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Senator Tom Harkin Celebrates Digital Learning Day, Announces HELP Hearings On Education Technology

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January 31, 2012 04:25 pm

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The following blog post comes from U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Digital Learning Day is a day to celebrate promising innovations in technology that will help us educate our students to succeed in the 21st century global economy. This is a one-day celebration, but the fact is, digital learning in or out of the classroom is now a daily reality for most students.

All over the country, educators are coming up with innovative ways to help students learn, using technology to individualize instruction or to connect with classrooms in other countries to learn about other cultures. Other schools are increasing the variety of courses offered to students, such as through dual enrollment at colleges offering online courses. Teachers also use technology to access professional development programs, connect with professional learning communities, and download open educational resources.

And it is not only our educators who are getting on board with digital learning; the business community is pioneering this new frontier in education.  Companies such as Apple, Scholastic and Hewlett Packard are creating devices, software, and content for digital learning that address the needs of all students.  Digital devices now increase access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities and learning challenges, giving every student the opportunity to achieve at the highest levels.

Technology can change the field of education in previously unimagined ways, but it also brings about its own set of challenges. It is more than a new way to present information, and policymakers must support teachers to help schools address barriers to technological changes.

Many schools’ access to technology is limited by factors such as insufficient broadband, inadequate funding, or lack of teacher training. Additionally, at a time when many State budgets are strapped, investing in programs and training in order to meet the needs of all students, as well as coordinating investments across the elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and career education systems, is challenging but necessary.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), which I chair, has taken concrete steps to address these challenges. Last October, in a bipartisan vote, the Committee passed a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The final bill included an amendment introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman which authorizes the Achieving Through Technology and Innovation Act (ATTAIN). If enacted, it would reauthorize and update the education technology grant program to help ensure all students are technologically literate and ready for the demands of the 21st century economy.

I’m pleased to announce that the HELP Committee will hold a series of hearings on education technology beginning this spring to explore how schools are taking advantage of the opportunities technology provides for our students. The Committee will explore topics such as blended and online learning, assistive technology, and the importance of professional development.  The goal is to engage policymakers and the public in a discussion to deepen our understanding of technology’s potential to help students succeed.

There is still much to do. Let’s celebrate Digital Learning Day by starting a national conversation on the potential for, and barriers to, using technological innovations to increase student success and close persistent achievement gaps.  Join the conversation today by posting your suggestions for education technology topics or programs that the HELP Committee should examine in hearings on my Facebook page or send me a tweet, @SenatorHarkin using hashtag #edtechhearing.

For more details on the upcoming hearings, visit www.help.senate.gov.

To learn more about Digital Learning Day, which is February 1, 2012, visit the Digital Learning Day website.

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Digital Learning Series

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