U.S. Department of Education: Innovators Come Together to Brainstorm Solutions and Take Action

By Martha Kanter

Over the last week, more than 200 national public and private sector innovators from higher education, technology, and industry joined us at round tables, at white boards, and over large sheets of poster paper to brainstorm creative ideas to improve postsecondary education. These groups of entrepreneurs and software developers, college and university scholars and students, along with policymakers and others identified solutions and made plans to take immediate action.

These individuals came together at two “Data Jams” convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Education, the first at MIT on December 11th and the second at Stanford on December 15th. Leaders, experts and students were challenged to use open data and work collaboratively to solve a series of challenges to increase student access and success to reach the President’s goal “for the U.S. to have the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world by the year 2020!”

Specifically, the groups were charged to address the ambitious agenda outlined by President Obama in August 2013 to increase value and affordability in postsecondary education. A key component of this agenda is to promote innovation and competition through the use of data and by using new approaches to tackle old problems.

Participants at our Data Jams announced action steps in many areas:

  • Develop new tools to allow students to make informed decisions about whether to go to college, where to go, what to study, how to finance it, and how to manage student loan debt when out of school;
  • Use data and analytic techniques to improve teaching, learning, and student success in online courses and MOOCs;
  • Build on the experience of faculty and researchers to develop a way to share evidence-based practices, pedagogies, and content for hybrid and online teaching; and
  • Begin a conversation about articulating open data standards and privacy-appropriate sharing of online learning data.

Far from being one-off conversations or developing solutions that sit on shelves, participants left the Data Jams volunteering to take action in the next month to implement the ideas. Some will develop new or expanded websites, products, or tools for students; others will enlist colleagues and friends to advance the work; and still others will take concrete steps in the next few weeks that will lay the foundation for transformational change in the future.

We won’t have long to wait to see the results! Next month, at an Education Datapalooza, in Washington, D.C., the White House and U.S. Department of Education will highlight and celebrate some of the innovations that result from the Data Jams and similar gatherings over the course of the fall in response to President Obama’s call to action.

Want to get involved? Many of the teams assembled to prepare for the Datapalooza are working hard and can use the help of others who have time, expertise, or other resources to lend to the effort. Email us at Datapalooza@ed.gov if you want to get involved.

We would like to thank our partners at edX, the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University, and Stanford University for co-hosting the December Data Jams and to each of the participants who gave their time and wisdom to advancing this work.

The choices students and their families face with regard to postsecondary education are complex, and data-driven tools can help simplify the pathways to a quality education and help to improve student outcomes. Federal government data resources should be leveraged to help students and their families better understand the federal financial aid available to them and all of the information that is key to expanding access and enrollment among low-income and first-generation households. It critical to our nation’s long term civic and economic prosperity that we continue to help students from all backgrounds achieve an affordable postsecondary education.

We know that the best solutions to these problems rarely come from the federal government and that local and regional innovative approaches have the potential to help us increase access, value, and affordability in postsecondary education. At the Datapalooza next month, we will see just how these innovative approaches are developing to benefit educational opportunity for all!

Martha Kanter is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education

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