Funding, Grants & Awards

Digital Innovations in Ed To Be Honored

This week a small group of educators and organizations will be honored at a gala in Silicon Valley for their innovations in helping students learn. Winners of the second annual "Digital Innovation in Learning Awards" include a high school English teacher at a virtual private school who assigns students the job of creating multimedia programs about their home locations to share with fellow students and a superintendent who promotes leadership roles among his teachers.

Candidates for the awards must submit an application and a video that lays out their innovation. This year 400 submissions came in; 15 were selected as winners by a panel of judges that included Bob Wise, head of Alliance for Excellent Education; Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff to United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; and education executives from Google, Microsoft and Common Sense Media, among others.

Katherine Mussachio, that high school English teacher, introduced an "Around the World in 60 Minutes" program at International Connections Academy (iNaCA), an online private school that serves students in grades K-12 worldwide. She hosts events where students present slideshows live in front of their virtual peers using pictures, videos and music about the food, art, entertainment, lifestyles and languages of their homes.

"Because there is so much geographic distance between many of our students, it's even more important that we're dedicated to busting boundaries," said Mussachio in a prepared statement. "The Around the World events allow students to embrace and celebrate other cultures, while sharing their hopes, dreams, families, friends and traditions, which boosts confidence, in addition to their cultural knowledge."

Superintendent Roger Cook runs Taylor County School District in Kentucky. In the 2011-2012 school year, he introduced performance-based education and the "Wagon Wheel of Learning" (WWL) program, which delivers project-based, personalized, group and virtual learning. Since implementation, the district has had zero dropouts and a 100-percent graduation rate.

"It is clear that schools all over the country are moving from pilot projects to full-scale implementations," said Alan Cox, senior vice president for the Center for Digital Education, one of two organizers of the event. "Districts are combining content created by their faculty with content curated from other organizations or purchased from private-sector curriculum providers in ways not truly realized in past years. This year's honorees are taking the practice of education to new heights that show great promise for other districts to follow."

Digital Promise is a Congress-funded organization that brings together educators, researchers and learning technology developers to develop programs intended to improve student outcomes. The other host of the awards is EdSurge, an education technology community.

All of the videos made by the winners of the award are available for public viewing on the Digital Innovation in Learning Awards Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.