Feds turn to ‘crowdsourcing’ for educational innovation

These five challenges are:

1. Reading Companion, a web-based literacy program that uses innovative speech-recognition technology to help children and adults learn how to read.

2. Reinventing Education Change Toolkit, which provides diagnostic and assessment tools, practical strategies, and other resources developed in collaboration with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Arbuckle Professor at the Harvard Business School, to help LEAs make school reform efforts more efficient and successful.

3. KidSmart Early Learning Program, an early learning initiative that integrates new interactive teaching and learning activities using the latest technology into the pre-kindergarten curricula.

4. ¡TradúceloAhora!, a program that provides automatic translations from English to Spanish, as well as bidirectional eMail translations (English-Spanish), to enhance communications between teachers and Spanish-speaking parents.

5. TryScience, an online global science and technology center, featuring interactive exhibits, multimedia adventures, live “field trips,” and hands-on science projects.

The Open Innovation Portal community will rate the ideas submitted for each challenge, and winners will be selected from among the best ideas. The first IBM challenges—Reading Companion and Reinventing Education Change Toolkit—are underway now and will be offered until June 2010. IBM will award up to three $50,000 technical service grants for each challenge.

“By helping students and the future workforce be able to innovate, economic productivity will increase,” Mooney said. “IBM also has a vested interest in education, because we need people at our company who are innovative and have been incubated in that culture. Helping with this portal is really a win-win for us.”

ED also is offering multiple challenges; for example, “Developing and Evaluating Teachers and Leaders” asks the portal community to think of practices, strategies, or programs that increase the percentages of highly effective teachers or principals, or reduce the percentages of ineffective teacher or principals—especially for high-need students—by identifying, recruiting, developing, placing, rewarding, and retaining highly effective teachers or principals (or removing them).

Portal users also can blog, create a network of contacts within the portal, post and look for classified ads in education, and send and compose eMails within the portal.

“Our goal is to spur conversation beyond just talking, to action,” said Mooney. “By listing challenges, hosting job or project opportunities, and then bringing people in who can support change either through simple connections or by funding, talk will move to action. Also, by identifying specific challenges, you’re able to create definitive solutions—we just needed an environment to do this. It’s more than a suggestion box; it’s a mechanism for change.”

“We like the idea that solutions can come from a collaboration of all different types of disciplines. This has been happening already in tech and science fields and the private sector,” said Turillo. “Imagine if the health and human services industry starts collaborating with the education industry, and all of this can happen in real time.”

Because the portal just opened, Turillo said, no themes have been developed; however, the portal soon will feature different themes in terms of challenges and suggestions for innovation.

For example, most educational problems typically have centered on curriculum issues, different approaches to instruction, and how to reinforce and spread what works in the classroom, said Turillo, and while those are all problems worth thinking about, the portal will stimulate different types of questions and solutions.

“One example of an outside-the-box issue is the city of Boston’s large inner-city problem with dropout rates, violence, and performance,” he explained. “We all know that a well-educated child will most likely find success later in life and be happier—but how do we get the child interested and in class?” Fixing delinquency problems, community issues, and students’ self-esteem are important parts of that solution, he added.

Since the portal opened in February, 4,000 people have signed up, and the site features more than 80 new ideas, as well as many challenges.

IBM, STCI, and ED say they hope the portal will be sustainable in the years to come and will adapt to changing technologies of the future.

“Every legacy institution is failing us, from financial to educational,” said Turillo. “Thankfully, technology has advanced to the point where we can now have a global brain, meaning that people can come together to collaborate and solve problems. The more people you put together to solve something, the better the chances at reaching a solution. We’re really on the cusp of exciting times.”


Open Innovation Portal



Meris Stansbury

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