Fueling Innovation through First in the World

Last August, President Obama outlined an ambitious plan to increase value and affordability in higher education and help the U.S. once again lead the world in college attainment rates.  Among his priorities, which include developing a college ratings system and ensuring that student debt is manageable, innovation remains a central theme.  The President called on the Department of Education to spur innovation, foster constructive competition, and remove barriers to empower college and universities in developing and testing new strategies to enroll and graduate more students.

In response to the President’s call, the Department announced a new $75 million grant competition called First in the World that will provide funding for innovative strategies and approaches to improve college attainment and make higher education more affordable for students and families.  The program will invite colleges and universities across the country to submit innovative proposals to help students – particularly underprepared, underrepresented, or low-income students – to access, persist in, and complete higher education.

We know that innovation to improve student outcomes can take many forms, from new educational programming and resources on campuses to technological innovations that enhance learning and student supports.  For example, some institutions are developing programs of study using competency-based education, which allows students to progress based on student mastery of learning.  Other institutions are working to improve student learning and student supports through adaptive learning and personalization.  The President is calling on all institutions to provide us with their best thinking on how to make college more accessible and affordable for all students, and through the First in the World program, the Department welcomes a wide range of promising, creative ideas to help more students affordably access and graduate from college.

In addition to stimulating innovation, another key goal of the FITW program is to increase the evidence we have about what works in higher education.  As part of their applications, FITW applicants must describe their programs and the theory of change they seek to enact, and will be awarded additional points for providing supplemental evidence of promise around the project they are proposing. Additional, institutions receiving funding will be required to implement a robust evaluation that will provide evidence of its effectiveness so that other colleges and universities can learn from successful strategies and scale them up to reach more students.

The Department hopes to receive applications from an array of colleges and universities that serve a diverse range of students, and up to $20 million of the $75 million available in FY2014 will be set aside to fund innovations at Minority Serving Institutions.  This funding will build on the important work that institutions all across the country are engaged in to continue to expand and evaluate promising practices for serving underprepared, underrepresented, and low-income students and empowering their success. The Notice Inviting Applications, which contains additional details about the competition, is available on the Federal Register website and the Department will host webinars for potential applicants on the FY2014 FITW competition in the coming weeks.

The First in the World program gets its name from the goal that President Obama set for the nation early on in his Administration – that by the year 2020, the United States will again be first in the world in college completion. With this vision, we are excited to ask colleges and universities nationwide for their most promising ideas to improve college attainment and affordability, and we look forward to unleashing a new wave of innovation when awards are announced this fall.

Mary Wall and David Soo are both senior policy advisors in the Office of the Undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

The White House Hosts Its First-Ever Student Film Festival

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President Barack Obama speaks with students in the State Dining Room prior to the White House Student Film Festival in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Back in November, we asked K-12 students across the country to create short films on the role that technology plays in their classrooms. We asked them to tell us why technology is so important, and how it will change the educational experience for kids in the future.

And they responded with nearly 3,000 films.

Today, in collaboration with the American Film Institute, we hosted more than a dozen of the young filmmakers at the first-ever White House Student Film Festival, where we presented our 16 official selections. Special guests included Kal Penn, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, along with Conan O’Brien who addressed the students by video.

To kick things off, President Obama addressed the attendees and told the young filmmakers how great their movies were:

[I]n my official capacity as President, let me just say these movies are awesome. Like all great movies, yours do something special — they tell a story. They help us understand, in this case, the amazing things that are going on in classrooms and how technology is empowering our students and broadening their imaginations and challenging them to dream bigger and reach further.

The President also talked briefly about his ConnectED initiative, which aims to connect 99 percent of America’s students to next-generation, high-speed Internet over the next five years. He announced $400 million in new commitments from Adobe and Prezi to make free software available to teachers and students, helping introduce creative learning materials to America’s classrooms. Coupled with the $750 million in commitments that the President announced earlier this month, private-sector leaders have pledged – in February alone – to invest more than $1 billion in America’s students.

Read his full remarks here.

Lights, camera, action!

If you missed the livestream of the event, don’t worry – the film festival’s official selections, as well as the videos that received honorable mentions, are below for your viewing pleasure:

OFFICIAL SELECTIONS:

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Promise Zones Launched in Five Communities

Obama announcing Promise

President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones,” at the White House yesterday. (Photo by Philadelphia Mayor @Michael_Nutter)

On Thursday, Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones,” where local communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety. Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zones Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class.

The first five Zones — in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma — have put forward plans for how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity. Click here for a fact sheet on the Promise Zones Initiative and the key strategies of each of the five Zones.

“In a country as great as this one, a child’s zip code should never be what determines his or her opportunity,” said Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz in a White House blog about the new initiative. “The government can’t fix this on its own, but it can be a much better partner in helping local leaders develop policies that improve education, protect the most vulnerable, and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit.”

In three of the Zones, the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Promise Neighborhoods will play an important role as one of the added community tools resulting from the Administration’s place-based investments. In Los Angeles, for example, the Promise Neighborhoods initiative will be instrumental in expanding a full-service community schools model from seven schools to all 45 Promise Zone schools by 2019. The other Promise Neighborhoods playing integral roles in the new Zones are in San Antonio and Southeastern Kentucky.

This post originally appeared on OII’s homepage.

Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative is Finalist for Innovations in American Government Award

Last week, The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, announced the finalists for the Innovations in American Government Award. From a pool of more than 600 applicants, the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative is one of five finalists being recognized for the positive impact it is having on neighborhoods – and people – across the nation. Neighborhoods like Minneapolis’s Northside, which has the city’s highest rate of crime and can be a dangerous place to live, work, and go to school, but the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) and its partner in the North4 program are working to change that. With assistance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, the community is countering the pull of gangs and crime with job training, paid internships, and wrap-around support for gang-involved youth ages 14 – 21.

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Bruce Murray a NAZ Connector who helps students and families in the Northside neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Since receiving its Promise Neighborhoods implementation grant in December 2011, NAZ has enrolled more than 500 families into its cradle-to-career pipeline of services and family supports and is reaching more than 1300 kids. Each family is assigned a NAZ Connector, someone from the neighborhood, who works with the family to identify needs and barriers, set family goals, encourage behaviors that support academic outcomes, and connect them with promising and proven strategies to support success.

In addition to the Promise Neighborhoods grant, the Northside community is receiving support through the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, DOJ is helping NAZ increase public safety in the neighborhood with a $320,000 supplement to the original grant. This investment is being used for a multi-year expansion of the North4 program for young men like John, a high school senior with a history of gang involvement. The first year of the North4 expansion has provided John (and 32 other youth from North Minneapolis) with job training, paid work experience, and skills development. After graduating from the North4 program, John was automatically enrolled in NAZ. With the help of Bruce, his NAZ Connector, John has secured stable housing for his family and is setting academic, career, and financial goals for himself. But the benefit doesn’t end there – John’s mother, toddler son, and sister are all NAZ connected now and they’re getting the support they need to for a brighter future.

Jane Hodgdon is an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

Research Suggests Positive Impact of Music Education

studentIn talking about the need for a well-rounded education, Secretary Duncan has consistently invoked the importance of keeping arts in the mix. Over the past three years, researchers at Northwestern University have teamed up with the Harmony Project, a nonprofit instrumental music program based in Los Angeles, as well as public charter schools in Chicago, to investigate just how important the arts are to learning.

Harmony Project works with students, such as Fatima Salcido, who enrolled in group violin classes during middle school.  Since then, she has been a high achiever. Through diligent practice, Fatima earned her way into private lessons and membership in the Hollywood Youth Orchestra, one of Harmony Project’s most elite ensembles. In addition to these activities, during her last two years of high school Fatima gave weekly private violin instruction to a less-advanced musician as a volunteer peer mentor. Fatima has gone on to earn a full four-year scholarship to Tulane University, where she is currently a neuroscience pre-med major and a member of the Tulane University orchestra.

Looking at Fatima’s success and that of others in Harmony Project, Northwestern is conducting a longitudinal study that investigates the impact of music education on child and adolescent brain development. In particular, neuroscientists are evaluating how music education affects learning skills, communication abilities, and biological development in underserved, grade-school-aged children participating in Harmony’s mentoring program.

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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.

Uncommon Schools is Broad Prize Winner

Broad Prize 2013

Brett Peiser, CEO of Uncommon Schools, accepts the 2013 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools from (far left) Rebecca Wolf DiBiase, managing director of programs for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and Roberto Rodriguez, White House special assistant for education. (photo by Panayiotou Photography, Inc. and courtesy of the Broad Foundation)

Uncommon Schools, a network of 32 public charter schools in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and current grantee of the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) — is winner of the 2013 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. Roberto J. Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for education, announced the winner on July 2nd at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference in Washington, D.C.

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Young Children Learn Math Through the Arts

Amanda Whiteman

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman integrates the arts with math in preschool classrooms as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

President Obama, in the 2013 State the Union address, challenged the country to move forward simultaneously on two key educational fronts — providing high-quality preschool for all four-year olds  and preparing a new generation of Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects.  Teaching artists from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and preschool educators in the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, are developing an innovative approach to achieving both of these national goals.

The Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) is pioneering an innovative, research-based arts integration model for early childhood learning — one that supports math teaching and learning through active, arts-based experiences in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.  Preschool teachers participating in the project receive professional development that enables them to apply arts-integrated lessons in their classrooms. Some report “a-ha!” moments as they work alongside Wolf Trap Teaching Artists such as Amanda Layton Whiteman (pictured above). “When I found out it was going to be math, I was saying, oh jeez, this is going to be hard,” said one teacher.  But after being involved with the artist and the arts-integrated approach, she “realized that math is everywhere.” And incorporating the arts into her everyday lessons “helps you reach every child.”

With the help of a $1.15 million Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), the Early STEM/Arts program will disseminate evaluation results in early 2014. In the meantime, Wolf Trap Regional Programs in 16 locations nationally are gearing up to implement the new model in the 2013-14 school year.

Read OII’s “Wolf Trap Institute Unites the Arts and STEM in Early Childhood Learning” to hear more stories from those at the Wolf Trap Institute.

Technology Gives Students with Disabilities Access to College Courses

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Program Coordinator Jennifer Lang-Jolliff (green sweater) speaks about Mission Middle College program with guest Michael Yudin, seated on right.

Last week, I met with a group of high school students with learning disabilities who attend a dual-enrollment high school/college program at Mission Middle College in Santa Clara, California. The program emphasizes the use of technology, including the Bookshare accessible library, to help students earn college credit while still in high school.

The Mission Middle College educational program is a collaboration of Santa Clara Unified School District and Mission Community College. The program takes on a student-centered learning environment where seniors can complete required high school courses while accumulating college credits. Each student focuses on individual educational choices and academic and vocational studies relevant to future goals. The idea is to provide learning choices and empowerment for students.  The program is inclusive of all students, with or without a disability.

Some of the students have print and learning disabilities that impede their ability to easily read and comprehend grade-level text and complex curricula in print. Many of these students felt stuck and considered dropping out of school. Their instructors believe in every student’s learning potential and set high expectations. They teach students first to choose appropriate reading technologies for their learning needs, and then to find the reading assignments in digital accessible format, such as DAISY text and DAISY audio.

“We expect high standards from all students,” said Jennifer Lang-Jolliff, the Program Coordinator at Mission Middle College. “And we provide them with the instruction, tools, and resources to rise to the challenge of learning rigorous curriculum. Individualized instruction and timely access to curriculum in digital formats enable many students to feel more confident and prepared. Our high expectations and the e-literacy services available to students helped to shift their views of themselves personally and academically. They see their way through to college, community service, and good careers.”

Indeed, I was pleased to learn that starting with the graduating class of 2009, 100% of graduates at Mission Middle College had a viable postsecondary plan that included a college or university. This is right in line with President Obama’s key goal of being first in the world in college completion by 2020, and Mission Middle College is helping America meet that goal.

The students at Mission Middle College with print disabilities (including visual impairments, physical disabilities, and severe learning disabilities) are empowered to find the right assistive technology, computer software application, or device to help them achieve academically.

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A senior demonstrates technology for Michael Yudin (center) and Benetech’s GM, Betsy Beaumon (standing). Kate Finnerty observes the tech demo.

The students I met are members of Bookshare, a free and federally funded online library from the U.S. Department of Education. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. Bookshare provides timely access to curriculum in digital formats and offers a large collection of eBooks (currently over 190,000 books and growing) as well as reading technologies to enable students to experience multimodal learning—the ability to see and hear text read aloud.

I met Kate Finnerty, a high school senior with dyslexia, who qualifies for Bookshare. Kate has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that requires technology accommodations to aid her in her studies. She told me, “The library is very helpful. I use it to keep up with reading and research. Without it, I would have fallen behind.”  Kate is pursuing graphic design—she received acceptance letters from five U.S. colleges!

During the roundtable discussion, students, educators, parents, and administrators explored how Mission Middle College’s use of assistive technologies (AT) helps each student face their learning challenges with individualized approaches, which include digital books and reading technologies. Roundtable takeaways include:

  • The emphasis on self-advocacy. The students set clear goals and high expectations for their future.
  • Teachers give each student individualized attention, creating plans for their future and how to get there.
  • Students who qualify with print disabilities can receive timely access to curriculum and feel more independent and empowered in the reading process through Bookshare and the AT it provides.
  • Many of the students will be doing internships at Benetech this summer and will get work-based experience that will help prepare them for college and career.
  • Technologies can deliver flexible instruction based on learning needs and preferences, including multimodal reading (to see and hear text aloud) that may unlock the reader’s ability to decode words and more fully comprehend information.

Programs like this at Mission Middle College are about making sure every student graduates from high school and is college and career ready. Students who once had to wait for books now receive timely access to the curriculum in alternative formats. Many activities are streamlined for students who may not fit traditional models, and those who once felt like academic failures are now completing high school courses and are on track to college.

I often speak about the broad values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity for youth with disabilities to actively participate in all aspects of school and life. Programs like that of Mission Middle College, which use assistive technologies and digital accessible books provided by Bookshare, are truly models for others. They promote high academic standards for all, enabling more students to be college and career ready.

Michael Yudin is acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.  

Meeting the Challenges of Student Writing in the Digital Age

Students in Robert Rivera-Amezola's fourth-grade classroom in Philadelphia

Students in Robert Rivera-Amezola’s fourth-grade classroom in Philadelphia work collaboratively on a writing assignment. (Photo by Jason Miczek and provided courtesy of the National Writing Project.)

Writing is an important part of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts, but what about students learning to employ the digital tools so natural to them outside the classroom to express themselves in school? The challenges to “going digital” with writing instruction range from choosing the best methods to employ the latest technological tools to accessing quality in-service and joining communities of practice to staying current with the changing definition of a “literate” citizenry.

Fortunately, there is Digital Is — a forum for teachers to share and engage with other educators in the field of digital writing — to meet these challenges. Developed by the National Writing Project, a venerable source of professional development, curricular and instructional resources, research findings, and best practices based on experiences of K-16 educators, this free Web portal is serving thousands of educators, writers, and K-12 learners.

In “Writing and Learning in a Digital Age — Digital Is,” the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Margarita Melendez conveys the multiple facets of this unique resource that is supported by funding from the Department of Education. Readers of the feature will also learn about two other OII-supported National Writing Project efforts that are providing teaching modules connected to the Common Core and a professional development program focused on rural school districts. Read the full piece: Writing and Learning in a Digital Age – Digital Is.

i3 Grant Provides STEM Graduation Path for Colorado Students

Skyline High School students show their math and science skills through trebuchet building during the summer session of STEM Academy. Eighty-eight students participated in this summer’s 4-week program funded by an i3 grant.

Thanks to the implementation of a five-year, $3.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Skyline High School in Longmont, Colo., is getting a second chance.  Six years ago, Skyline was considered a “ghetto school with low expectations and low requirements,” said principal Patty Quinones. Today, everyone is focused on the bright future ahead. “It is exciting now to see families talking realistically about college,” she said.

The exciting changes at Skyline are in large part due to the school’s STEM Academy program—made possible through the 2010 i3 grant. The Academy focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum and includes collaboration between the St. Vrain Valley School District and the University of Colorado Boulder. The Academy’s goal is to provide 400 high school students with an alternative path to graduation through a STEM certificate program. This program develops students’ 21st century skills to prepare them for future career opportunities.

The i3 STEM Academy project, which will operate through the end of the 2014–15 school year, also addresses the literacy and mathematics achievement needs of 400 elementary and 550 middle schools students in feeder schools to Skyline High School. Working with the elementary and middle school students ensures better preparation for the STEM curricula in the high school program.  As a development grant in the i3 program, this K–12 project intends, by the end of its fifth year, to sustain its efforts across the three grade levels, and to replicate them in schools throughout the St. Vrain Valley School District.

During the STEM Academy’s 2009-10 inaugural year, 103 ninth- and tenth-grade students began the program; during this school year there are 291 students, with 41 graduating this spring. Students who satisfy the requirements of the STEM Academy program are guaranteed admission to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science because of the school’s direct partnership with the University.

Skyline High School student works on her field rocket project during the summer session of STEM Academy.

Regina Renaldi, St. Vrain’s executive director of priority programs, says that the unique requirement of the i3 grant has built bridges between the business community and the St. Vrain school community.  “Our partnership [with corporations] allows students the opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field; students participate in roundtables discussions and design challenges where brainstorming and feedback are from engineers and scientists,” she said.  “Students aren’t interested in simulations; they want real-world opportunities for thinking, learning and problem-solving.”

The director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Muñoz, recently visited Skyline High School for a roundtable discussion on Career and Technical Education with Colorado educators and business leaders. The roundtable began after a tour of the school, which included visiting with elementary and high school students.  Promising to share what she saw  with her colleagues in the West Wing of the White House, Muñoz said, “I can assure you I’ll take this back to Washington. It’s going to inform the work that we’re doing in the educational sphere.”

While it is still too early to conclude how the i3 project has affected long-term student outcomes, the i3 grant has enabled a school that was once dismissed as a lost cause to have a positive impact on the outcomes of its current students. Through this program, these students now see their dreams of going to college as a reality. “We are doing true transformation here; not just shifting kids from one school to another,” said Don Haddad, superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District. “This is what real reform looks like.”

Diana Huffman is a public affairs specialist in ED’s Denver Regional Office

On Dec 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the St. Vrain Valley School District was one of 16 winners of the Race to the Top – District Competition.

Community Partnerships for the Digital Learning Revolution

I wasn’t surprised to learn that my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama –The Rocket City – has launched one of the largest school district transitions to digital learning in the nation. I recently visited Huntsville to learn from their experience, and my conversations there reinforced for me that community and family partnerships are essential for the success of digital learning. We have unprecedented investment in education technology, but we don’t yet have the corresponding developments in partnerships to help transitions to digital learning succeed.

Boy with tablet deviceCommunity partnerships are key to realizing a digital learning revolution that is more than trading textbooks for tablets. This is an inflection point in education – a critical opportunity to transform how schools, parents, and community-based organizations collaborate to ignite student curiosity and engagement in learning.

Community and family partnerships can also reduce the possibility that digital learning transitions will exacerbate achievement gaps. Students that face the greatest challenges in and outside school need comprehensive supports to evolve so that digital learning doesn’t further disadvantage them.

Our community organizations, including faith-based organizations, have tremendous opportunities to support and shape the digital learning transition through four key areas of collaboration:

    • Expanding access and digital literacy;
    • Bridging between schools, families, and communities;
    • Service and volunteering in education; and
    • Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning.

Expanding access and digital literacy.

Many students don’t have access outside school to computers, broadband connections, and basic technical support. The Obama Administration is working with a public-private partnership called Connect2Compete to expand low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy instruction to low-income families.  Connect2Compete is building a network of local community partners, and community organizations can go here to learn more and link up with their efforts.

Bridging between schools, families, and communities.

Community and faith organizations can bridge the gap between home and school with their strong connections to families. Internet-based student data and learning management systems can improve collaboration between teachers, families, and community partners. Community-based organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, a Together for Tomorrow challenge winner, are using joint data systems with schools to focus student support services where they have the greatest impact.

A new report from the Department on Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, highlights the need for more efforts that connect community partners with school data systems. The report emphasizes that “young people learn and develop in a wide range of settings,” and we need to better use data “to support the full range of student needs and interests—both inside and outside schools and classrooms—to improve learning outcomes.”

Service and volunteering in education.

Digital learning systems are making it possible for partners to assist students using lessons developed by educators that are aligned with the school curriculum. This is expanding the range of volunteers that are confident and effective at assisting students inside and outside the classroom. Service and volunteer partners can also advance student learning through digital tools such as remote connections into classrooms, Open Education Resources, and internet-connected real-world experiences.

Digital partnerships aren’t limited to academic assistance, and can boost other key student outcomes.  iMentor is using digital learning to improve student behavior and increase college access. Their internet-based systems help train and support adult volunteers, who mentor students both virtually and in-person.

Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning

Digital learning partnerships can help community-based organizations transform American education by expanding learning beyond the classroom. “Anytime-anywhere learning” is a key goal in our education technology plan and schools can’t accomplish this goal alone. Schools can partner with community-based initiatives like the HIVE Learning Networks that use new technologies and media to better connect students to their interests, aspirations, communities, and careers.

Community partners are using digital badges to change how and where students earn academic credit. For example, the Providence After School Alliance is developing digital badges as a central component of their credit-bearing afterschool and internship programs.

Getting started with digital learning partnerships.

The Department is participating in Digital Learning Day on February 6. Community organizations can learn more and jumpstart their digital learning partnerships at digitallearningday.org.

There are valuable information resources at our Office of Education Technology web page and Epic-ed, our initiative to support digital learning transitions. If you are already part of a digital learning partnership, share your examples on our Facebook page at facebook.com/edpartners.

The guidebooks on community partnerships and digital learning are yet to be written, so it is vital that community partners, families, schools, and education technology initiatives work together to develop their pathways to digital learning partnerships. Together we can ensure that digital learning boosts engagement and learning for all of our students. Education technology can help us create a community culture of education success, where everyone sees education as his or her responsibility, and there are clear and compelling pathways to assist.

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education