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January 06, 2006


Douglas Levin

While it is surely debatable whether eSchooNews' choice of the Gulf Coast hurricanes as the top edtech story of 2005 will look off-base or prescient in years to come, I might have framed the story differently. Indeed, in my opinion, among the issues that the devestation shed light on are (a) the role that technology and edtech played and continues to play in education-related relief and recovery efforts, and (b), the ongoing barriers - policy and pragmatic/practical - to the use of technology in K-12 education, even when those edtech solutions are well/best matched to student and teacher needs. The fact that about 372,000 K-12 students were displaced, many across district- and (more significantly) state-lines all at the same time and involuntarily shed significant light onto those policy barriers.

One of the relief efforts mentioned in the eSchoolNews article is vSKOOL (http://www.vskool.org), a philanthropic consortium that we played a lead role in launching and managing. One part of the vSKOOL efforts has been to launch a blog to share news and commentary about the status of K-12 schools and students affected by the hurricanes and to advocate for techology's role in providing relief. The vSKOOL blog (http://www.vskool.org/www/vskoolblog.html) was named a finalist for the 2005 Edublog awards, and folks may be interested in reading some of our posts for additional thoughts.

No doubt, as time passes, stories will emerge of those in the community who see the rebuilding as a terrific sales and marketing opportunity. They will make promises about how technology alone can and will transform Gulf Coast schools. My opinion is that these promises will not and cannot be met in large part - unless and until state and local policies in the region are better coordinated and more open to alternative approaches to meeting the goal of improving student learning.

Unfortunately, it is not out of the realm of possibility that a disaster of this scale will occur again at some point in the future - hurricanes will return; the avian flu will strike; terrorists will succeed in mounting an attack; what have you. We can only hope that our educational system learns how to be more nimble in responding to the needs of its students in these situations in the future.

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