Digital Media Academy Promises and Delivers for D.C. Students

Lights. Camera. Action! The sights and sounds of summer learning in the Hollywood, right? No, right here in Washington, D.C. if you were one of 15 Kenilworth Parkside youth who participated in the Digital Media Academy (DMA) sponsored by the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) this past summer.

Students in the program share their "Daily Downloads," in which they upload media assets they produced to their digital portfolios and journalize about their learning experiences. (Photo courtesy of DCPNI)

Students in the program share their “Daily Downloads,” in which they upload media assets they produced to their digital portfolios and journalize about their learning experiences. (Photo courtesy of DCPNI)

With the help of an OII Promise Neighborhoods Implementation Grant awarded to DCPNI in 2012, DMA gave students in this Northeast D.C. community an extraordinary opportunity to learn from top media artists, journalists, web designers, and other professionals representing more than 23 media-related organizations, a number of which offered internships behind the camera or microphone. The students shadowed Media Mentors who showed them the ropes at such nationally known media enterprises as Google, Black Entertainment Television, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and XM Satellite Radio.

Weekly workshops and coursework provided insights into college and career possibilities in a wide range of fields from media marketing and advertising to PR and journalism to information literacy and digital citizenship. And on Fridays, the students experienced firsthand what classes are like at the Corcoran College of Art & Design or how the Newseum preserves America’s past through its news makers and journalists, as well as other city venues in which the media arts play a significant role in serving the community and its culture.

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Growing Coalition Supports ConnectED

In today’s world, technology has changed and, for the most part, improved the way we do everything from shopping to connecting with friends and family to managing our finances and our healthcare. But for a number of reasons, technology has not yet transformed the way our students learn on a day-to-day basis — at least not on a broad scale. Of course, there are many exciting examples across the country of schools and districts that have harnessed the power of technology to improve student learning, but these are not yet the norm.

One of the main barriers standing in the way is a lack of modern technology infrastructure in our schools that can support exciting and innovative digital-learning opportunities. (Although nearly every classroom in the country has basic Internet connectivity, the majority do not have fast enough bandwidth speeds to support their current needs.) This is why, as part of his ConnectED initiative, President Obama challenged the Federal Communications Commission to modernize the existing E-Rate program to upgrade our schools’ technology infrastructure to support ultrafast broadband speeds.

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The Beginning of a Movement

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an action-oriented summit, Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World, co-hosted by the Department of Education and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It was a fascinating event, and I witnessed and participated in what felt like the beginning of a movement.

We know that the world today is more connected than ever. In particular, through advancements in technology, we now can stay connected — to each other, our jobs, our interests, and our passions — essentially all the time. The same ought to be true for our students and their education — students should have learning experiences that relate to and take advantage of their passions and interests. What they learn in an after-school program or activity should inform and relate to what they learn in school. And all of that should extend to what they learn at home with their families. This represents a shift in how we think about learning and education. Learning now happens all the time and everywhere, and we shouldn’t feel bound by narrow conceptions of when and where learning takes place (i.e., in school, during school hours). The challenge going forward will be designing and creating learning experiences for our students that properly match our modern, connected world (both in the literal, technical sense, and the broader, conceptual sense). That was the main challenge tackled by the participants in the Reimagining Education summit.

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A New Approach to Learning that’s Better Designed for Our Times

“In order to provide the best education in the world again, we must develop educational opportunities and resources that excite and prepare all our students,” is how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sees the challenge for the teachers, school leaders, academics, advocates, and entrepreneurs who attended the Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World conference on May 28-29, in Washington, D.C.

Co-hosted by the Department of Education and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the convening brought together participants from many different sectors to think about and make recommendations for a future in which the latest technologies are available and are an integral part of personalized learning experiences for all students, as well as helping to deliver a major upgrade in teacher professional development and the advanced instructional tools they need. Technology alone won’t solve the challenges the U.S. must meet to be a world leader again in elementary and secondary education, but, as Secretary Duncan noted, “We cannot succeed without it.”

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President Obama Announces ConnectED Initiative

We live in a highly connected world, but unfortunately, many of our students aren’t attending class in highly connected schools. Recent data suggests that 80 percent of K-12 schools do not have the infrastructure to access broadband Internet, meaning they don’t have the basic foundation to support digital learning in the 21st century. It also means the nation’s teachers don’t have access to tools to support their instruction or bring new technology into their classrooms.

Yesterday, President Obama called on the federal government, states and districts, rural and urban communities alike, and the private sector to tackle this problem together, as he outlined his ConnectED Initiative. All children in the nation need to be career and college ready, prepared with knowledge and armed with 21st-century skills. ConnectED will help to ensure that this happens by bringing high-speed Internet within their reach.

Read more about Bringing America’s Students into the Digital Age, from the White House’s Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz, and the Director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling. Also, click here to read an overview on closing the broadband gap by the Acting Director of the Office of Education Technology, Richard Culatta.

Ready to Learn Grantee Launches Research-Based Digital Education Resources for Preschoolers

Children pilot the “At the Beach” Pocoyo PlaySet at Kingsbridge Community Center in the Bronx, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of HITN's Early Learning Collaborative)

Children pilot the “At the Beach” Pocoyo PlaySet at Kingsbridge Community Center in the Bronx, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of HITN’s Early Learning Collaborative)

The Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network’s (HITN) Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) is piloting tablet-based “playsets” designed to provide fun and engaging learning experiences for young children as they develop English language, reading, and math skills. The playsets, which are available as apps for iPads, use a combination of activities, including interactive games and storybooks, sing-along songs, and a word machine, to help close the achievement gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged children.

The playsets feature Pocoyo, an internationally recognized preschool character created by Zinkia Entertainment, a partner of HITN in the development of the playset applications. Research during the pilot phase will assess the educational efficacy of these digital products before their commercial release, expected in late 2013. The Michael Cohen Group (MCG) is conducting ongoing formative research during the piloting phase as well as large-scale summative studies of the playsets. The development of the Pocoyo PlaySets will be also be guided by feedback from more than 25 pilot sites in New York, Alabama, Maine, Florida, and California.

The pilot phase launch occurred on March 20, 2013, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The HITN producers demonstrated the playsets in front of an audience of education stakeholders and media. Several audience members had an opportunity to try them out. Following the demonstration, the Early Learning Collaborative hosted a panel discussion among experts in early childhood development and digital media. The panelists included Barbara Bowman, founder of the Erikson Institute and former special advisor on early childhood education to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Warren Buckleitner, founder/editor of Children’s Technology Review; Yolanda Garcia, director of the WestEd E3 Institute; and Roberto Rodriguez, White House special assistant for education policy.

Panelists Yolanda Garcia, Barbara Bowman, Warren Buckleitner, Robert Rodrigeuz, and moderator Ed Greene discuss early learning and digital media. (Photo courtesy of HITN's Early Learning Collaborative)

Panelists Yolanda Garcia, Barbara Bowman, Warren Buckleitner, Robert Rodrigeuz, and moderator Ed Greene discuss early learning and digital media. (Photo courtesy of HITN’s Early Learning Collaborative)

HITN’s Early Learning Collaborative is funded through a $30 million U.S. Department of Education Ready to Learn (RTL) grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The RTL program encourages and supports the development and use of video and digital programming to promote early learning and school readiness for young children and their families, as well as the dissemination of educational outreach programs and materials to promote school readiness. The HITN Early Learning Collaborative is one of three recipients of the grant, awarded in 2010.

Click here to view a video that highlights the Pocoyo PlaySets.

Learning Technologies Can Transform America’s Educational and Economic Future

“We have reached another ‘Sputnik Moment,'” in terms of the opportunity for the United States to transform education, according to Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. His remarks were part of the subcommittee’s Feb. 14 hearing, “Raising the Bar: How Education Innovation Can Improve Student Achievement.” The assistant deputy secretary focused on three core ways that learning technology is poised to transform education: increasing access and equity; transforming teaching and learning; and accelerating and enhancing educational research and development. Other hearing witnesses were John White of Digital Learning Now, Preston Smith of Rocketship Education, and Holly Sagues of Florida Virtual School. Click here to view the full hearing to hear what Jim and his fellow witnesses shared about innovation and technology in education.

Digital Learning Day: No Better Time to Consider Our R&D Investment in Technology and Education

Each time I have a conversation with a questioning child or watch a teacher help a student grasp a new concept or make an important new connection, I am amazed. The potential of children and the power of teachers to change lives — moment-by-moment — are both awe inspiring. When those two phenomena intersect, you know that you are witnessing something special.

We desperately want our children to experience those moments as often as possible. We want them to love learning, to love school, and to use both to find their passions and fulfill their dreams. For many, even of those who did “well” in school, we want them to experience what we did not: to have those “special moments” be the norm rather than the exception, to have school be the place where the most exciting learning happens, to have every teacher be the teacher who “gets” them.

Each day in this country, we ask millions of teachers from preschool thru college to create those special moments for each child in their care — to match each student’s needs, interests, and personal circumstances with the perfect content, instructional approach, and support so they can make sense of that big idea or master that critical skill or negotiate that challenging person or situation. We ask them to do this for each of the 20 to 40 to 400 students in their class, each class of the day, almost every day of the week. And we ask them to do this well and do it with passion because those are so often one in the same.

We want all of this and we ask all of this and yet we have invested more in improving the buses that take our children to school, than we have in researching and developing the tools and resources that will help students and teachers achieve our lofty expectations and more importantly their incredible potential.

Over the last century, the capabilities of doctors, lawyers, engineers, farmers, drivers, artists, musicians, and countless other professionals have been transformed by technology. In less than a century, doctors have gone from literally “practicing medicine” to being able to diagnose and treat almost every known disease;  and through technology, nurses now have capabilities that doctors, a few decades ago, only dreamed about. What’s more, these transformative practices are available to doctors and nurses in almost every corner of the country. Musicians can access compositions and performances instantaneously, produce scores from original music with the click of a button, and compose and jam together in real time from places that span the globe. Each of these professions can do more of what they do best in ways that take less time and effort than most in their fields would have imagined a short time ago. They have been empowered to take their crafts to another level, elevating their professions, increasing their reach, and allowing them to serve (well) people who previously would have been denied the opportunity.

We have the ability to do the same for our teachers and our students. We can put the resources of the world at their fingertips just when they want and need them, diagnose their needs and preferences at a pace, scale, and level of granularity and with so little burden that our current testing and evaluation debates will become anachronisms, and make teaching even more impactful, more sustainable, and more interesting for both teachers and students. However, this will not happen on its own or simply by holding teachers more accountable or by just putting technology in their hands or the hands of their students. These are necessary but insufficient conditions.

Research, Development and Innovation have been the keys to transformative improvements in almost every sector. Education underinvests in R&D relative to each of them. The U.S. defense and health R&D budgets are somewhere between 50 and 100 times bigger than the education R&D budget. This is not only inconsistent with our stated values and our highest aspirations; it is also counter to our national interests. As President Obama said, “we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

Within the next four years, we can construct a new infrastructure for research, development, and innovation in education, leveraging technology to not only enhance learning but to accelerate the pace at which we learn about learning. For the first time in history, digital learning will allow us to (cost effectively) study the process of learning at greater levels of detail and insight than just the outcomes of learning, and to come to conclusions empirically on critical questions that have remained the fodder of ideological debates for as long as any of us can remember.

And, when we do, teachers will be empowered by new research, new tools, and greater capabilities, making their lives and those of the students, whom they touch, better for it.

No one asks if we invest in R&D to render doctors irrelevant or engineers or farmers for that matter.  To the contrary, their associations advocate for more investment in R&D for their sectors. But who is advocating on behalf of educators, education and our children?

Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton, in a TEDx Mid-Atlantic talk last October, outlines a new infrastructure for learning about learning – one that capitalizes on digital learning’s potential to help all children, and adults, achieve their full potential.

Jim Shelton is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement.

February 6th is Digital Learning Day, a national celebration of educators that shines a spotlight on successful instructional technology practice in classrooms across the country. Participation is free, and a highlight is the National Digital Town Hall that will be simulcast live from the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Digital Engagement at Home Increases Early Math Skills

Digital learning games based on “Curious George” and “The Cat in the Hat” can boost preschoolers’ math knowledge and skills, making them better prepared for entry into kindergarten. That’s the finding of a new research study from WestEd that engaged low-income parents and their preschool children with online games and at-home activities from PBS KIDS. The study, along with other support for PBS KIDS, was made possible by a grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Ready to Learn Television (RTL) program. 

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Incentive Prizes Target Middle-School Math Achievement

School leaders in New York City are soliciting the best ideas for technology-based approaches to help middle school students excel in math through the Gap App Challenge, announced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott earlier this month. The competition, which will award $104,000 in prizes and services in June, is part of the city’s education department’s Innovation Zone (iZone), a consortium of schools committed to personalizing learning. Its efforts are supported through a $3 million Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement. i3 Development grants support promising but relatively untested projects with high potential for impact on student achievement.

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