Solving the Innovation Alignment Challenge With an Ecosystem Approach

InnovateNYC high school choice app 1

A New York City school student and parent, with the help of a software developer, view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Innovate NYC Schools)

“The lack of innovation in education is not due to a lack of creativity, but the misalignment of student and educator need to the market supply of innovations.” That’s the guiding premise of Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee that is using technology to increase the degree of alignment and making students and teachers integral to the change process. The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.

Two dynamics in school system bureaucracies combine to stymie innovation: On the one hand, changes in policy only get you so far; they “don’t lead to durable improvements in practice,” contends Steven Hodas, Innovate NYC Schools’ executive director. Moreover, this fact, he says, often causes the most innovative companies on the outside of the school bureaucracy to take a pass on responding to school systems’ RFPs to develop new products or services.

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Input Sought on Mechanisms for Educational Technology

On Jan. 13, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy posted a Request for Information (RFI) on advancing learning technology through “pull” mechanisms.

Traditionally, the federal government has favored “push” mechanisms, such as grants, contracts, or tax incentives, which pay for inputs; a problem must be solved and an organization is paid to try a particular approach, regardless of whether that approach is successful in solving the problem. “Pull” mechanisms, however, pay for outcomes, without specifying a course of action. Established pull mechanisms have been used in government and in other sectors; these include prizes; pay-for-success strategies, such as social impact bonds; and advance market commitments.

OII’s mission is to “accelerate the pace at which the U.S. identifies, develops, and scales solutions to education’s most important and persistent challenges.” An integral part of this work is serving as thought partners and collaborators in considering new and innovative structural solutions. A number of pull strategies are promising and could have strong applicability to learning technologies and our students’ future.

For more information, check out the White House’s blog post on the RFI.

Time Out for Writing

In mid-September, as most of the Department’s staff was focused on closing out the federal fiscal year, a group of more than 10 employees from a number of department offices, including Teaching Ambassador Fellows, took a hiatus from “end-of-the-fiscal-year mode” to learn about innovative and effective ways of teaching writing that are being used throughout the nation’s classrooms.

Margarita Meléndez with the June 2013 edition of Language Magazine, in which her article about Digital Is appeared. (Photo by Judy Buchanan, courtesy of NWP)

Margarita Meléndez with the June 2013 edition of Language Magazine, in which her article about Digital Is appeared. (Photo by Judy Buchanan, courtesy of NWP)

Staff from the National Writing Project (NWP) presented a two-part seminar that highlighted the organization’s cutting-edge work in the fields of digital writing and digital writing instruction, as well as information on successful initiatives that integrate writing across the curriculum at all levels of instruction. The seminar was organized by the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Teacher Quality Programs Office.

As most readers of this blog are familiar, the goal of the NWP is to improve student achievement by improving the teaching and uses of writing in the nation’s schools. Headquartered at the University of California – Berkeley, the NWP serves teachers nationwide through a network of more than 200 local sites hosted by colleges and universities. The Department has supported the NWP for many years, most recently as a recipient of the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program. The NWP received SEED grants in Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013.

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Three Lessons from My Unorthodox 10th-Grade Year

My name is Sophia Pink. I’m a high school junior at Washington International School in Washington, D.C., and recently had the privilege of speaking at the 9th Annual Private School Leadership Conference about my experience of creating a hybrid approach for 10th grade.

As a freshman in high school, about two months into 9th grade, I was frustrated. I liked my school, but I spent all my time marching to other people’s orders, and had little time to work on projects in technology, science, and moviemaking that I was really interested in. So I thought about it for a while, and came up with an unorthodox idea. Instead of filling my days with going from class to class, I would take the time to work on projects that really interested me. And, to keep up with my core academics, I would take advantage of the new world of online education.

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Virtual Poetry Slams Deliver Multiple Benefits for Urban Youth

Kimbrlyn Hernandez was so excited when she learned that she and her 8th-grade classmates at M.S. 145, Bronx, N.Y., would be going to Chicago and San Francisco for poetry slams. But the “trip” to those cities to share her poems would take seconds rather than days, thanks to the Internet and Global Writes, Inc., a nonprofit organization committed to promoting literacy, communication, and collaboration among young people and an OII grantee. As the virtual encounters and “trips” began, Kimbrlyn’s thoughts were random sentences, but as the sharing and “travel” continued and she gained both confidence in her writing and comfort in the interpersonal relationships she formed online, Kimbrlyn’s poetry evolved.

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Realizing Technology’s Promise for Education Needs Committed Action by All of Us

Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in several events that explored the intersection and promise of education and technology. Although each conference covered distinct topics, considering them in retrospect reveals a common question worth exploring: given recent developments and trends, is it inevitable that technology will improve education and opportunities for our kids? Technology clearly has tremendous potential to improve education, but there are some real barriers that prevent that change from being inevitable. That’s hardly a controversial statement, but I’ll say more in a moment.

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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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