You may have already heard of the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) grant program. This initiative has received a lot of media attention due to its partnerships with private foundations and not-for-profit organizations, and focus on finding practical solutions to existing challenges in education. The guiding principles of the group – people first, fundamentals of learning, information technology to enable, designing for scale, and evidence driven action – are all part of the mission to "dramatically improve college readiness and completion, particularly for low-income young adults, by identifying promising technology solutions."
One of the most exciting aspects of the NGLC initiative is the encouraged exploration and trial of new approaches. The grants are awarded in three waves: the first two are in progress and the third just kicked off this month. A review of the projects that are underway gives us a sneak peak at what future learning environments might be like, especially those incorporating technology. Let's take a closer look at some of these efforts.
Wave I – Building Blocks for College Completion
The initial wave received over 600 proposals for projects in postsecondary learning environments that addressed open education resources, scaling existing programs, student engagement, and use of learning analytics. The winners list includes a wide range of higher education institutions, educational technology companies, and learning associations and consortiums. You can read about all Wave I projects on the NGLC website, but here is a quick review of some of the innovations in the pipeline for online learning:
- simSchool: Described as a "flight simulator for educators" this project creates simulated classroom environments to help those learning to be teachers develop skills related to critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. The Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) hopes this project will extend to an international group of higher education institutions.
- Online Student Profile Learning System: Led by Central Piedmont Community College, this project seeks to scale up a technology platform that enhances learning and completion through an orientation course, assessments, online profiles, and professional development effort. The goals of this project include reaching larger groups of students through a consortium of community colleges across the country.
- Next Generation Online Instruction: The University of California is working on the development of 50 interactive, primarily asynchronous, courses for delivery through multiple universities. The targets of this project are existing courses that normally have high numbers of students and cover foundational topics, as well as those required for community college transfer.
- STAR: A project of the University of Hawaii, this web-based system will allow students to create detailed academic plans based on their individual goals. In addition to course selection, schedules, and transfers, the system will connect students with applicable scholarship opportunities and with their academic advisors.
Wave II – Building Blocks for College Readiness
Wave II received fewer submissions, but was also a more focused request. These projects address new approaches to both content and evaluation of learning, specifically for grades 7 through 9 and related to the Common Core standards initiative. You can read more about the 19 Wave II winning projects at NGLC, but here is a small sample of those featuring online delivery:
- WhyCareers: Led by DaVinci Minds, Inc., this virtual world platform brings together math, science, and career exploration. A number of innovative approaches are included – simulation interactions, digital badges, and outcome-based assessment – as students work through learning activities in WhyVille.
- Algebra for the 21st Century: The Louisiana Department of Education is leading this effort to enhance an existing online math curriculum at the Louisiana Virtual School. Increased access and addition of resources to provide new, scaffolded paths to learning, practice modules, and embedded learning assessments are in the works.
- The LearningMatch: Scholar Rocket, Inc.'s project involves the development of personalized learning opportunities. Through a series of brief video presentations, with linked learning assessments, The LearningMatch system will track student progress and identify areas where additional practice is needed. This project is also presented as an alternative to traditional professional development for teachers, with additional support to meet their needs related to the Common Core standards.
Wave III – Readiness and Completion Through Blended Models
The third wave began earlier this month and highlights blended learning projects. There are two separate calls for proposals, one focused on post secondary learners and the other on those in grades 6 through 12. There are three submission dates and the first one is November 11, 2011. If you are currently working with a district, school, or organization with an interest in these student populations, review the submission requirements and consider submitting your ideas! Your project may pave the way for future innovation in online learning.