Recently, we posted a look back at the 10 most significant educational technology stories of 2008. Now, here’s a look ahead at five stories that could have a huge impact on educational technology in the new year. (You can follow the latest developments regarding these and other stories at eSchoolNews.com.)

5. How will ‘validated learning’ be enforced among the nation’s colleges and universities?

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which Congress passed last year, included a measure requiring colleges and universities to authenticate test takers in online courses through the use of sophisticated identification technology or with exam proctors.

While some higher-ed officials believe the law will help lend greater credibility to online learning, others say the new mandate is largely unnecessary. Still, higher-ed officials will be looking to the federal Education Department for guidance on how the law will be implemented later this year–and what measures they will have to take to verify the identity of online students.

Related link:

New law aims to validate online learning

4. How will new federal and state regulations affect internet safety education in schools?

In October, Congress passed a law that requires schools receiving federal e-Rate discounts to teach their students about online safety, sexual predators, and cyber bullying. The law also requires the Federal Trade Commission to carry out a national public awareness program focused on educating children how to use the internet in safe and responsible ways, and it establishes an "Online Safety and Technology Working Group" charged with evaluating online safety education efforts, parental control technologies, filtering and blocking software, and more.

Educators will be watching closely to see how this new law is implemented in the coming months–and what it will mean for their internet-safety efforts.

Also, as part of an agreement reached last January between MySpace and the attorneys general of 49 states, Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society headed a task force to explore technical ways to keep kids safe online–not only from sexual predators but also from online bullies and adult content. The task force’s final recommendations are expected any day now, and they could help educators shape their schools’ online safety initiatives.

Related links:

Harvard scholars to explore web safety

Schools soon required to teach web safety

Schools caught in internet safety dilemma

3. Who will be Kevin Martin’s successor as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and how will this change affect telecommunications policy in 2009?

As FCC chairman, Martin, a Republican, broke with his party’s stance on net neutrality last year, siding with the commission’s two Democrats in ruling that Comcast Corp. violated federal policy when it blocked internet traffic for some subscribers and ordering the cable giant to change the way it manages its network. He also backed a plan to provide free wireless broadband internet access throughout the nation–a plan whose fate remains in the air. How Martin’s successor approaches these and other telecom issues will have a significant effect on school technology in 2009 and beyond.

Also at stake is the fate of the agency’s universal service programs. As the FCC tussles this year over how to collect universal service fees from telecommunications companies in a fair and reasonable manner, school leaders will be watching closely to see how the agency’s decision might affect the pool of money that funds the $2.25 billion-a-year e-Rate, which provides telecommunications discounts to eligible schools and libraries.

Related links:

FCC wrangles over ‘net neutrality’ issue

FCC: Comcast violated ‘net neutrality’ principles

FCC delays controversial vote on fee-collection system

Democratic win could herald wireless net neutrality

Free broadband plan raises critics’ ire

2. Will the transition to digital TV broadcasting next month occur seamlessly–or will schools experience any problems?

On Feb. 17, 2009, all television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting analog signals and will begin broadcasting in digital format only. (The deadline for Canada is Aug. 31, 2011). This changeover has profound implications for organizations that have developed infrastructure based on an analog TV delivery model–including some schools.

One of the chief concerns among ed-tech leaders is whether the coaxial radio-frequency cable networks that currently carry analog TV content in schools will be able to handle digital content adequately–and on this point, there is some disagreement. Although some people fear schools could experience a degradation of their DTV signal as the signal travels over their coaxial cable network, others say such concerns are overblown. Whatever the answer, school leaders should know for sure in a matter of weeks.

There is also some concern that low-income residents who don’t subscribe to cable TV, and who aren’t aware of the switchover, could be left in the dark if they don’t have a digital-ready television. Federal officials have organized a massive campaign to educate citizens and help them get set-top boxes if necessary–but a recent New York Times report suggests these efforts could fall far short of what is needed as the transition date looms.

Related links:

Schools prepare for switch to digital TV

Schools mull digital TV’s implications

In move to digital TV, confusion is in the air

1. How will education fare under the Obama administration?

When President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20, he’ll inherit an educational system in crisis–and a tangle of competing proposals for how to fix it.

Six years after No Child Left Behind (NCLB), U.S. schools have made some progress in closing achievement gaps, but much work remains to be done. And there is mounting evidence to suggest that the nation’s schools aren’t preparing students adequately to compete in the global economy, as U.S. scores on international benchmark exams have remained relatively flat while other nations have made great strides.

As Congress ramps up its efforts to reauthorize NCLB, educators will be watching to see how Obama and his Education Secretary designee, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, will guide these efforts.

Of more immediate concern is how Obama will steer millions of dollars in federal stimulus aid to schools and colleges for modernization efforts. To boost the sinking economy, the government needs to invest in modernizing and upgrading school buildings, expanding broadband internet access, and making public buildings more energy efficient, said Obama in a Dec. 6 radio address. The plans are part of a vision for a massive economic recovery program that Obama wants Congress to pass and have waiting on his desk when he takes office.

Related links:

Bush on NCLB: ‘Strengthen this good law’

Will new NCLB reflect 21st-century skills?

Obama calls for ed-tech investment

Obama makes history; what’s next?

Ed tech central to Obama’s recovery plan

U.S. students gain in math, stay flat in science

Obama taps Arne Duncan for secretary of ED

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Keeping Online Learning Secure resource center. Online learning is becoming increasingly popular, especially as fuel costs force schools to consider shortened schedules and have college students opting for virtual classes to save money. But while interest and enrollment in virtual classrooms rises, so do concerns about security while students are learning online. School IT staff already work around the clock to make sure their systems are secure and reliable; they can’t afford to have school networks vulnerable to attacks from outside—or from curious students who believe they are honing their tech expertise. Go to: Keeping Online Learning Secure


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