Tech, Money, and Learning

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

This NYT article plays with the money issue in teaching and technology:

The Cluster originated as an idea of Fred Phillips, a professor at the Oregon Graduate Institute, a research university, and was promoted by Kelvin Ng, an investment banker in Portland. Their vision was that a cluster would expand the capabilities and horizons of small companies. The idea evidently encouraged Portland cluster members, whose ambitions to improve American education belie their small corporate size.

“We provide the innovations for the education field, the way biotechnology companies provide innovations for the pharmaceutical industry,” Mr. Kelly of Learning.com said. He started up and sold a company in health care before moving to education.

“A revolution is needed in education — students exist in a world where technology is pervasive but classroom teaching hasn’t basically changed in 50 years,” said Mona Westhaver, a founder of Inspiration Software, a Portland area firm that developed a visual learning system for kindergarten through 12th grade. Ms. Westhaver, a founder of the Northwest Cluster, said that new approaches sought by Portland entrepreneurs include lifelong learning, online network teaching and “an end to the long summer break that was introduced for an agricultural society.”

The small companies are encouraged in their hope for change by the fact that large corporations are expanding. Pearson of London, for example, has nearly $6 billion in annual revenue from ventures in education. It recently paid nearly $500 million to acquire eCollege, a United States company that supplies distance learning programs to commercial colleges.

A revolution is always needed in education, but I imagine that the real ideas will come from committed and wise people who will work within the confines of their existing salaries. The ambition is always to improve the American education system. Maybe this can be done. But first what needs improving has to be identified. I would sit down with anyone who has an interesting product. But where’s the product that will improve the learning spaces?

Hold on, that’s the brain.


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