?
  • What does your profile of an edtech-empowered educator look like?
  • How does your district make use of local or national edtech plans?
  • What is a specific action step that this episode inspires for you?

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