Policy | News

National Center Looks To Advance Education Technology

The United States Department of Education and the White House formally kicked off a new national center Friday whose aim is to identify, test, and help bring to market promising education technologies. The National Science Foundation was also on hand to announce first-round funding in a separate but complementary program designed to support the development of new learning technologies.

Digital Promise
Called the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies, or "Digital Promise" for short, the new center is an independent 501(c)(3) organization funded in part by ED and in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Inaugural board members of Digital Promise include representatives from technology manufacturers, media organizations, and academia, among others.

"Digital Promise is a unique partnership that will bring everyone together--educators, entrepreneurs, and researchers--to use technology to help students learn and teachers teach. There's no silver bullet when it comes to education, but technology can be a powerful tool, and Digital Promise will help us make the most of it," President Obama said in remarks prepared for the launch.

Digital Promise will focus not only on identifying promising educational technologies for research and development, but also on testing out their effectiveness (in collaboration with "researchers and entrepreneurs") and on creating inroads for bringing those technologies to the education "market." This last it will do by working with districts to create demand that might spur investment in worthwhile technologies.

"With more than 14,000 school districts, and an outdated procurement system, it's difficult for entrepreneurs to break into the market, and it's also tough to prove that their products can deliver meaningful results," according to information released to the press by the White House Friday. "Meanwhile, the amount we invest in R&D in K-12 education is estimated at just 0.2 percent of total spending on K-12 education, compared to 10 [percent to] 20 percent of revenues spent on R&D in many knowledge-intensive industries such as software development and biotech. Digital Promise will work with school districts to create 'smart demand' that drives private sector investment in innovation."

Digital Promise board members include: Mark Dean, fellow and vice president of architecture and design at IBM; John Morgridge, chairman emeritus of Cisco; Irwin Jacobs, director at Qualcomm; Shae Hopkins, CEO and executive director of Kentucky Educational Television; Lawrence Grossman, ex-NBC News president; Vince Juaristi, president and CEO of operations and logistics consulting firm Arbola Inc.; Gilman Louie, a partner at venture capital firm Alsop Louie Partners; Eamon Kelly, professor of international development and technology transfer at Tulane University Law School's Payson Center for International Development; and Shirley Malcolm, who heads up the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Cyberlearning: Transforming Education
As part of the launch, the NSF announced a new complementary program called "Cyberlearning: Transforming Education" (CTE), which will support research and development of educational technologies. NSF awarded $15 million in first-round grants supporting development projects ranging from educational gaming to robots that teach.

"Amplifying, expanding and transforming opportunities for effective learning, and better attracting, motivating and engaging young learners are among society's central challenges," said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director in NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources, in a statement released to coincide with the launch. "Participating actively as a citizen and productively in the workforce requires understanding science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts and the ability to collaborate, learn, solve problems and make decisions."

"We are in a very exciting time," said Farnam Jahanian, assistant director in NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, also in a prepared statement. "Realizing the promise of a new technology depends on more than inventing new tools or resources. Success also depends on designing the ways they will be used and integrated into learning, and on research on learning in technology-rich environments."

NSF emphasized four key areas of interest for the CTE program:

  • Technology-driven personalized learning experiences;
  • Promotion of learning among populations underserved through current practices;
  • Expanded access to learning resources "anytime and anywhere"; and
  • New forms of assessment.

As part of the announcement, NSF revealed four specific projects that are being funded by the CTE program:

  • Augmented reality applications designed to assist students with hearing impairments;
  • A game called GeoGames, which is designed to teach problem-solving using geography;
  • Online tutoring that can "assess a student's real-time comprehension and tailor learning strategies to improve achievement"; and
  • Robots that are designed to teach vocabulary to children using non-verbal cues.

Related Initiatives
Several other initiatives and programs were introduced along with and, in some cases, in collaboration with Digital Promise. One was the creation of a nationwide "League of Innovative Schools," involving districts from around the country. Its purpose will be to test technologies quickly and to create a buyers' consortium "to demand better prices and higher quality," among other functions.

Other initiatives announced today included:

  • The launch of a STEM video challenge in 2012 in collaboration with education organizations and technology companies;
  • The forthcoming release of an analysis by the Council of Economic Advisers of the education technology market focused on reducing barriers for entrepreneurs to tap education dollars; and
  • The launch of a new alliance, hosted by by the Urban Education Lab of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, focused on improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.

Additional details can be found at the new Digital Promise Web site, the White House Fact Sheet on Digital Promise, and at the NSF's CTE program portal.