Published Online: March 8, 2011
Published in Print: March 9, 2011, as New Coalition Is Launched to Speed Tech. Innovation

New Coalition Is Launched to Speed Tech. Innovation

A new nonprofit group that aims to convene experts from the nonprofit, government, academic, and business sectors for the sake of expediting technological innovations is tackling early-childhood reading, and science and math education as its first challenges.

ConvergeUS, a Washington-based organization, was launched last month by executives from the social-networking platform Twitter and from TechNet, a business-backed advocate for technology innovation. The group will hold an annual fall summit, develop an online clearinghouse, and carry out its own projects, all for the goal of “purposeful applications of technology and social media,” according to a press release.

Among its first partners announced Feb. 23 is the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a coalition that focuses on improving reading proficiency, and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, which directs its efforts to raising student math and science performance. The group will announce a third partnership soon, the organizers said, and will plan to take on three new challenges every subsequent year. Those could include more education initiatives as well as government- and military-related projects.

“One of the criteria for us for success is to have partners who are subject-matter experts and have the data to establish what really is the problem,” said Patrick Gusman, the group’s executive director. He said future partnerships could address education issues such as dropout prevention, or other challenges such as easing the burdens on military families or comprehending recent anti-government protests throughout the Arab world.

“Timeliness is more important than saying we have a quota on doing something today for the military, tomorrow for education,” Mr. Gusman added.

With the group’s roots owed to Rey Ramsey, the chief executive officer of TechNet, a coalition of CEOs that promotes technology innovation for the sake of economic progress with offices throughout the country, and Biz Stone, Twitter’s co-founder and creative business director, Mr. Gusman said he accepts that some educators may doubt the motives behind ConvergeUS, but hopes the group’s structure will combat skepticism.

The group’s annual summits will convene three 20-expert panels on each of the year’s three challenges, and Mr. Gusman promises the panels will be filled with more subject-matter experts than executives. Each panel will create a blueprint, from which ConvergeUS and its partner for the particular challenge will work toward creating something tangible by the following year, such as an online platform to address military families’ needs or a module that allows parents who may not otherwise be able to read to their children regularly to do so by cellphone.

Legislative Influence?

Don Knezek, the CEO of the Washington-based International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, said the technology-industry roots of ConvergeUS may actually help it effect change on Capitol Hill and in other places policymakers may have short-changed education-technology concerns in the past.

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Keith R. Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN, also based in Washington, agreed that such coalitions can be productive. He pointed to his organization’s own work as an example, as well as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P21, a collaboration that includes the U.S. Department of Education, the National Education Association, and several for-profit technology and communications companies.

ConvergeUS already has one academic partner, Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., which has pledged to use its faculty to define the challenges, structure action plans, and lend expertise and even student labor in “solving big problems,” as Babson’s president, Leonard A. Schlesinger, terms it. Mr. Schlesinger said he believes the founders of ConvergeUS, in beginning with K-12 challenges, see a combination of need and opportunity.

“They said they had actually framed in conversations with their constituency a few areas where they believed there was white space in terms of being able to carve out unique innovation,” he said.

Vol. 30, Issue 23, Pages 8-9

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