Yesterday I participated in an Education Datapalooza hosted by the White House and U.S. Department of Education. More than 600 people packed into an auditorium to discuss innovation in higher education—and what I heard and saw makes me excited for the future! The gathering was a response to President Obama’s call this past August to improve value and affordability in postsecondary education, in which he outlined an ambitious plan that included a major focus on innovation. As part of his call to action, the President and the First Lady are speaking today about the importance of ensuring that every child, rich or poor, has the opportunity to access a quality college education.
At the Education Datapalooza, we gathered to celebrate innovative products, apps, websites, and other tools to help students get to and through postsecondary education. Many of the tools help students and families navigate the college choice and selection process. Others focus on improving teaching and learning, especially in ways that leverage technology to improve online and classroom-based instruction.
Events like this one are exciting because they bring together so many different people from different backgrounds and experiences. The event featured entrepreneurs and software developers, along with researchers in the fields of college access and learning. It also featured students, who taught college guidance counselors how to use the latest mobile apps so that they could refer other students to them, along with policymakers and representatives of non-profits that represent student voices. Video of the day will be posted soon here: www.ed.gov/datapalooza.
Part of Datapalooza was an innovation showcase, at which more than fifty organizations participated by giving live product demonstrations of their tools to empower students and families to make informed decisions about college—and improve teaching and learning. Among the participants were several teams that began developing their tools only a few weeks prior, as part of the Data Jams hosted by the White House and Department of Education to catalyze innovation. I got a chance to walk through the innovation showcase and meet with the entrepreneurs and student advocates who are developing new tools. The energy and excitement in the room was tremendous.
Many of the tools and apps developed, use open data provided by the Department of Education and other federal sources. In the past, even data that was free to the public was often difficult to find and use. Knowing that it is critical to innovation, President Obama signed an Executive Order last May directing agencies to make government-held data more accessible to the public and to entrepreneurs. Building on the Executive Order, the Department of Education announced a new public data inventory that went live in December.
And yesterday, we announced our intention to issue a Request for Information (RFI) to gather ideas and feedback on potential development of Application Program Interfaces (APIs) with key education data, programs, and frequently used forms—including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). APIs offer the potential for developers to interact with these federal resources in new ways, including developing apps or services that benefit students and consumers.
While Datapalooza was the culmination of months of hard work by entrepreneurs and college experts, it is also just the beginning of a wider conversation. In the weeks and months ahead, the Administration will continue outreach to the community seeking to catalyze innovation. We value your input, so please send your ideas to Datapalooza@ed.gov. We hope to engage those who participated in Datapalooza and others who are committed to promoting opportunity for American students.
Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education