The Education Department and Secretary Duncan are Listening to Your Ideas

The Department of Education held a conference called “Innovation to Drive Productivity in Postsecondary Education” and asked college leaders and officials from companies offering MOOCs to discuss innovations in education technology.

Held in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the conference explored the influence of technology on higher education, and included 175 attendees. Andrew Ng, one of the founders of Coursera, several university representations and leaders from nonprofit organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were in attendance.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked for attendees to come together to conjure up solid ideas on how to reduce college drop-out rates and increase postgraduate employment. Can this be achieved with a technological edge, he asked? On a recent bus tour with leaders from Coursera and Udacity, Mr. Duncan said “There are pros and cons to all of this, but this was not happening four, five, six years ago. Is there one magic solution? Of course not. Are those kind of opportunities a piece of the solution? I absolutely think they are.”

Mr. Duncan appeared at a September 15th event kicking off the launch of the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Lifelong Learning Competition. He spoke about the concept of digital badges as an important way to recognize non-traditional ways of learning. Duncan appears to understand that higher education is beginning to move toward vocational thinking, emphasizing skill-based learning in an effort to improve postgraduate employment rates.

Badges, Duncan said, are “a way to give credence—and ultimately, credit—for the skills learners and teachers acquire in a broader set of learning environments, and a wider range of content. Badges also empower students and teachers to play an even stronger role in their own learning and development—to seek out the right tools among many resources available, and in their fields of interest—and build a record of what they have mastered.”

It is encouraging to see the secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense involved in so many conversations about innovative solutions in education. MOOCs are gaining ground and indicate a fundamental shift in higher learning, and companies are exploring digital badges and social media as means of enhancing an individual’s qualifications. Secretary Duncan’s participation in this kind of thinking shows promise on the federal level.