Home Bill Gates Announces $20 Million Program to Expand Educational Technology

Bill Gates Announces $20 Million Program to Expand Educational Technology

Arguing that we need to do a better job not just ensuring access to quality higher education, but helping students actually graduate from college, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have announced the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative. This multi-year project aims to help improve both college readiness and college completion in the U.S. through the use of technology. Administered through the nonprofit EDUCAUSE, the program will provide grants to organization that will help develop technology tools to more teachers, students, and schools.

RFPs for the first round of grants were released today. These grants will range from $250,000 to $750,000, with a total amount funded in this round of $20 million. Proposals are due Nov. 19 with the winners to be announced by the end of March 2011. And while this first round will be aimed at developing technology tools and projects for higher education, the next round, according to the Gates Foundation, will address the needs of students in grades 9 through 12.

The Challenges

The initiative seeks proposals that address the following challenges:

  • Increasing the use of blended learning – that is, those methods that combine both online and face-to-face instruction

  • Deepening students’ learning and engagement in online courses
  • Supporting the availability of high-quality open courseware

  • Helping institutions, instructors, and students benefit from learning analytics, so that learning can be monitored and customized in real-time

On a conference call today, Bill Gates said that “education is the big priority of our foundation here in the United States. It is the most important thing we can do for the future of our country.” Pointing to the budgetary constraints that are preventing the widespread implementation of educational technologies, Gates said that he hopes that this initiative can build on successes like the Khan Academy and the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative, making these sorts of programs more widely available.

Some statistics: Only 70% of high school students will graduate, and of those 50% are ill-equipped for success in college. Of those that do attempt college only half will ever earn a degree. For low-income students, graduation rates are even lower, hovering at a mere 25%.

In the future, says Gates, students should be able to take full advantage of educational opportunities that blend both on- and offline instruction and that are flexible, engaging, and personalized.

Gates made it clear that this initiative is just one part of the Gates Foundation’s commitment to education. In addition to funding from the Gates Foundation, the Next Generation Learning Challenge is supported by several other organizations, including the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as well as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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