Launching ARPA-ED

February 9, 2011 at 9:21 am 6 comments

Thanks to Matthew Glickman for pointing out this exciting news.  Maybe this is the place to figure out how to teach CS at a distance, beating the book?

The Obama Administration has proposed a new agency within the Department of Education that will fund the development of new education technologies and promote their use in the classroom.In an updated version of its 2009 Strategy for American Innovation, the White House announced today that the presidents 2012 budget request will call for the creation of Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education ARPA-ED. The name is a deliberate takeoff on the Sputnik-era DARPA within the Department of Defense that funded what became the Internet and the much newer Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy ARPA-E that hopes to lead the country into a clean-energy future.ARPA-ED will seek to correct what an Administration official calls the countrys massive “underinvestment” in educational technologies that could improve student learning. “We know that information and communications technologies are having a transformative impact on other sectors. But thats not the case in K-12 education.” The official cited studies showing that less than 0.1% of the $600 billion spent each year on elementary and secondary school education goes for research on how students learn. “There are a number of good ideas and promising early results about the use of education technology that have led the Administration to be interested in doing more in this area,” the official noted.

via Obama Proposes Education Technology Agency Modeled After DARPA – ScienceInsider.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Matt Glickman  |  February 9, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I imagine I’m just about as excited as anybody else about the prospect of the U.S. gov’t recognizing education to be worthy of an ARPA-style approach, but I have to confess it also makes me very nervous. I’ve heard Alan Kay refer to the great care it takes to do truly solid, replicable science on what works in teaching and education. I’m worried about the politics of education swamping issues of scientific validity. I’d be very, very interested in what Mark or other readers of this blog would recommend (pointers to articles would be particularly appreciated) concerning both (a) what standards/methods/practices are most important for doing research in education that can serve as a solid basis for public policy, and (b) strategies for making the importance of these concerns clear to funders and other decision-makers.

    thanks very much in any case,

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      Matt, I would like to know the same thing. I’m not sure how to influence public policy makers. I’ve studied what influences teachers, and that tends to be whatever gets them excited, as opposed to research findings. I think your concerns are well-founded.

  • 3. Alan Kay  |  February 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    This has been in the works for some time … now they need to get a yearly budget from Congress that will allow something to be done.

    This at least puts the onus on Congress to make a public decision



    • 4. Mark Miller  |  February 10, 2011 at 12:23 am

      This sounds like something to support. A question I have is how do you avoid the “new” being translated as “news”, as you’ve put it? I’ve heard you (and Obama) talk about “a computer as good as a tutor”. This suggests a very different educational model than what we have.

      The consistent story of the results of the ARPA/IPTO work is that while some of the results directly translated into what we’ve come to use, with only some “degradation of the signal,” a lot of the other stuff went through the “low-pass filter” as it was brought into common use. As I’ve heard you explain it, the inventions that translated fully formed were in areas that had no widespread competitor already in existence.

      How might “translation to news” be avoided with the innovations developed through ARPA-ED?

      I understand that this is getting out ahead of ARPA-ED, since it hasn’t been created yet, but in a perverse sense I wonder if there is a greater potential to do damage to the education of children through an already decrepit system with the results of this program than there was with the follow-on products that came about, and were inspired, because of the IPTO work. I reference what happened with Logo. I don’t mean to say that Logo damaged education (I think it did some good things). The point I’m emphasizing is that the powerful ideas got lost, and it was translated and used for other goals that the system deemed worthy to pursue, entirely divorced from the intentions for which Papert designed the tool. It was very interesting to read in John Maxwell’s doctoral thesis (“Tracing the Dynabook”) as well that the system’s interpretation of Logo in a strange way ended up contributing to programming courses being killed off in the public school system in the mid-1990s.

      In the spirit of “making new mistakes, not old ones,” it seems to me this dynamic needs to be considered as the idea moves forward.



      • 5. Alan Kay  |  February 10, 2011 at 9:19 am

        There’s no idea (or silk purse) so simple and beautiful that can avoid being turned into a sow’s ear by a majority of people. (Trying to help people to deal with “New” better is one of the real and big goals of Education.)

        During the “terrible tenure of Tony Tether” at DARPA they even brought back “IPTO” as a label for one of their funding divisions — but they forgot to bring back the processes and kind of people that could put forth fruitful funding, and just wound up with an empty gesture.

        A more positive way to look at the “old ARPA/PARC” is that the ideas didn’t get lost, but many of the good ones were not learned and used.

        However, they are all written down, and virtually all of them can be downloaded and read (and many experienced) using the very personal computers and Internet that the funding caused to be invented.

        If sufficient funding of a good kind could cause the invention of above threshold “learning software as effective as a personal tutor”, it would start to cause the same magnitude of revolution as the GUI started 40 years ago.

        I think this would be a net positive addition to civilization, despite the great tendencies in the public and business sectors to misinterpret and misuse.



  • […] sounds like the DARPA-Ed idea that’s been floating around. The White House has formed a nonprofit organization aimed at […]


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