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New Ed Challenge to Seek 'Weirdness' and Innovation in Higher Ed

During her remarks yesterday at the Austin-based SXSWedu conference, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos advocated for weirdness in education. "I can't help but think of this city's unofficial motto: 'Keep Austin weird,'" she said, adding, "Let's apply that same unique spirit to doing what's best for students. Be different. Be bold. Try something unexpected. Do something new. Because what students really need won't originate in Washington. It will come from people in this room. It will come from entrepreneurs, philanthropists, teachers and parents — those closest to students. And it may well come from students themselves."

Along similar lines, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology has plans to launch a new "Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge," announced in a blog post published on Medium.

According to Senior Policy Advisors Sharon Leu and David Soo, the challenge will seek "multi-sector teams to propose design concepts for a truly student-centered ecosystem." Those ideas with the most potential for improving the outcomes of students "that need postsecondary education the most" will be launched with the help of "a variety of partners."

This isn't the first time the agency has become involved in promoting education innovation. Under the previous administration the department launched EQUIP, Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships, an experiment in 2016 to promote partnerships between colleges and "non-traditional providers," such as coding boot camps, to see if those education models could improve learning and job outcomes for students, especially those from low-income backgrounds.

During that same year the department also convened a series of tech "meet-ups" to bring educators and technologists together to "reimagine higher education."

More details on the new program are expected to appear shortly on the Office of Ed Tech website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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