New national research center to bolster ed tech

Educational technology advocates are hoping a new national ed-tech research center will spur the development and use of technology to improve instruction.

The higher-ed law signed by President Bush on Aug. 14 authorized the creation of a National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies, which would allot federal funding for research on technology and its impact on learning.

Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based International Society for Technology in Education, said the creation of such a center is "promising, because it begins to address a serious deficit in the funding of ed tech. The U.S. has been investing practically nothing in research and development. It’s an exciting development, and it addresses a really critical piece of moving education forward—but we have to be careful that this doesn’t take away from the need to bring about policy [changes] and provide professional development."

The center is intended "to support a comprehensive research and development program to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal, in order to provide Americans with the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the global economy," according to the legislation.

The center will be a nonprofit corporation within the U.S. Department of Education, with a board of directors that will include educators, scientists, business people, and professionals familiar with managing research. As of press time, it was unclear who would run the center.

"This new National Center will help move schools, universities, and training facilities nationwide into the 21st century," Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, one of the proposal’s original sponsors, said in a press release. "The National Center will help future American workers compete in the global marketplace."

Supporters of the legislation are hoping to receive an initial $50 million appropriation from the Education Department for fiscal 2009. The center will be able to receive funds from government agencies as well as companies and private donors, creating a public-private partnership.

According to the press release, scientists and educators believe that people learn faster if education is personalized and if students are motivated by seeing how their knowledge can help them solve the problems they care about.

Students in today’s schools were born into a digital world where they are able to gather information, communicate, and collaborate using the constantly expanding tools of the internet and the computers, wireless devices, and gaming devices attached to it, the press release said.

"The National Center couldn’t come at a more critical time," said Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky in the press release. He is credited with spearheading efforts to move the bill through the House. "American businesses know 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."

Specifically, the center will research, develop, and demonstrate new learning technologies such as simulations, games, virtual worlds, intelligent tutors, performance-based assessments, and innovative approaches to pedagogy that these tools can help implement. It also will design and test components needed to build prototype systems and ultimately will research ways to use the new systems to build interest and expertise in learners of all different ages and backgrounds.

All of the information obtained from the center’s research will be made available freely to the public.