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ARPA-ED: Education's Bright Future or Another Dim Bulb?

by Jonathan 5. May 2011 10:37

(Note: The ideas and opinions expressed below are just one stance on ARPA-ED. Please let us know your own views by commenting below the article!)

The research and development of educational technology is a tricky thing, for many reasons. In an ever-changing environment, it's difficult to commit to any given project or resource, particularly when they cost a great amount of money to explore, let alone create. Long touted as "the next big thing," interactive digital whiteboards have yet to conquer all the classrooms of planet Earth. This is due, in part, to industry hesitation when it comes to full-throttle development and implementation. It's not just whiteboards. The question looms: Why spend the money required before we're certain everyone will be using it? Ratty textbooks are still read and dusty erasers are still clapped together by naughty students, after all. Perhaps we should stick to the basics a while longer?

The federal government's 2012 federal budget proposal might change all that with something called ARPA-ED. Called an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education by those with breath enough for its recitation, ARPA-ED is essentially a 90 million-dollar investment in educational research and development. The Department of Education states that it will "fund projects performed by industry, universities, or other innovative organizations, selected based on their potential to create a dramatic breakthrough in learning and teaching." (read the Department's full explanation of ARPA-ED here)

ARPA-ED (and the government) does so in an effort to put America's student's in a position to occupy and create the jobs of tomorrow - and to improve and advance the educational landscape, of course. The Department of Education argues that to achieve these goals, the United States must reestablish itself as the leader in the development of "game changing educational technologies."

How will ARPA-ED catapult us to the top of educational research and development? For an excellent, thorough explanation, read the Department of Education's version. Put very simply, the project will be managed by the best of the best in their respective fields. These experts will challenge all comers to apply for funding, awarding those they see as having the highest potential to bring about the most important and impacting changes in education. The winners will move forward with their projects, and, presumably, the game will proceed to change.

Turning back to our original dilemma - what does an entity like ARPA-ED do for those developers hoping to come up with "the next big thing"? How might it help propel research and development into the next, and arguably most important, gear - implementation? In a word: focus. ARPA-ED doesn't plan on funding any old ed-tech project. Instead, it purports to select technologies and ideas that possess "specific deliverables with measurable impact." In other words, something that can be introduced to the classroom immediately. Something that will have our students learning in new, exciting, and better ways by next year. Something that developers can begin working on and improving today. If carried out effectively, ARPA-ED could be the push forward that education needs.

Is this the launch pad that sends educational R&D's rocket into the great beyond? Will ARPA-ED see revolutionary changes to our teachers, students, and schools in the near future? Or is it another government dream, another education firecracker that will wind up a dud? Sound off in the comments section below.

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Education | Technology


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