Coming Soon: A National Center for Edtech Research
This past week, President Bush signed into law a bill that will establish a new national research center for studying digital technology and learning. The center aspires be to edtech what the National Institutes of Health have been for medical research.
The National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies is part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, approved by Congress at the end of July, and signed into law by President Bush on August 14.
“This new National Center will help move schools, universities, and training facilities nationwide into the 21st century,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), one of the project’s original sponsors. “America’s reputation as an international leader rests in the hands of our youth, and it should be among our top priorities to provide our students with the tools they need to maintain and build upon this standing. The National Center will help future American workers compete in the global marketplace.”
“The National Center couldn’t come at a more critical time,” added Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY). “American businesses know that they need a well-educated workforce to face growing competition from China, India, and Europe. Americans need to constantly upgrade their skills to keep pace with technology and international competition, and people who are losing their jobs often need to acquire new skills to rejoin the workforce.”
According to the law,
The purpose of the Center shall be to support a comprehensive research and development program to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal, in order to provide Americans with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the global economy…. [It will also] support research to improve education, teaching, and learning that is in the public interest, but that is determined unlikely to be undertaken entirely with private funds.The Federation of American Scientists, which advocated for the creation of the center, has published a fact sheet noting that the center will take on projects such as:
- Research, development and demonstrations of learning technologies that could include simulations, games, virtual worlds, intelligent tutors, performance-based assessments, and innovative approaches to pedagogy that these tools can implement.
- Design and testing of components needed to build prototype systems. This could include tools for answering questions, for building and evaluating the construction of simulations and virtual worlds that could include sophisticated physical and biological systems or reconstructions of ancient cities brought to life with intelligent avatars (models of humans in virtual spaces).
- Research to determine how these new systems can best be used to build interest and expertise in learners of different ages and backgrounds. This will give educators, parents, employers, and learners the information they need to make informed choices.
The law that created the center also includes a provision to help ensure that the public has as much access as possible to any knowledge generated from the Center’s investments. “The research and development properties and materials associated with any project funded by a grant or contract under this section shall be freely and nonexclusively available to the general public in a timely manner, consistent with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Education,” it notes. However, the center’s board has the authority to override this rule on a case-by-case basis, and they must explain publicly whenever they do so.
The creation of the center is the culmination of nearly a decade of work by the Digital Promise project. Launched in 1999 by former FCC chair Newton Minow and ex-PBS president Lawrence Grossman, Digital Promise sought to create a public trust fund to invest in research and pilot projects regarding the role of digital tools in lifelong learning. With the stroke of President Bush’s pen last week, their dream has been realized.
“This initiative is built on historical precedents,” said Minow and Grossman, along with former American Arts Alliance president Anne Murphy.
“Once each century, during a time of national crisis, our country has made a transformative investment in education – the Northwest Ordinance brought public education in the 18th century; the Land Grant Colleges Act brought public higher education in the 19th century; and the GI Bill of the 20th century. Creating the National Center will bring learning and skills training into the 21st century.” -andy