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.