Congress has authorized a new federal research center that will be charged with helping to develop innovative ways to use digital technology at schools and in universities.
The National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies was included as part of the latest reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, approved last month. President Bush signed the law on Aug. 14.
The center will be charged with supporting research and development of new education technologies, including internet-based technologies. It will also help adapt techniques already widely used in other sectors, such as advertising and the military, to classroom instruction.
For instance, the center could work on developing educational programs that use personalization, a technique used by Web sites such as Amazon.com, to help hone consumers’ individual preferences, and simulation, which the military has used to help teach budding pilots how to fly planes.
“Despite the multitude of new technologies that are available to us, we have yet to scratch the surface of what we can do in the classroom to ensure that America’s children stay ahead of the curve,” said U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., one of the program’s main proponents. “This measure creates a system that will not only implement the technology we have, but also a framework to keep pace as new technologies are developed.”
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Although most students use technology frequently in their everyday lives, classrooms have not kept pace with changes, said Henry Kelly, the president of the Federation of American Scientists, which consulted with lawmakers and congressional staff members in crafting the legislative language for the program.
The center could help educators and researchers keep track of changes in educational technology, said Margaret D. Roblyer, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“It’s actually pretty exciting that our federal government recognizes the potential in this area and is willing to dedicate funding to try to harness it,” said Ms. Roblyer, who wrote Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, a textbook originally published in 1997. “It strikes me that one of the best things that could come out of this initiative is articulating a legitimate research agenda for studying technology’s impact on learning.”
Educators can “see technology is having an impact on learning,” she said. “We just haven’t been able to capture it very well with research,” in part because the field changes so rapidly, she added. “The time may be just right for looking at this topic again, not only in light of new technologies but also the new ways they are shaping communication and community in our society.”
The center will be housed at the U.S. Department of Education and will be managed as a nonprofit organization, overseen by a board of directors, including educators, scientists, and business representatives.
The program’s initial funding will come from Education Department, but it will be able to receive funds from any federal agency, as well as from private donors, such as corporations and foundations.
That structure will give the center “just enough independence so that it’s accountable to the department, but it will be able to build a research operation that looks more like the National Institutes of Health” in that it will be able to tackle significant, sustained projects, said Mr. Kelly of the Federation of American Scientists.
The public-private partnership structure may help recruit top education researchers, as well as experts from the computer and video gaming industries, he said.
The federal funding for the program is authorized at $50 million for its first year. Congress has not yet completed the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, and it is possible that the program could receive some funding as early as that fiscal year.
A version of this article appeared in the August 27, 2008 edition of Education Week as New Research Center to Focus on Ed. Technology