A Technical Investment


Can the sort of concentrated push that led to the creation of the Internet change the face of education? 

President Obama has proposed a new agency for the Department of Education modeled after DARPA, the Cold War-era federal agency that developed GPS and what became the Internet.

The administration is requesting $90 million to start ARPA-ED, which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education, to correct what it calls an “underinvestment” in educational technology and to improve student learning outcomes.

The new agency will “have more flexibility to identify specific problems and direct efforts to solve them,” James H. Shelton III, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement in the Department of Education, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

MJ Bishop, associate professor of teaching, learning and technology, agrees with the need for investment in this area.

“Putting well-designed instructional technologies in the hands of students has the promise to continue shifting the educational landscape away from our former teacher-centered, ‘sage-on-the-stage,’ Darwinian model of education to a more inclusive, learner-centered model aimed at life-long learning,” she says.

This will allow teachers more time to focus on the specific needs of individual students.

But Bishop questions the need for a new federal agency, with its associated overhead and bureaucracy. Hopefully, she says, by playing on the prestige of DARPA, ARPA-ED will attract the best minds to research and solve specific problems that are directly affecting the quality of education.