Digital Promise

Take another sip of coffee, swallow, breathe deeply, then read this.

“…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.”

That’s the promise of Digital Promise, otherwise known as the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.   I read the Department of Education’s press release and explored this newly launched 501(c)3’s web site.  I’m encouraged by the ambitious agenda, but I’m worried the effort is being thrown together too hurriedly.  Clearly, the idea of such an organization has been incubating for years, but the web site seems to have been slapped together and thrown up without enough care.  I’ll explain.

As of this writing, there are four areas to the site.  First is “about.”  Here we see the photos and names of the board of directors but no staff, only a generic “contact” email link.  An esteemed group populates the board, but who is actually doing the work?

Next we have two opportunities to “join the discussion” that utilize IdeaScale.  This is a nice, simple tool for collecting, commenting upon, and ranking ideas.  For IdeaScale to be most effective, however, requires a clearly stated discussion starter; we don’t have that here.  Consider the prompt for the “grand challenges”:

What are the biggest challenges in teaching & learning that technology can help us solve? Grand Challenges are big problems no one has been able to solve that promise to hold lasting benefits for the American people — like mapping the human genome. Imagine, for example, software that can teach everyone to read. One way to come up with breakthrough technologies is by setting up a competition. If you’ve got a competition up and running or have ideas for a new one, tell us about it.

What am I actually being asked to contribute?  Am I supposed to name specific challenges we face, pose specific technologically-based solutions, or give examples of “competitions.”  Perhaps all three.

Assuming you are comfortable posting your idea, whatever it might be, before you can click submit, you are required to categorize your idea according to what “campaign” it belongs in–“website,” “products,” or “customer service.”  Huh?  According to IdeaScale, a campaign is “a category or bucket into which ideas are placed for organization.”  Campaigns allow “members of your community to sort by idea subject.”  My hunch is that website, products, and customer service are generic “default” campaigns from a template that was not customized.

The fourth and last tab to click is “join us.”  It’s not clear just what you’re joining, but before you can proceed you have to place yourself in one, and only one, of the following categories: Educator, Innovator, Researcher, Citizen.  Why the forced choice?  Don’t we want educators to be innovators?  Don’t we encourage action research as a means of professional learning?  Are we not all citizens?

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but it does trouble me that an initiative of this magnitude and importance would be launched with such a flawed web presence.

For some nostalgia…


1 thought on “Digital Promise”

  1. DARPA-ED is what I’ve heard it called – and we sure could use one of those – so even if the start is bumpy, I’m in favor of doing something rather than what we’ve been doing. I think that the early phase is going to be marked by a bit of chaos, and I prefer that over a too-perfectly pre-determined set of ideas and methods. So, while I definitely see your points, I think the hardest part is done (getting it established) and now the challenge is getting organized, with us guests in the loop.

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