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16 Things I Love About the 2016 National Education Technology Plan

by Kelly Walsh on January 19, 2016



The 2016 NETP is Packed with Important Ideas, Good Examples, and Smart Partnerships

The DOE’s Office of Education Technology recently published the 2016 National Education Technology Plan. The plan is titled, Future Ready Learning. Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education”. While “love” is not a word many of us in the world of education may often use when referring the work of the U.S. Department of Education, the fact is, there is a lot I really feel strongly about in this plan.

The Office of Education Technology has done good work here, and this plan hits on many of the important ideas that I believe many will agree should be a priority (of course, some feedback from detractors is also expected – but that’s all good too!). A rich set of important, meaningful uses of technology in the instructional and academic environment have been incorporated into the plan. There are also lots of examples of successful implementations of concepts, drawn from schools and educators across the country.

Following are some of the elements of the plan that I think will strick a chord with many educators.

1. It is a call to action

Each section of the plan starts with an overarching goal and ends with recommendations. Combining these with the many examples of resources and successful technology integration provided throughout the plan can help to give the reader, whatever their role, concrete ideas for taking action.

2. It calls to attention the importance of working to eliminate the gap between the technological haves and have-nots

This statement from (now former) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan leads off the document’s Introduction:

“If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.” (p. 1)

Through programs like eRate, the federal government has helped to expand access to all schools and libraries, and this is surely a good thing. The spirit of NETP 2016 is “Making Possible … Everywhere, All-The-Time Learning”, and that applies to all students, with an emphasis on getting access to those most in need.

3. This statement: “The conversation has shifted from whether technology should be used in learning to how it can improve learning to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational experiences.” (p. 5)

[Okay, so I want to call plagiarism, since I’ve been saying this for a couple of years now (lqtm :)).] Seriously though, I am so glad to see others observe this, and when it is a body as powerful as this, it has all the more gravitas. Seeing this shift has been one of the most encouraging aspects of my advocacy for meaningful uses of technology in instruction over the last 8 or so years now. What are your reflections on this? Do you believe that most of your colleagues have made this important mental shift? If not, why not?

4. Repeated emphasis on ways to break down barriers with technology

“Historically, a learner’s educational opportunities have been limited by the resources found within the walls of a school. Technology-enabled learning allows learners to tap into resources and expertise anywhere in the world, starting with their own communities.” (p. 7)

This is one of the most concrete benefits of technology use in the academic setting. Is your school using technology to open doors to resources that aren’t available onsite? Do you allow students to take an online course to learn something if the course and or resources are not available in your school? Are you bringing in experts for virtual visits, or connecting with classrooms elsewhere in the country or world? If a student is stuck at home for a prolonged period, do you bring them in for virtual visits to maintain that much-needed connection?

5. The recognition of the importance of “non-cognitive” competencies (social and emotional learning, habits and skills “that facilitate functioning well in school, work, and life.”) (p. 6)

There are numerous cases in which the plan goes well beyond the day to day instructional process and presents higher order concepts, and then explores how technology can play a role in facilitating them. Self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness are some of the non-cognitive competencies that help students truly succeed. While these are not the types of things schools have taught historically, the increasing recognition of their importance is so encouraging.

The plan provides examples of technology tools that help to build these skills, such as games like Smiling Mind and Digital Problem Solver, that can help students identify how they are feeling, express their emotions, and receive specific suggestions and strategies for self-regulation.

6. Fostering a Growth Mindset

A “core competency” essential to all school programs should be helping students understand that their abilities can be developed through effort and practice (i.e. meta-cognition or a growth mind set). Incorporating this idea into the plan is another exciting example of seeking meaningful uses of technology in education. Along these lines, the U.S. DoE funded the development of SchoolKit, “a suite of resources developed to teach growth mindset quickly and efficiently” (p. 9). A teacher reflecting on how this tool helped one of her students explains, “now he understood that even though learning was not always going to come easy to him it didn’t mean he was stupid, it just meant he needed to work harder on that subject” (p. 9)

7. “Technology has allowed us to rethink the design of physical learning spaces to accommodate new and expanded relationships among learners, teachers, peers, and mentors.” (p. 5)

Schools are increasingly implementing flexible learning spaces that can be modified to accommodate group work, individual learning, or full class work. The plan asks, “Can the physical spaces and tools be shaped to provide multiple contexts and learning experiences? … Are library spaces able to become laboratories? Can a space be used as a history lecture hall for one class and become a maker space for engineering the next period?” We need to look for opportunities to convert spaces into these types of flexible environments.

8. The recognition of the fact that, “Across the board, teacher preparation and professional development programs fail to prepare teachers to use technology in effective ways”. (p. 5)

Sure, teachers and technologists recognize this already, but we can’t stop beating this drum. The shift from “why” to “how” is hurdle no. 1, the next hurdle is much bigger … how do we use technology in instruction in a meaningful way? Quality professional development must seek to address this, going beyond learning about tools and to truly exploring how they can transform learning (think SAMR model and beyond).

9. The many examples of success stories

There are so many good examples of successful technology integration practices included in the plan. For example:

  • The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in Indiana serves approximately 12,000 students, 13% of which are in special education, and 50% receive free or reduced-price lunch. There are also over 54 languages spoken among these students! Universal Design for Learning constructs have been adopted in all of their schools, for all students. One teacher explains how during an online discussion taking place during a presidential debate, she noticed that some students were not participating. By using technology to provide multiple ways students could engage, those who were originally reluctant to engage began to participate. Since adopting UDL, graduation rates in the district have increased by 8% for general education students and 22% for special ed students.
  • Massachusetts passed the Achievement Gap Act in 2010, enabling schools to “Innovation Schools” that can operate with increased flexibility in key areas such as scheduling, curriculum, instruction, and professional development”. Examples of the 54 approved “Innovation Schools and Academies” are provided, such as a Safety and Public Service Academy, where students, “combine rigorous college-style coursework available in a variety of formats (in class, online, blended learning, off-site for internships and job shadows) in areas such as forensics, criminal law, crisis management, psychology, and video production.” (p. 10)

10. The many examples of innovative efforts in learning outside of the traditional school model

As with the many examples of successful technology uses in our schools, there are also numerous examples of educational innovations and creativity happening either outside of schools, or in partnership with external entities. A couple examples:

  • Peer 2 Peer University and Chicago Public Library partnered and created Learning Circles. This effort has the “ultimate goal of developing an open-source, off-the-shelf solution that can be deployed by the other public libraries, allowing all libraries and their communities to harness the potential of blended learning for little to no expertise or cost” (p 12). Students meet once a week for two hours, with a non-content expert librarian helping to facilitate a peer-learning environment for the first 6 weeks. “Initial results suggest that students in Learning Circles have far higher retention than do students in most online courses”. (p 12)
  • “Many schools in the greater Baltimore area have partnered with Code in the Schools to provide support for their teachers and librarians who wanted to introduce project-based computer science in the classroom by using low-cost equipment such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Makey Makey …”  (p. 47)

There are many more such examples of innovative efforts and partnerships throughout the plan document.

11. Content focused on Leadership 

This section is particularly inspiring, as it encourages leaders to take charge and, “create a culture and conditions for innovation and change” (p. 39). I have seen first hand the way that informed, wise leadership can make the difference between schools struggling to use technology effectively and those that are improving learning outcomes with technology as a powerful part of the equation. In addition to sharing the Future Ready Schools initiative, many examples of leadership success are offered. And as with each of the main sections of the document, this one section ends with excellent recommendations. For example, “Develop clear communities of practice for education leaders at all levels that act as a hub for setting vision, understanding research, and sharing practices.” (p. 49)

12. It is an education in and of itself 

Teachers, administrators, technologists, and educators in all roles can learn a great deal by simply reading the plan. For example, woven throughout the plan are sidebars with definitions of terms. On Page 8, we have this definition of “Agency in Learning”:

Learners with agency can “intentionally make things happen by [their] actions,” and “agency enables people to play a part in their self-development, adaptation, and self-renewal with changing times. To build this capacity, learners should have the opportunity to make meaningful choices about their learning, and they need practice at doing so effectively. Learners who successfully develop this ability lay the foundation for lifelong, self-directed learning.”

This is just one of the ways in which the plan proves to be a learning experience. The concepts and examples provided throughout are sure to offer new ideas to anyone who reads it.

13. Recommendations

The document consists of five main sections: Learning, Teaching, Administration, Assessment, and Infrastructure. At the end of each section are four recommendations. A rich dialogue such as that contained in the plan must lead to specific recommendations if it is going to truly have an impact, and the 2017 NETP does. However, some are rather lofty, but others can be undertaken at individual institutions, or have elements that can be.

Here is one specific recommendation from each section:

  • Learning: “States, districts, and post-secondary institutions should develop and implement learning resources that use technology to embody design principles from the learning sciences”. (p. 22)
  • Teaching: “Develop a common set of technology competency expectations for university professors and candidates exiting teacher preparation programs for teaching in technology enabled schools and post-secondary education institutions.” (p. 37)
  • Leadership: “Develop funding models and plans for sustainable technology purchase and leverage openly licensed content while paying special attention to eliminating those resources and tasks that can be made obsolete by technology.” (p. 49)
  • Assessment: “Create and validate an integrated system for designing and implementing valid, reliable, and cost-effective assessments of complex aspects of 21st century expertise and competencies across academic disciplines.” (p. 63)
  • Infrastructure: “Support the develop and use of openly licensed educational materials to promote innovative and creative opportunities for all learners and accelerate the development and adoption of new open technology-based learning tools and courses.” (p. 78)

Each of these recommendations is followed by a paragraph of additional explanation.

14. The focus on Assessment

Using assessment data to improve learning is surely a beneficial use of technology in the academic setting. There is an entire section devoted to Assessment. While teachers have been using assessments for as long as we can remember, technology allows for approaches not previously possible. This chart provides a great snapshot of how technology can and is evolving the nature of assessment:


15. So many Resources!

There are a lot of resources provided throughout the plan. Here are a few found on just a couple pages. There are many more resources like these throughout the document.

  • Family Time With Apps: A Guide to Using Apps With Your Kids is a free interactive iBook (available here) that helps families better understand the variety of ways that apps can support kid’s healthy development and learning, communication, and connection. (See page 13 of the plan for more).
  • Black Girls Code ( ‘BGC’ aims to “increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color to become innovators …” (p. 15)
  • Hello Navi for the Visually Impaired: Check out this Huffington post article that explains how a group of students from Resaca Middle School in Los Fresnos, Texas won the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, for this program. Hello Navi can help blind or visually-challenged students students navigate their way around school grounds (p. 15).

16. Organizing learning around real world challenges (p. 11)

While this is not extensively covered, I am partial to it and wanted to include it. Certainly some of the most exciting learning experiences that leverage technology are those that challenge students to consider and address challenges in their communities, or in the larger world surrounding them. How about a project to address pollution in a local water resource, or diminishing natural land resources? Perhaps business have been leaving the area – what can be done about it? Maybe a student has a friend whose life has been impacted by disease or disability – what can be done to help? Real world challenges can be explored and addressed with the help of technology, and students can change lives (their own and others’) in the process of exploring these challenges.

Closing the Other Digital Divide

One more for good measure … I really appreciated the idea of closing the other Digital Divide (the “Digital USE” Divide). While we have probably all come across the idea of the “digital divide” as a reference to the difference between students who have regular access to technology and those who don’t, there is a different divide discussed in the NETP 2016 and it is a very important one. “We must also close the digital use divide by ensuring all students understand how to use technology as a tool to engage in creative, productive, life-long learning rather than simply consuming passive content” (p 18). I haven’t heard this put this way before, but man does it ring a bell! Well said.


It would not be too challenging to expand this well beyond “16 Things …”, as this plan is packed with excellent recommendations, resources, and ideas. Download it today, check out the TOC and find something that jumps out at you and give it a read. I think you’ll find it to be time well spent. And hats off to the Department of Education Technology for a job well done.



Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded He frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, regularly running Flipped Class Workshops online. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Walsh became the Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network in June of 2016. In his "spare time" he also writes, records, and performs original music ... stop by and have a listen!

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, or those of other writers, and not those of my employer. - K. Walsh]

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Petty January 20, 2016 at 7:10 am

I was also very excited about the plan when I read it. So many of the ideas I’ve hoped for years would be accepted by more teachers and administrators are finally being presented as exactly what students need.

My only concern is that, as you say, it comes across as a recommendation. After my initial excitement, I have been asking how the guidelines from the plan are going to translate into requirements. So far I haven’t seen anything that addresses this.

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