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…

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Is this an editorial?

Headline in the Los Angeles Times July 24:

“TARP pay czar criticizes big bank bonuses but won’t seek refund of bailout money.”

First sentence in the article:

“The Obama administration’s pay czar on Friday came to the same conclusion about fat Wall Street bonuses that average Americans have already reached: There’s no logic behind them, except greed.”

Help!  Facts not in evidence.  Who are the “average Americans” to which the writer so assuredly refers?  And would all those un-named yet average Americans agree that the only “logic” is greed?  Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m sorry.  A front page article (as it was in my local paper, The Tribune)—with or without byline—needs to be an objective account of something.  Opening with such a sentence tells me I’m reading an editorial, not a news article.

TARP pay czar criticizes big bank bonuses but won’t seek refund of bailout money

Donald, Bethania, Who Are You?

My current listen-to-it-while-driving book is John Adams. Given my interest in the role and status of facts in 21st century education, my ears perked up when I heard the venerable Mr. Adams say:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

Pushing pause, I grabbed my cell phone and dictated, “Note to self: Facts are stubborn things something something from John Adams; look it up.”  When I got home, I did.  I found it easily, but I also found some other quotations that appealed to me:

Perfect as the wing of a bird may be, it will never enable the bird to fly if unsupported by the air. Facts are the air of science. Without them a man of science can never rise.  — Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)

Where facts are few, experts are many. — Donald R. Gannon

I’m not sure I want popular opinion on my side — I’ve noticed those with the most opinions often have the fewest facts. — Bethania McKenstry

Now I know who Pavlov was, but I’m ignorant as to Donald R. Gannon and Bethania McKenstry.  No amount of Googling or Binging got me anything but a vague reference to Bethania as an “American activist.”  I’m glad they purportedly uttered these pithy, trenchant bon mots, but I’d feel better if I knew who the heck they are.  Have a clue?