A Rural Revival
T&L interviews Department of Education’s Karen
Cator and John White on access for all
Karen Cator, director of education technology for the
U.S. Department of Education
This summer the Department of
Education hosted a gathering of
education-technology experts and
rural-school leaders in Washington,
D.C., to discuss using technology
to overcome distance and increase
access to good teaching and learning
for students and teachers. More
than 100 people came from places
as far apart as Alaska, North Dakota,
Nebraska, Vermont, and New York
to attend. Also present were U .S.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan;
the secretary of the Smithsonian, G.
Wayne Clough; the chairman of the
FCC, Julius Genachowski; and USDA
Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.
To find out more about this initiative
and other national educationtechnology
plans, T&L’s managing
editor, Christine Weiser, sat down
with the Department of Education’s
Karen Cator, director of the department’s
Office of Educational Technology, and John White,
deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach.
T&L: What inspired this summit, and what are challenges
that are unique to rural education?
JW: We wanted to bring all the secretaries to the table
with experts in education and industry so we could start a
dialog and start looking for some solutions.
KC: I think that the challenge is making sure everybody
in this whole country has access to high-quality education.
Because of the low population density of rural areas, and
also because of the distance between urban centers and
rural places, gaining access may be more expensive in rural
areas. The other rural issue is finding resources to teach a
variety of courses.
We sometimes focus on the difficulties of rural communities,
but rural communities have an unbelievable set of assets as well that we can leverage to
provide access to quality education.
There is a working knowledge about
the students and their families that
you don’t find other places.
JW: What a lot of innovative rural
schools do is to make it contextual, to
equate the local community to what
the kids are learning in schools. For
example, in Kansas there is a school
that partners every classroom with
a family farm. As they learn, they
are also able to hear from the community
how that learning applies to
their lives and their work. In remote
locations, another way to share this
kind of information, and bring quality
experiences to schools, is through
T&L: How do you hope to help bring
technology to rural areas, and how
can it help these schools?
JW: A lot of the rural state superintendents are asking
us to find ways to use technology in a greater way to help
with AP, professional development, credit recovery, and so
on. That’s the reason we started this conversation, to start
leveraging the use of technology. Karen came out with the
National Education Technology Plan shortly before the
summit, so it was very timely.
KC: Technology can be a great multiplier. So, if you
have a fantastic course online, for example, it has this kind
of multiplier effect. It helps students, but it also amplifies
the efforts of the in-classroom teacher. So if the teacher
doesn’t have the content expertise, they can leverage the
online expertise and manage a more personalized learning
environment for their students. Online learning is definitely
the main thing we think about when we think about rural
areas, but there are other access solutions such as in Vail,
AZ, where they put routers in their school buses so students who have very long bus rides can do their work. It’s about
extending that school day.
The Technology Plan really is the platform that we’re
standing on. The National Education Technology Plan
articulates not only the vision, but also recommendations
and actions for what we can do to support learning, to
support a highly personalized learning environment, that
meets the needs of all students, and amplifies the effect of
great teachers. We do not think that technology is going to
replace teachers, we think it’s going to make teachers much
The assessment RFP that was just awarded to two consortia
of states to create a new generation of assessments is
a huge new project that holds great promise to help leverage
technology to give us better information about how our
students and schools are doing.
T&L: How do communities with limited resources get
access to what they need?
JW: The Recovery Act was a big investment. Rural
schools in particular also have a supplemental fund called
REAP, Rural Education Achievement Program. They can
use these funds for technology, and there are a lot of opensource
products they can use.
KC: Funding is always a challenge across the education
spectrum. And what we are really trying to figure out is how
technology can be funded by integrating it into the core
context of school programs. So whether you are trying to
teach reading, or math, or social studies, or whatever, that
technology is a slice. For example, some schools are using
a technology-based Algebra program. They are giving each
student a device that they can use for that and other work
as well; they can do writing, translation, calculations—there
are so many different applications they can access once they
have the device in their hands and if they can use it 24/7,
Also, when we talk about funding the broadband infrastructure
required for online learning, the Recovery Act
money, through the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, funded broadband in many
parts of the country. That’s obviously a key
piece of the scaffolding to make sure kids
have equal access
T&L: Any advice to schools dealing with
teachers who are reluctant to embrace
KC: The biggest thing that teachers
should remember is what they know. They
know their content, their kids, and the pedagogy.
If they don’t know the technology,
I don’t see that as a really huge problem.
Programs are getting easier and easier
to use and we can think of supporting a
direct-to-student model. If the student has
the technology to do their own work, they
will use it and learn the technology in the
context of their assignments. The goal is to
amplify what the teacher can do and make it easier for both
teachers and students to access what they need for teaching
and learning when and where they need it.
Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education; G. Wayne Clough, secretary, Smithsonian Institution;
Julius Genachowski, chairman, Federal Communications Commission; and Kathleen Merrigan,
deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, begin a conversation about the potential for
technology to overcome distance and increase access in quality teaching and learning in rural
schools during a National Rural Education Technology Summit in July in Washington DC.
T&L: How are you trying to provide more content and
resources to schools?
JW: The rural education summit was an example of how
agencies can work together within the
government. You had the secretary of
the Smithsonian, you had the chairman
of the FCC for broadband, and you had
the secretary of agriculture there who
is providing huge amounts of dollars
to schools that many people may not
know about, whether it’s construction
or technology or food. They can even
save schools on energy costs. Then
you have the secretary of education,
all coming together. We are also starting
a “Learning Registry.” This Learning
Registry will pull resources together so you don’t have to go
hunting for them.
KC: The Learning Registry will provide an opportunity
to find resources within some of the vertical repositories
of content. Even if you do the search with Bing or Google,
it may not reach down inside these repositories of content
and provide the resources that you need. For example,
across the government we have the National Archives,
National Science Digital Library, and dozens of other places
that have created education-based content. We’re working
with the Department of Defense and others to figure
out how to create this kind of a registry—a layered service
that would allow these vertical repositories of content to be found and repurposed and combined in interesting and
creative ways by users. We’re hoping to launch this Registry
service in 12-18 months.
T&L: This question came from one of our Twitter followers:
What level of integration between the National Education
Technology Plan and ESEA 2.0 do you hope for?
KC: The way we’re thinking about re-authorization is
pushing that envelope, by really figuring
out how to ensure integration. So
whether we’re trying to support the
better assessments, support literacy
development, STEM subjects, teacher
effectiveness, etc. we want to make
sure that technology is part and parcel
with supporting the goals, not a
T&L: Looking at the big picture, where
do you hope to see education technology
in, say, five years?
KC: I would love to see technology not as a huge part of
the conversation, as in how are we going to fund technology
or how are we going to get these things to work together.
I really would like to see a scenario where every student
and teacher, every learner in this education enterprise, has
access: has the device they need, has the access at home, at
school, and in between so learning can happen everywhere.
I’d like to see everybody supporting themselves and each
other. The technology becomes simply a vehicle that’s
completely commonplace and somewhat transparent in the
process of teaching and learning. I think there are a lot of
things that need to be invented in order to get there, but I
can see that happening in the next five years
Click HERE to see a video highlight of this interview.