Taking Innovation to School

Courtesy of InternetWeek In an effort to boost innovation in American classrooms, Congress is contemplating a handful of bills in the House and Senate, including the Digital Opportunity Investment Trust, aimed at improving math and science education. The trust would establish a fund from a percentage of the revenue from auctions of the publicly owned telecommunications spectrum and spend the interest the auctions are expected to generate- about $1.5 billion a year - on R&D for advanced learning technologies. "Our contention is there's no complete strategy for American competitiveness in the 21st century without an upgrade of our education and training systems through advanced technology," says Rayne Guilford, deputy director of the nonprofit Digital Promise, which has proposed the trust. While the National Institutes of Health spends $27 billion annually on research and the National Science Foundation spends $5 billion, there is no equivalent organization sponsoring research for education. The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency accounts for most of the $280 million the government spends on research and development for education and training. "This bill is about using the advanced broadband tools we have that have transformed our lives in the corporate sector and entertainment to ensure they're used to transform the education, workforce development and training segments of society," Guilford says. "We can't leave the public sector behind." The Digital Opportunity Investment Trust would have two objectives. First, it would act as a clearinghouse for R&D into advanced technology applications for training and learning - everything from school lessons to technology to help older workers learn new job skills. The Trust will also manage the digitization of content from libraries as well as museums. One of the Trust's biggest partners is the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which has developed three advanced learning games that are representative of future projects the trust would support. These include Immune Attack!, a video game for PCs teaching human immunology from the ninth grade to the college level; Discover Babylon, a cultural, educational and historical virtual reality of ancient Mesopotamia; and Mass Casualty Incident Responder, an interactive real-time training simulation for firefighters. Players in Immune Attack! travel through blood vessels as they train immune systems to fight off two pathogens young adults are likely to be familiar with, including infections such as swimmer's ear and salmonella. FAS is evaluating the game with biology classes at five high schools around the country.