Illinois Technology Plan Targets Opportunity in the Classroom

December 12, 2001
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CHICAGO - Meeting at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, members of the Illinois State Board of Education reviewed a technology plan that will make even the most prehistoric treasures of the museum available to students anywhere in the state.

The five-year state technology plan presented to board members, who held their December meeting at the museum, provides a guide to enhance the use of technology for Illinois students and schools while fulfilling a key eligibility requirement for federal technology-in-education programs.

The plan will help Illinois maintain its national leadership as an innovator in the use of technology to enhance the quality and range of educational opportunities, and includes two key goals to ensure its success:

  • Technology will help Illinois students develop the higher-order knowledge and skills essential for success in the 21st century, including specific knowledge and skills related to technology use.
  • Technology will provide all Illinois students with unprecedented and equitable access to rich, diverse and high-quality learning opportunities.

When the state adopted its first five-year technology plan in 1995, Illinois was ranked 49th in the use of technology. Five years later, it had charged to fourth place, its progress at the K-12 level the second-best in the country. Just this month, the Center for Digital Government recognized Illinois as tied for first place in the nation in the use of digital technology in education.

In spite of its progress, Illinois has not yet achieved all the goals of the 1995 plan. Last year, the State Board launched a process to develop a second five-year plan. The plan presented to the board builds on the product of that process and incorporates recent findings from other sources as well.

The plan is designed to be flexible, recognizing the potential for change in the range, cost and benefits of new technologies.

The plan recognizes the gaps between the state's vision for technology in education and what it has accomplished, with measures to give educators the knowledge and skills they need to make technology an effective tool in the classroom.

At the same time, it aligns with the State Board goal of high achievement for all students, eliminating the gaps that separate groups of Illinois students. It addresses the elimination of the so-called "digital divide" and includes a strategy for ensuring that the benefits of technology reach students at risk of academic failure.

During a break in the board's meeting, board members got a good look at one example of Illinois' leadership in technology to give students access to educational resources outside the classroom, a partnership of the Illinois State Board of Education and the Field Museum.

The Field Museum is the home of Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found. The museum has developed a set of online activities known as the Sue Files that allow students - no matter their location - to study Sue as a way of learning about paleontology and the scientific process. No museum would permit hundreds of elementary school students to handle one of its rarest and most valuable pieces, but through technology students are able to do the next best thing.

In addition, the online activities align with the Illinois Learning Standards, making them an effective means of giving students the knowledge and skills they should be developing.