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.  

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

The Power of Open Education Data

Cross-posted from the White House Open Government Initiative.

On Tuesday, Vice President Biden, U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray hosted a roundtable with college presidents who pledged to provide clear, useful information to all incoming college students and their families, as part of their financial aid package, so that they can “know before they owe.”

Open Gov LogoThe President has said keeping college affordable is a shared responsibility. That means the Federal government continuing to make Pell Grants available for low-income students and keeping loans available and affordable for all students who choose to borrow for college. It means states doing their fair share to fund colleges and universities instead of forcing schools to pass funding cuts onto students in the form of higher tuition. And it means postsecondary institutions innovating to find new ways to get students – including low-income students – across the finish line while keeping their costs down.

But it also means students and families voting with their feet – making choices about where to apply and where to enroll based on information about quality and affordability, such as graduation and loan default rates. That can help consumers get good value for their money, and put some competitive pressure on schools to provide a top-notch education for less.

Technology, data, and entrepreneurs can help with college affordability—as well as help address our national priorities in K-12 education.

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Join us for the National Rural Education Technology Summit 2.0

Whether you’re on a farm, in a small town, or at home in your slippers, we’re inviting you to join us on Monday, April 30, from noon to 6 p.m. ET for the National Rural Education Technology Summit 2.0, as we use the power of technology to overcome distance, bring resources to rural schools, and engage administrators, teachers, and students in this free virtual conference.

To join the summit, visit www.ruraleducationtechsummit.org and register today. After registering, you will be able to view the program, which will include live STEM sessions ideal for classroom participation, afternoon professional development opportunities, and messages from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski,

You will also learn more about college and career-ready standards implementation, and utilizing the Department of Education’s online communities of practice.

In between sessions, visit the virtual resource hall for information on a variety of federal programs, loans, and grant funding opportunities. Most of all plan to participate with presenters and each other, chatting at the Summit and live on Twitter using hashtag #ruraled. See you at the Summit!

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

Educating the Next Generation to Compete

Secretary Duncan is interviewed at the Atlantic Digital Town Hall

Education experts, advocates, and policy-makers gathered earlier this week at The Atlantic’s Digital Town Hall meeting, “Jobs and Economy of the Future: Educating the Next Generation to Compete,” where discussion centered around how best to prepare students for college and careers. Problems such as the achievement gap, college readiness, technology in the classroom, and STEM jobs were all topics of conversation as the audience looked to the educational leaders assembled for dialogue about education issues.

Secretary Arne Duncan joined Judy Woodruff, correspondent and co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour, to discuss the link between education and the economy.

Duncan pointed to the massive cultural change needed in order to improve our educational system and better prepare students to compete in the 21st-century global economy. Better training in order to produce more effective teachers, making connections between K-12 and careers, engaging students in their passions, and challenging schools to innovate were all significant points made by Duncan.

While technology has transformed our lives, Duncan noted that in many cases technology does not seem to be utilized to its potential in the classroom.

“I’m a big believer that technology can be an amazing equalizer and provide opportunity for children,” Duncan said. “Whether it’s in the inner-city or in a remote or rural community or Native American reservation, I think technology can provide access to a world class education that so many children have been denied.”

Bridging the gap between education and the private sector was also a major theme throughout the town hall. In addition to the need for private sector support for education, the need for better preparation by educators for students entering the workforce came up, as many companies cite poor communication and critical thinking skills in new college graduates. Western Governors University President Robert Mendenhall, who took part in a panel during the town hall, noted that partnerships between higher education and employers would help better prepare college students for careers. (Read about one such partnership between the University of Northern Colorado and Greeley, Colo.).

Click here to watch a video of the Digital Town Hall.

Madalyn Muncy is a junior at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach