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What Education Tech Success Stories Share

Educational technologies have the potential to stretch dollars and improve education, with the right supporting policies, Brookings Institution reports.

12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT
12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT
(click image for slideshow)
A report from the Brookings Institution published last week argued that policymakers need to recognize the potential for technology to stretch dollars and improve outcomes.

The report, "Education Technology Success Stories," includes examples from the U.S. and abroad of emerging technologies for education -- from robots that give language lessons to "stealth assessments" that replace traditional testing with game-based observations of competency.

The authors, Darrell M. West and Joshua Bleiberg, picked five examples of revolutionary technologies impacting everything from kindergarten to higher education: robot assisted language learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs), Minecraft (as game-based education), computerized adaptive testing and stealth assessment.

Brookings is a nonpartisan think tank, although it's frequently identified as liberal or centrist. "One possible virtue of digital technology is the cost savings," the report suggested. "During the Great Recession, the education service industry lost over one million jobs. State and local governments cut education spending, and this had ripple effects throughout the sector. Today educators from universities to elementary schools face an even more difficult task than before with fewer available resources. Given the political climate of budget cutting, the likelihood of a restoration of funding to pre-recession levels in the near future is low." Therefore, educational technologies take on increased importance to help "over-burdened teachers," they write.

The MOOCs, those massive open online courses changing higher education, provide the report's narrative hook: the story of Khadijah Niazi, an 11-year-old Pakistani girl who managed to complete with distinction an introductory physics course offered through Udacity, despite such obstacles as having national authorities cut off access to YouTube, where the course videos were hosted. After reaching out to other members of the class from Malaysia, Portugal and England, she connected with a Portuguese professor who was able to load the video content onto another server that she could access.

While the potential of educating the world is inspiring, Brookings also sees MOOCs having great potential closer to home. "As the cost of university attendance increases, MOOCs will draw greater interest," the authors write.

[ What can you learn from war stories? Read Educators Share Tech Struggles: From Tablets To Twitter.]

While MOOCs are much in the news, the first technology the report explores in depth is the use of robots to help teach English in South Korea. Researchers from the Center for Intelligent Robotics (CIR) at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology and the Pohang University of Science and Technology developed two robots: MERO (a disembodied robot head with an expressive face) and Engkey (which waddles around the class like a stout penguin). Using advanced speech recognition software, the robots are able to carry on simple conversations and correct common pronunciation errors. Children found the robots friendly and non-threatening. The performance of the robots was impressive enough -- particularly given the shortage of qualified human teachers for second-language instruction -- that the Korean Education Ministry now wants all 8,400 kindergartens in the country to have an English language robot by the end of 2013.

MERO robot shows facial expressions
The MERO robot's expressive face helps it connect with young children.

"A scarcity of qualified secondary language teachers will likely persist into the future, and teachers will need support to instruct the next generation of students," the report concluded. Of course, the same is true for the challenge of teaching other languages to English speakers.

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