Thursday, October 14, 2010

Technology in Higher Education: A New Initiative

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and four nonprofit education organizations are beginning an ambitious initiative to address that challenge by accelerating the development and use of online learning tools.

The new initiative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, focuses on the college years. It is looking for innovative tools that can be developed and shared across networks of colleges. The grants, for $250,000 to $750,000 each, are intended to scale up such efforts, so they become self-sustaining.

The money is for online courses and tools, and any software developed with it must be freely licensed.

That's from Steve Lohr's story in NYTimes: In Higher Education, a Focus on Technology.

Why this focus on higher ed?

Just how effective technology can be in improving education — by making students more effective, more engaged learners — is a subject of debate. To date, education research shows that good teachers matter a lot, class size may be less important than once thought and nothing improves student performance as much as one-on-one human tutoring.

If technology is well designed, experts say, it can help tailor the learning experience to individual students, facilitate student-teacher collaboration, and assist teachers in monitoring student performance each day and in quickly fine-tuning lessons.

The potential benefits of technology are greater as students become older, more independent learners. Making that point, Mr. Gates said in an interview that for children from kindergarten to about fifth grade “the idea that you stick them in front of a computer is ludicrous.”

But in higher education, there are several promising projects that have used online technology effectively.