Education Innovation Clusters: Accelerating Innovation Through Regional Partnerships

At a time when advances in technology and digital media hold the potential to dramatically reshape the way we approach instruction, assessment, and research, many barriers still continue to slow innovation in learning, teaching and educational technologiesAccelerating the pace of innovation requires collaboration between educators, researchers, and commercial partners to work through these problems and create a shared research and development ecosystem.

Across the country, clusters of innovation are beginning to emerge in regions where these partnerships are forming.  These clusters rely on collective expertise and resources to spur ideas, incubate new businesses, and most importantly, improve student learning.  From Boston to Los Angeles, communities are building on this model by focusing unique regional strengths in the learning sciences, learning analytics and learning games to name a few.

To encourage this innovative cluster approach, last week, the US Department of Education convened at the University of Pennsylvania thirteen groups of leaders from communities across the country. Participants shared the unique assets and approaches they are taking advantage of and discussed strategies for overcoming challenges that limit collaboration and impede innovation.

Jim Shelton, ED assistant deputy secretary for innovation, and Richard Culatta, deputy director in the Office of Education Technology, led conversations during the event that focused on identifying critical elements of successful clusters and approaches for solving common challenges in sustaining collaborative innovation. The event also included talks from Nisith Acharya, director of the Department of Commerce’s Office of Innovation and Adam Frankel, CEO of Digital Promise, about ways for these clusters to engage current innovation initiatives for support in building and sustaining successful clusters.

All participating leaders committed to taking best practices from across the country back to their respective innovation networks and communities.  More importantly, the respective leaders committed to finding ways to support each other as a national network of innovation hubs instead of series of stand-alone communities.  As regional partnerships become stronger and interconnectivity among regions increases, expect to see an acceleration of the development of educational tools and technologies that will improve learning for students across the country.

More information and elements of effective clusters can be found on the education innovation cluster website.

Richard Culatta is deputy director of the Office of Educational Technology

1 Comment

  1. I apologize if this ends up being a duplicate post. I did try to post earlier, but it is not showing up so I will try again.

    “At a time when advances in technology and digital media hold the potential to dramatically reshape the way we approach instruction, assessment, and research, many barriers still continue to slow innovation in learning, teaching and educational technologies.”

    This is a great opening statement, but the rest of your article fails to explain how we are overcoming these barriers. It just seems to be all talk with no action. As an elearning content developer, let me describe to you the problems I see so that the solutions I propose make sense.

    The first problem is that most technology “solutions” are dropped down onto teachers from above. There are some teachers who are have the ability to take advantage of the tools, but many simply don’t have the technology background. Teaching is a very time and energy intensive process, teachers have none left over for learning or applying something that seems to them more like a fad than a solution. A “bottom up” approach where teachers themselves drive the use of the tools that leverage the power of technology to improve education is much more effective (if the goal is to actually use the technology in the classroom), but again, teachers have no time or energy. This is kind of a catch 22 where teachers are reluctant to apply something “others” (read: people who have never been in a classroom) have developed, but they don’t have time to develop their own content in a new medium. Teachers will spend hours learning about something in their teaching area, but new technology often falls far outside their strength or interest. I am talking specifically about interactivity, video, and animation. A simple powerpoint is not effective use of new technology.

    One other great barrier to implementation is that many teachers do not see these new tools as solutions. Over and over again, teachers will tell whoever will listen that their biggest problem in the classroom is discipline. In fact, if they could overcome the discipline, short attention span, and lack of focus issues then their current teaching technique would be much more effective. Teachers already know how to improve education, but administration and policy are seen as the barrier to this improvement. How is more technology (dropped in from above by administrators) going to help?

    The answer: give teachers time and tools to develop their own solutions. This includes time to learn the new tools and the technology behind them. One key is to bring in experts to work directly with teachers to show them how to use and apply the tools in their specific situation.

    The top down approach is illustrated by the fact that your cluster is way too top heavy. I guess because the Department of Education is a policy maker you feel you need to be included, but I personally do not see any value. My advice: get out of the way. Same with research. We know what to do, we just need to do it.

    How? Our new 3 element cluster is more streamlined, but needs to be focused on development and implementation. To work effectively, the new look cluster needs to include instructional designers, graphic artists, editors, and reviewers working in partnership with teachers to do the things that teachers can’t do or don’t know how to do.

    Result: educational technology that not only works, but will actually be used in the classroom.

    You’re welcome.

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