White House to promote digital schools – USA Today

Plan expected to help student performance

By Greg Toppo

WASHINGTON — The White House today will unveil plans for a research center that aims to infuse more digital learning into the nation’s classrooms.

The center, dubbed Digital Promise, will aid the rapid de­velopment of new learning software, educational games and other technologies, in part through helping educators vet what works and what doesn’t.

Among the new ideas: a League of Innovative Schools that will test-drive promising technologies and use its col­lective purchasing power to drive down costs.

“Given the power of this technology, the administration believes that we should be doing ev­erything we can to take advantage of it,” said Tom Kalil of the White House Of­fice of Science and Technology Policy.

While he acknowl­edged that games and online learning aren’t “a silver bullet for educa­tion,” he said the Obama ad­ministration wants to support “the ways in which technology can really make a dramatic im­pact on student performance and student outcomes.”

A large group of high-tech business and non-profit organi­zations is supporting the effort, which is being overseen by the Department of Education. Per­haps the most unusual partner: Valve Corp., developer of the popular Half-Life and the Portal series of video games. Valve will host a competition for mid­dle­and high-school students and teachers that allows them to create new levels of Portal for classroom use. The game is finding a second life in class­rooms as teachers modify it to teach physics.

The idea for the center — its official name is the National Center for Research in Ad­vanced Information and Digital Technologies — first emerged a decade ago. A handful of foun­dation leaders urged former Federal Communications Com­mission chairman Newton Mi­now and former NBC News president Lawrence Grossman to create an organization that would help schools figure out how to use the Internet and other technologies to help stu­dents learn.

The pair wrote a 2001 book, A Digital Gift to the Nation , but they had to push for seven years more for the center to take shape. Congress didn’t ap­prove funding until 2008.

Since 2001, digital communication has exploded. A decade ago, there was no Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, and few teachers even com­municated with fam­ilies through e-mail.

“It’s hard to believe what’s happened in 10 years, technologically,” said Minow, who along with Grossman will co-chair the center. “It was a different world.”

Today’s announcement comes 50 years after Minow delivered his often-quoted speech in which he called tele­vision “a vast wasteland.”

Minow now says he’s excited about the promises of digital technology in school.

“Our country has so many problems,” he said, “but I think that the answer to many of them is found in education.”

Toppo, Greg.  “White House to promote digital schools” USA Today 16 Sept. 2011 9A.