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Feds Call on Universities for Ideas for 'Experimental Sites,' New Learning Technologies

The Obama administration is asking colleges and universities for new ideas related to college affordability and technologies to advance student learning at all levels.

Experimental Sites
As part of the Education Datapalooza event held today, the United States Department of Education expanded on its call for ideas to create "experimental sites" "to test alternative approaches for the administration of the federal student financial assistance programs...."

According to ED: "The Department is asking the public, the higher education community, and others to send their ideas for experimental sites that would support a better-educated workforce and citizenry."

The program will allow ED to waive some Higher Education Act Title IV requirements for a "limited number" of institutions in order to test and evaluate the effectiveness of "responsible innovations" in student financial assistance programs.

According to ED: "Experiments could include enabling colleges to offer Pell grants to high-school students taking college-level courses, allowing Federal financial aid to assist students seeking academic credit for prior learning, and combining traditional calendar-based and competency-based courses into a single program of study."

The call for ideas is a follow-on to a Dear Colleague letter issued by the department in December. Submissions are due Jan. 31 and can be sent to [email protected]. Full details about the experimental sites call for ideas can be found on the Federal Register.

New Learning Technologies
The administration, through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is also seeking input from education leaders, tech leaders, nonprofits and federal agencies on using incentives and other "pull mechanisms" to help accelerate "the development, rigorous evaluation, and widespread adoption of high- impact learning technologies."

According to information published by the administration today, OSTP is looking to expand the incentive mechanism used on with an emphasis specifically on learning technologies. The office sent a request for information to a number of organizations, including state and local education agencies, asking them "what roles they would be willing to play in the design, funding, and implementation of pull mechanisms for learning technology."

Some technologies cited as examples by OSTP included:

  • Technologies that would decrease the "vocabulary gap" between wealthy and poor students;
  • Tools to help American students outperform their international counterparts in math and science tests;
  • ELL supports;
  • Programs that would certify the skills or cognitive abilities of students who are not college-bound but might need such certifications for their jobs; and
  • Math remediation for community college students.

"Currently, there is a large gap between the relatively modest impact that technology has had on education, particularly in K-12, and the transformative impact that it has had in many aspects of our economic and social life," according to OSTP. "For example, businesses are using information and communications technologies to dramatically increase productivity, tap the expe1iise of their employees, slash the time needed to develop new products, tailor products and services to meet the needs of individual consumers, orchestrate global networks of suppliers, derive insights from huge volumes of transactional data, and improve their products and services by conducting rapid, low-cost experiments. Education, particularly K-12 education, remains relatively untouched by advances in our understanding of how people learn, how to design instruction that incorporates those insights, and the explosion in information technologies such as low-cost smartphones and tablets, cloud computing, broadband networks, speech recognition and speech synthesis, predictive analytics, data mining, machine learning, intelligent tutors, simulations, games, computer-[supported] collaborative work, and many other technologies."

Comments are due March 7. They can be submitted to [email protected]. Additional details on the request for information can be found in the Federal Register.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .

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