Office of Educational Technology seeks examples of ‘making,’ hands-on learning

The U.S. Education Department‘s Office of Educational Technology is seeking examples of schools and districts that deliver customized and hands-on learning experiences that allow students to tackle real-world problems and, in doing so, develop solutions; invent, iterate and make products; and leverage technology.

These ideas may or may not be under the guise of “making,” in formal or informal settings, as well as during the traditional school year or over the summer, said Jason Botel, acting assistant secretary in the Office of Secondary and Elementary Education, as he spoke about makerspaces during an event held at American University during the National Week of Making.

He said the work of maker labs is “so important.”

“Makers look at problems, look at needs, look at opportunities, identify solutions, and then actually execute solutions,” he said. “It’s such a simple concept, and yet it’s what our country needs a lot more of.”

Education Department officials “really want to work towards how we can help states and communities give students higher and higher quality options and opportunities to get an education like that,” Botel added, as he welcomed solutions from attendees on how to advance educational options that “do that better.”

“We’re really looking for opportunities where this is working well and where schools are really giving students a great opportunity to learn, teachers a great opportunity to teach … — by actually solving real-world problems — and by actually developing real things that you can touch and sense,” he said.

“We’re hoping more and more schools can learn from each other,” Botel told attendees.

When asked by to expand on this, he said the agency seeks to be “deliberate about letting states and local education agencies and schools lead” and to make school leaders aware of “what’s working in the technology space around the country and the great things happening in the field.”

“What I’m really trying to do in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education is [to] make sure the role that we’re playing is identifying where we have evidence where practices with technology and beyond actually drive better student outcomes,” he said. He expressed an interest to share “actionable” best practices with states and local communities.

Members of the public who wish to provide feedback on makerspaces and other hands-on learning opportunities among schools and local educational agencies can do so by emailing OET at tech@ed.gov or tweeting @OfficeofEdTech, a spokesperson said.

Updated infrastructure guide

ED officials also said the Office of Educational Technology will update at least one of its guides to better reflect the changing educational technology landscape.

Indeed, a spokesperson said on background that later this month the department is releasing an updated version of its Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning, a K-12 school infrastructure guide that was published in 2014.

“The updated guide will highlight best practices in building an IT infrastructure that supports digital learning and features an expanded cybersecurity section and a discussion on broadband connectivity,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The department will make an official announcement about the release of the guide at the end of the month. The 2017 update will replace the existing version on ED’s website.

Emily Ann Brown covers education technology and STEM education issues for LRP Publications.

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