Enabling the Future of Learning

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

I can’t predict the future, but as I wrote back in July, I can say that learning in the future ought to be more personalized. Teachers should have up-to-the minute information that will help them tailor instruction for each student. They should be able to connect and collaborate with other teachers to tackle common challenges and develop solutions. No matter where they are located, students should have access to world-class resources and experts that can enrich a learning experience that is largely designed just for them. And parents should be able to follow their child’s activities and progress almost in real-time, helping them stay more engaged in their child’s education.

This is an exciting future, and for some districts and schools across the country, that future is now.

Today the Department of Education announced the second round of grantees in the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition. (Five winners, representing 25 districts, won a total of $120 million in grant funds.) These grants will support locally developed plans to personalize and improve student learning, directly increase student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers. Through these grants, innovative school districts will be able to better support teachers and students by increasing educational opportunities through more personalized learning.

President Obama described the promise of personalized learning when he launched the ConnectED initiative last June. Technology is a powerful tool that helps create robust personalized learning environments, but unfortunately, too many of our schools cannot support such environments. ConnectED is about establishing the building blocks for nearly every school to achieve this vision—by boosting broadband speeds through a modernized E-rate program, working to make learning devices and quality content available to all students, and ensuring that teachers have the support and professional development resources they need as they transition to a digital world.

This year’s RTT-D grantees exemplify the types of opportunities created by personalizing learning environments supported by technology. Indeed, most of the districts that won funding represent rural, remote, or small town communities, and their plans show that technology can be a powerful equalizer for schools in such communities. For example:

  • Technology as a tool for teachers and students. Clarendon County School District Two in South Carolina (leading a consortium of four districts) will make personal learning devices like laptops and tablets available to all students in the Carolina Consortium for Enterprise Learning. Teachers will have digital tools to help them differentiate instruction and share standards-aligned materials and assessments.
  • Professional learning communities. Clarksdale Municipal School District in Mississippi will train teachers to become facilitators of instruction and to learn from and support one another through professional learning communities.
  • Continuous improvement. Houston Independent School District in Texas will implement a continuous improvement cycle to measure and support teacher effectiveness and will partner with an external evaluator to provide ongoing feedback to the district on program implementation.
  • Accessible data systems that support instruction. The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (a consortium of eighteen rural districts) will create and implement data systems that measure student growth and success and that help teachers improve instruction.
  • Helping close the digital divide through community access to technology. Springdale School District in Arkansas will expand parent access to technology through school-based and community “hot spots” along with community liaisons with computer access.

It’s clear that much of the innovative work by the districts in this year’s and last year’s RTT-D grantees requires a robust technology infrastructure. And in order for more districts to embrace a future of personalized learning, we must work urgently to meet our ConnectED goals. That future is waiting, but it’s up to us to make it a reality.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Reimagining Learning in Philadelphia

Jeff Scott and Students

Engineering doctoral candidate Jeffrey Scott instructs students during the workshop on Music Information Retrieval at Drexel University in Philadelphia

It’s “full steam ahead” for Philadelphia area high school students participating in Drexel University’s Summer Music Technology program focused on connecting technology with the arts.

For the past seven years, more than 150 aspiring young engineers and musicians have participated in hands-on, multi-media workshops funded in part with a National Science Foundation grant and housed in the College of Engineering. This year, with continued support from private funding, 28 students attended a week-long session at Drexel’s new Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center. The Center is a hub where teams of faculty, students, and entrepreneurs collaborate on multi-disciplinary projects in a variety of fields.  It’s part of a nationwide effort to enrich teaching and learning in the science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – fields, by adding a focus on the arts. Supporters have dubbed this approach STEAM.

Students at Drexel

Students Brandon Tran and Chia Chen, with Dr. Youngmoo Kim, demonstrate musical instruments produced in a 3D printer at the ExCITe Center.

“Our goal here is to explore the benefits of arts-integrated research and learning, or STEAM education, for everyone, from ‘K to gray.’ We especially work with young high school students and hope that the things they learn here will help them make good career choices,” said the Center’s director, Dr. Youngmoo Kim.

In one workshop led by Jeffrey Scott, a doctoral candidate in engineering, students learned about Music Information Retrieval (MIR) and worked in groups to develop playlists, label and tag features of songs, and create a collaborative filtering system. MIR is a growing field that develops efficient and intelligent methods to analyze, retrieve and organize music. Dr. Kim hopes this kind of targeted, experiential learning will develop future engineers.

The workshops aren’t just for fun: the approach has attracted several aspiring engineers to pursue higher education and the STEAM fields.

Seth Nicosia, a current sophomore at Drexel’s College of Engineering, attended the summer engineering program in 2010, and attributes his decision to major in engineering to that experience. “I have always been interested in music, and the Summer Music Technology program showed me how I could apply my musical knowledge in new and practical ways,” said Nicosia. “The program motivated me to enroll in college and major in engineering.”

Drexel’s ExCITe Center is a feast of fun for anyone interested in innovative, engaging research in technology and the arts.  There’s a magnetic resonator piano that allows the piano to create sounds that were previously impossible on the instrument. There’s a life-size robot that students program to play percussion.  There’s Darwin, a soccer-playing robot. And, there’s a 3D printer that students use to make musical instruments.

This May, at a conference titled, “Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in the 21st Century,” Secretary Duncan emphasized the need to create a bold new vision for our classrooms. “Our students need to experiment, engage, and create in the areas they find truly exciting. Schools are a crucial part of that vision, and better access to technology and the worlds that technology puts at our fingertips, is an essential part of this work,” said Duncan. “To accomplish this, we need mentors, employers and artists working together in new ways to get all of our students involved and interested in their own learning.”

Clearly, this vision for high-quality STEAM education is helping to power Drexel’s ExCITe Center, as it fast-track students to academic and career success.

Elizabeth Williamson is a supervisory education program specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach in Philadelphia.

Duncan Highlights Power of Tech and Barriers to Overcome at The Cable Show

Cable Show 2013- Technology and Education Panel

Secretary Duncan is joined by John Danner, Co-founder & CEO of Zeal, David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation, Valyncia Hawkins, elementary school teacher, and moderator, Gloria Borger, CNN’s political analyst.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the final day of The Cable Show, the cable industry’s huge annual conference, along with Secretary Duncan and several other colleagues here at the Department. Secretary Duncan delivered the keynote speech and participated in a lively panel discussion addressing, among other things, the potential of technology to be a great equalizer in education. After highlighting technology’s promise, he described the vexing problem that stands in the way of realizing it: most of our nation’s schools don’t have fast enough Internet connections to create 21st century learning experiences using 21st century technology.

At its core, that’s what President Obama’s ConnectED initiative is all about: equipping our schools and our teachers with the tools they need to harness the power of technology to better serve our nation’s students.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Read Duncan’s speech and watch the full event, including Duncan’s speech and the ensuing panel conversation at The Cable Show.

Sujeet Rao is a special assistant in ED’s Office of Innovation & Improvement.

Rural Teachers Turn to Tech to Support Teaching and Learning

Inside a classroom at Chantry Elementary School in the small town of Malvern, Iowa, four 1st grade students are gathered around a table facing Becky Curtis. She is teaching them to read.

It appears to be a traditional reading intervention class. However, they are not alone.

A state away in Omaha, Neb., Mrs. Patty Smith is observing the small group via WebEx software and a webcam on an open laptop sitting on a table behind the students. Occasionally Mrs. Smith speaks with Ms. Curtis through a small listening device. The technology is allowing Mrs. Smith to communicate, see and hear the students’ responses and their teacher’s instruction.

Children ReadingThey are part of Project READERS, a large-scale distance coaching study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). UNL is using technology to connect trained coaches with more than 200 teachers in over 40 rural schools in eight states, where reading-support experts would not be available otherwise.

Ms. Curtis is a special education teacher who volunteered for the professional development project to improve her skills and serve as a reading intervention specialist.

As they begin to read a story together, the students are hanging on their teacher’s every word, using their fingers to point and decode letters, repeating words, blending sounds, and improving their phonemic awareness.

Ms. Curtis is working with precision, making sure her pupils can hear patterns and the rhythm of stressed and unstressed pieces of compound words. They identify and repeat the smallest units of sound.

When incorrect, the students and Ms. Curtis repeat and persist until the sounds are exactly right.

This rural education R&D, using a high-speed broadband connection, appears less intrusive than traditional coaching with an additional teacher physically in the classroom. At no point is Ms. Curtis competing for her students’ attention.

UNL is investigating the effects of distance coaching using technology on rural teachers’ knowledge, practice and student outcomes. Early elementary school teachers also learn and apply methods for collecting and using data to make instructional decisions.

The large-scale study is part of work conducted at UNL’s National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed), which is funded by a five-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.

Near the end of class, Ms. Curtis bursts into laughter, unable to contain the private conversation she is having with Mrs. Smith about her students and their responses to her instruction.

The children immediately log-in, asking “What did she say? What did she say?” With a smile on her face, Ms. Curtis removes her hand from her mouth to tell her students, “She said I was awesome you guys!”

There are high-fives all around as Ms. Curtis tells her students how well they were reading. Before class ends, Ms. Curtis unplugs her ear-bud from the laptop and asks the students to turn to face Mrs. Smith for a quick debrief conversation.

Their time is up and class ends for the day. As the children run from the room, it is obvious their secret is out.

From Omaha to Malvern they’re all learning together.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Cloudy With a Chance of Data

Recently, a lot of people have been talking about cloud computing and asking what it means to store student information in the cloud.  Unfortunately, confusion and misunderstanding can sometimes cloud the issue (pun intended).  In order to understand the potential risks and opportunities, we should take a minute to understand what it actually means to put data “in the cloud”.

Online systems are powered by computers called servers.  In the past, servers were generally located in the same physical vicinity as the people using them. Email servers were stored somewhere near the office where the users worked; student information system servers were stored somewhere in the school or district where the students attended. As demand for online tools increased and tolerance for “down time” decreased, the requirements for storing (or hosting) web servers became increasingly complex.

Row of web servers

Row of web servers in a large data center.

Fortunately, as network speeds have increased, data can travel faster and web servers no longer need to be stored in close physical proximity to the users in order to have access to the data. This allows the creation of remote hosting centers that can be designed specifically to meet the requirements of storing web servers for schools and districts. Since servers for multiple schools and districts can be stored in the same data center, the cost to each district could be reduced even while adding features (cooling, power, backups, physical security, etc.).  The concept of hosting web servers in shared data centers became known as “cloud storage”. Server rooms needed special cooling systems, backup generators, and redundant internet connections. In addition as more and more data began to be stored digitally, increased physical security was needed to guard against unauthorized access to the server room.  Meeting these demands added an enormous burden to district IT budgets – not to mention increased space requirements in buildings that were already overcrowded.

It is important to note that the co-location of servers for multiple schools in a single data center is not the same as comingling the student information into a single database. This may be the most widely misunderstood concept about storing student data in the cloud. Think about how email works. An email account is hosted in a remote “cloud” data center along with thousands of other email accounts. But just because our email accounts “live” in the same data center does not mean that I can read someone else’s email or vice versa.  Along the same lines, organizations that provide cloud data solutions for schools would not be able to amass a single database of student data or allow unauthorized individuals to access that data without violating privacy laws and the terms of contracts with school districts on which they depend.

Whenever student data is being stored—whether on paper, on servers in the back room of a school building, or “in the cloud”—security, privacy and other legal and operational issues must always be addressed. While specially–built data centers can offer additional physical and digital protections for student data, appropriate credentialing requirements, audit trails, and access controls must always be in place. In addition, state or federal laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) may apply. Check out this blog post by our Chief Privacy Officer for answers to common questions about privacy in the cloud.

We encourage parents and students who want more information on how their schools employ cloud computing to contact their schools directly. It’s important for everyone to stay informed about how data is being protected and how student data is being used to improve the learning experience.

Richard Culatta is the Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Collaboration and Hope Curb Violence in Aurora, Illinois

Sixth Graders

Inspired by a presentation they heard from Aurora-based Cabot Microelectronics, a “Pathways to Prosperity” partner, a group of sixth-graders designed the “Best Illinois Middle School App” in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge. Photo courtesy of West Aurora School District 129.

As we strive nationally to make communities safer, Aurora, Ill. has made some headway, and education is a key component. Over the past decade, the population of the nearly-200,000-strong city surged almost 40 percent while its violent crime rate significantly fell, with no murders in 2012. Mayor Tom Weisner credited his city’s safety progress to strong collaboration among law enforcement agencies, education, public works, and other public and private entities at the recent launch of Aurora’s Pathways to Prosperity initiative.

“We’ve been implementing, enhancing and growing programs that give our young people productive alternatives to gang activity,” said Weisner, who noted that Aurora’s anti-violence efforts were sparked by a brutal trend that reached its height in 2002, with 26 primarily gang-related murders in the city.

The mayor said it’s crucial for “kids to be able to see themselves as being successful” to give them hope. Recognizing that “the goal of getting a 4-year degree isn’t for everyone,” Aurora participates in Harvard University’s “Pathways to Prosperity” initiative, which develops career pathways for students to jobs in high-growth fields through collaborations between businesses and education. Pathways to Prosperity’s Illinois initiative will utilize resources of Illinois Pathways, a closely-aligned program that received ED Race to the Top funding awarded to the state in December 2011.

Columbia College Student Alex Perez

Columbia College student Alex Perez teaches elementary students how to tie neckties during a monthly Boys II Men “Juniorversity” session. Photo courtesy of Boys II Men.

Pathways to Prosperity aims to increase and enhance programs like Aurora West High School’s Health Sciences Career Academy, created 15 years ago to prepare students for careers in the high-growth healthcare industry. Aurora health occupations teacher April Sonnefeldt said the program has helped prepare many students to get certification for jobs like entry-level nursing positions, and has given “others the confidence to go all the way through med school.”

The mayor also praised non-profit Boys II Men for “teaching young men to respect themselves.”  Inspired by grief and frustration from the 2002 murders, the Aurora-based mentoring organization has been replicated internationally. While Jared Marchiando — a founding Boys II Men member and its first president — is now a college graduate working in finance, he’d previously been “going down that road towards gangs.”

“I needed positive male role models, and some discipline, and I got that through Boys II Men,” said Marchiando, who remains actively involved with the organization. He encourages students and parents to celebrate positive academic outcomes, like “most improved student” as much as sports achievements. He also emphasizes the importance of reaching out to students before their teens, noting that, “if you don’t reach kids by 3rd or 4th grade, it’s often too late.”

An early learning initiative, SPARK (Strong, Prepared And Ready for Kindergarten), was launched in 2012 and aims to build positive education environments for Aurora’s youngest children in both structured settings and in homes. Supported by four school districts, Fox Valley United Way, the city of Aurora and the Dunham Fund, SPARK also will benefit from Illinois’ Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant received in December.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and we need to remain vigilant,” said Weisner, sadly noting that a 14-month period of no murders in Aurora ended with the recent killing of a teen. “Most kids turn to crime and to gangs when they don’t have hope.”

–Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office.

Every Day Should Be Digital Learning Day

Digital learning

Today is Digital Learning Day! As teachers across the country welcome powerful learning technologies into the classroom, students are engaging and benefitting from enhanced opportunities to achieve.

Access to technology has become as important to learning as access to a library, yet teachers remain the critical link between students and the content. As new, more mobile technologies have entered the classroom, often in the backpacks of students, teachers become orchestrators of projects and seek the best emerging digital environments for improving motivation, relevance and depth of learning.

Teachers are setting expectations for multiple revision cycles of student productions, made possible with professional tools for writing, composing music, creating video documentaries, and design. They are learning along with their students and modeling good questioning and Internet research strategies, assigning more complex and challenging projects and facilitating communication and collaboration even across borders.

Age used to be considered a barrier to technology use in the classroom, and we would call teachers “digital immigrants” and young students “digital natives.” But teachers have evolved especially as technology has become increasingly easy to use and available. Like most educated adults, teachers use technology for personal activities – reading, writing, shopping, communicating with family and friends, seeking health advice and more – and they are also using technology for professional growth. In addition to finding resources on myriad education related topics, they are joining communities of practice to learn with peers and publish and share their ideas and expertise.

Teachers unions and professional associations are supporting the inclusion of digital learning. The American Federation of Teachers launched Share My Lesson, “a place where educators can come together to create and share their very best teaching resources.” The National Science Teachers Association maintains one of the most robust online communities supporting thousands of science teachers nationwide.

Last August, we launched Connected Educator Month. Over 150 organizations participated, offering close to 100,000 hours of online professional learning, with offerings such as book groups, challenges and contests, discussions, webinars, as well as interactions focused on everything from how to manage the first six weeks of school to how to create your personal learning network. The archives of the sessions are all online. The most common sentiment we heard was that “every month should be connected educator month”. Yes, and every day should be Digital Learning Day!

The education profession is as complex and challenging as it is rewarding. There is plenty to learn but luckily, the opportunity to learn has never been greater. And today – Digital Learning Day – we celebrate and thank all those educators who are leading the way.

Read Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton’s “Digital Learning Day: No Better Time to Consider Our R&D Investment in Technology and Education.”

Karen Cator is director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Education Datapalooza: Unleashing the Power of Open Data to Help Students, Parents, and Teachers

Imagine new tools to help students choose a college that is right for them and their family.  Or imagine an easy-to-read virtual dashboard for parents to track the academic performance of their children.  Or imagine a digital file that makes it easier for children of active military and for foster youth to make the transition to a new school.

These are the kinds of advances that were on display at the White House last fall, as more than 150 of America’s entrepreneurs, software developers, education experts, and policy makers come together for an Education Datapalooza. The gathering was a chance to celebrate new products, services, and apps—all built with freely available data from the government and other sources—that have the potential to help American students succeed and that empower students and their families to make informed educational decisions. Notable among the day’s many impressive announcements:

  • Over 78 million people are now able to download their own Federal student loan and grant data from the Department of Education via the NSLDS Student Access system.
  • On the K-12 level, pioneering school districts and states—including York County and New York State—are committing to give students the ability to access and download their own academic data.
  • A new state-led effort will make it easier to transfer academic information digitally and securely when moving between schools, an especially valuable service for children of active military and foster children.
  • A new Department of Education and higher education institution collaboration to work on a data standard for postsecondary course catalogs, degree requirements, and related information. As more postsecondary institutions provide their course and awards data in the same format, students will benefit with new options to shorten college completion time and costs.

Watch our playlist of the day’s presenters, including Secretary Duncan and US CTO Todd Park, or view them here.

Many of the announcements of the day build off a simple principle: in an increasingly digital educational system, students should have easy access to their own data.  Moreover, these data should be secure, yet mobile; too often, students can see their data online but can’t take it with them.

One of the core projects talked about is the MyData Initiative—a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and software developers to help students securely export or download their own educational data in open, machine-readable, human-readable formats, on any system. A number of vendors that already provide schools with software systems have committed to offer this functionality.

Giving students their own data can be potentially game-changing. For example, with access to their own data, students are able to create personal learning profiles—educational portfolios of their own records. They can then choose to safely share pieces of those learning profiles with an ever-growing network of applications being built by private-sector entrepreneurs to help inform choices about which classes to take, which colleges to apply to, and how to pay for tuition.

Open data standards can also solve problems inherent in the antiquated paper-based student record system. For example, many teachers and principals across the country deal with new students who show up at their classrooms with virtually no paper trail. This forces educators to make important decisions with no student records, no data, and no points of reference. If every student information system can import and export student academic records in the same standardized format, it makes it easier for schools to transfer information internally and with other schools. Moreover, this problem disproportionately affects low-income students, who are often more likely to be transient and are most dependent on support from their schools.

Smart use of open data will help improve college access and affordability for students, and help us meet the President’s challenge to regain our place as world leader in our proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Other open data initiatives such as the Blue Button and Green Button—which are empowering citizens with their own health information and household energy usage information—have proven that liberating data from government vaults can fuel new products and services, grow new businesses, and help create jobs. The Education Datapalooza demonstrated that this model of openness and entrepreneurship can help us achieve similar gains for American education.

Read More

Data, Evidence and Digital Learning

Have you noticed lately that MOOCs are all over the news? It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago, most people had never heard of Massive Open Online Courses—courses that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world take online, free of charge and that are rapidly growing in number. With this kind of opportunity comes the responsibility to ensure that these and other learning resources are quickly and continuously improved based on the best data available. Luckily, more and better data is emerging as digital learning becomes commonplace.

Change happens big in technology and it happens fast. And when public money is being spent and students’ futures are at stake, it is crucial that changes also happen smart. Our new report, Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, calls for smart change by presenting educators, policymakers, and funders with an expanded view of evidence approaches and sources of data that can help them with decision-making about learning resources.

The report discusses the promise of sophisticated digital learning systems for collecting and analyzing very large amounts of fine-grained data (“big data”) as users interact with the systems. It proposes that this data can be used by developers and researchers to improve these learning systems and strive to discover more about how people learn. It discusses the potential of developing more sophisticated ways of measuring what learners know and adaptive systems that can personalize learners’ experiences.

The report describes an iterative R&D process, with rapid design cycles and built-in feedback loops—one familiar in industry but less so in education (however, the report provides numerous examples of applications in education). An iterative R&D process enables early-stage innovations to be rapidly deployed, widely adopted, and—through continuous improvement processes—refined and enhanced over time. This means that data collection and analysis can occur continuously and that users are integral to the improvement process.

The report encourages learning technology developers, researchers, and educators to collaborate with and learn from one another as a means of accelerating progress and ensuring innovation in education.

In the spirit of an iterative development process, we are posting this report for public comment. Does the report resonate with your view of the emerging digital learning landscape and the data? Do you have examples of evidence gathering methods that use emerging data? Are the recommendations the right ones for enabling progress? Do you have other thoughts and ideas on the topic of data, evidence and digital learning? We would like to hear from you!

Karen Cator is director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Thanks to our Technical Working Group and Expert Advisors

This report was developed collaboratively, in partnership with a Technical Working Group of learning technologies experts. We wish to thank Eva L. Baker (University of California, Los Angeles), Allan Collins (Northwestern University), Chris Dede (Harvard University), Adam Gamoran (University of Wisconsin), Kenji Hakuta (StanfordUniversity), Anthony E. Kelly (George Mason University), Kenneth R. Koedinger (Carnegie Mellon University), David Niemi (Kaplan, Inc. ), James Pellegrino(University of Illinois, Chicago), William R. Penuel (University of Colorado, Boulder), Zoran Popović (University of Washington), Steve Ritter (Carnegie Learning), Russell W. Rumberger (University of California, Santa Barbara), Russell Shilling (Department of Defense, United States Navy), Marshall S. Smith (The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching) and Phoenix Wang (William Penn Foundation).

Driving Productivity in Postsecondary Education Through Innovation

Innovation Symposium

Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed discuss technological innovations to improve higher education. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The Department of Education (ED) seeks to encourage innovation in higher education teaching and learning to drive productivity, quality, and equity. To contribute to the national conversation in this arena, ED, in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, convened 175 people at Georgetown University this week to discuss technological innovations that can be instrumental in transforming teaching and learning.

The group was intentionally diverse: college and university leaders; innovators in the education technology space; foundation officials; associations and accreditors; researchers and policy analysts as well as state and federal officials. Participants were encouraged to talk across sectors and blur any real or perceived boundaries.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked off the symposium by challenging the participants to continue to be innovative and to push ED to support innovation.  “We need to catalyze innovative changes that can be sustained and have the potential to dramatically increase completion while enhancing quality and gaining productivity,” he said.

The need to discuss innovation in teaching and learning for higher education has never been more pressing, with at least three dynamics converging at this moment in time. First, we know more than ever before about the learning sciences. Second, there is a proliferation of innovative resources that aim to transform teaching and learning, many of which take advantage of rapidly changing technology. And third, it is a time when colleges and universities are being asked to do more with less, in a climate of increased attention to affordability.

While participants reported leaving with new energy and armed with new information and tools, the symposium was not just a series of conversations. Its success is measured by the commitments made and actions taken after the event.  Near the end of the day, participants had the opportunity to gather with one another to discuss collaborations, partnerships, and commitments.  ED collected these written commitments and will follow-up with the participants to ensure that this symposium is a catalyst toward creating new momentum and broader action around innovation to drive productivity, quality and equity.

Tweets from the day:

Rosemarie Nassif is a special advisor to the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Postsecondary Education, and David Soo is policy adviser to the Under Secretary of Education

Connected Educator Month Kicks Off

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared August, 2012 Connected Educator Month a month-long exploration and celebration of online communities and networks dedicated to broadening and deepening educator participation in learning and sharing, and bringing online community and education leaders together to move towards a more fully connected and collaborative profession.

The National Education Technology Plan articulated the need for teachers and leaders to be highly connected to the content, tools, resources, peers, experts, supportive problem solvers and perhaps most importantly, to their students and their communities. And, as teachers and leaders are at the forefront of developing and implementing innovative approaches to meeting student needs, our ability to share approaches and explore new opportunities is essential to transforming education and improving student learning.

Connected Educator Month (CEM) will be celebrated with four weeks-plus of online events and activities, including:

  • A three day online kickoff event (Aug. 1-3) about connected education in the context of the larger education landscape, featuring keynote addresses by Deborah Meier, Chris Lehmann, Douglas Rushkoff, Larry Johnson, and Connie Yowell, a panel with the directors of the Department’s Office of Educational Technology, and more.

  • Six month-long discussion forums on key educational issues, selected by the participating organizations, and explored in an online community context:

    • Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: 21st Century PD
    • It’s Personal: Personalized Learning for Students and Educators
    • Beyond Top Down: Distributed Leadership & Teacher-Led Change
    • Knocking On The Door: Connected Education & New Technologies
    • The First Six Weeks: Getting 2012-13 Off To The Right Start
    • Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Incentivizing and Recognizing Teachers for Their Investments In Learning

    Each forum includes a core group of thought leaders inside and outside education as well as top practitioners in the field; all are welcome to participate.

  • A variety of resources designed to help educators who are not yet engaged in online communities or networks get connected, including:

    • A starter kit for educators who aspire to build their connections to other inspired classroom leaders, using a 31-day approach (one step per day to get more connected)
    • A starter kit for districts to integrate Connected Educator Month and connected education in their back-to-school professional development
    • A book club (featured book: The Connected Educator, with author Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach participating)
    • Cross-community guided tours showing how online communities can address key educator needs
    • Community open houses, allowing educators to explore specific online communities and ask questions of community leaders and members live as they explore.
  • A culminating two-day event designed to synthesize and distill learnings from the month, and generate takeaways and next steps for the field. All events and activities from the month will be archived, many will continue to be available (and continue to grow) after August, and a distilled multimedia proceedings will be generated for distribution.

More than 100 education organizations, communities, and companies have committed to help get the word out and to put events and activities on the CEM calendar. These include a variety of contests and challenges to generate valuable resources for the field, as well as online courses, classes, content collections, community and feature launches, collaborative projects, and more.

At the end of the day, Connected Educator Month is dedicated to the proposition that no teacher should be an island, but rather have a rich personal professional learning network to support them every single day. We hope you’ll join us in bringing the profession together this month.

Karen Cator is director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Panel Shows What’s Possible in Education Technology

Last Monday, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and committee member Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado co-sponsored a briefing on innovation in public education through the use of learning technologies. More than 50 Senate staff members came to hear from a panel I moderated that featured leaders in the ed tech field.

The panelists, Dr. Stephen Elliott (founding director of the Learning Sciences Institute at Arizona State University), Jennie Niles (founder of the DC-based E.L. Haynes Public Charter School), and Jeremy Roberts (director of technology for PBS Kids Interactive), all concurred that the promise of technology to transform education has fallen short of expectations for the past two to three decades. However, they also all agree that we are finally at a time where many factors are converging to overcome historic barriers: increasingly ubiquitous broadband, cheaper devices, digital content, cloud computing, big data, and generally higher levels of comfort with technology among the general population.

The panelists spoke compellingly about how their institutions are taking advantage of existing technology applications, products, and services to drive new ways of teaching and learning, whether inside elementary schools, college campuses or family rooms. For example:

  • PBS can use information as discreet as how long a student spends reading a passage or hovering over a wrong answer to determine what a student knows, what misconceptions he or she may have, and most importantly, what type of lesson might help that student learn best. With this information in hand, parents can make better-informed decisions about how to support their child’s learning based more and more on evidence rather than guess-work.
  • E.L. Haynes is leveraging technology to empower teachers and enable truly differentiated instruction. The school incubated a new online system for math instruction after discovering that there were very few learning resources that met their needs (i.e. aligned to standards, instructionally excellent, engaging and available anytime-anywhere). The system has been picked up by other schools across the country, demonstrating the potential for broad adoption of well-designed tools and resources. Haynes has also partnered in the development of a comprehensive web-based student information system able to track each student’s real time academic progress and other critical data. As a result of these efforts, teachers have more time to work directly with students and the information to target assistance where it is most needed.
  • Arizona State University (ASU), the nation’s largest public university, faced a convergence of funding cuts, a growing student body with significant developmental education needs, and pressure to retain and graduate more students. ASU brought together researchers, practitioners and entrepreneurs to solve these challenges and turned the university into a model testbed site for scalable technology solutions.   These partnerships produced a technology-enhanced developmental math course that significantly improved outcomes, as well as a monitoring tool (featured in a New York Times article last week) that tracks and supports each student’s progress towards graduation. ASU is now educating more students at a lower average cost per student and has raised its retention rate from 77% to 84%.

While these examples show the promise of existing technologies, they are also evidence of the largely untapped potential of technology to transform learning and improve outcomes.  Participants also discussed the role that the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED) could play in filling this critical gap and why the private market has failed to do so on its own.

An ARPA-ED would be modeled after DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which catalyzed the development of world-changing technologies such as the Internet and GPS. ARPA-ED would similarly focus on transformative research and development, pursuing projects such as digital tutors that are as effective as the best human tutors to support teachers in bridging the gap for every student; courses that improve the more students use them, and new ways to assess student progress that are as compelling and fun as video games.

As historic barriers fall and we attempt to accelerate the pace of improvement of our education system, rethinking the role of technology and leveraging new forms of R&D presents the opportunity to transform learning and teaching versus just “reforming” it. If we are successful, we will not only regain America’s leading position in educational performance and attainment, leap-frogging our global competitors; we will create new enterprises that push our nation to the forefront of a growing $5+ trillion sector.

Jim Shelton is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.