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President Obama Pushes Fleshed-Out ARPA-Ed Proposal

The push to create a high-tech Advanced Research Projects Agency for education in the style of the Sputnik-era Defense agency is getting top political backing this morning, as President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Melinda Gates (of Gates Foundation fame) stump for the program at TechBoston Academy in Massachusetts this afternoon.

Though the primary purpose for the heavy-hitters' visit is to prevent GOP-proposed education cuts, the President also is expected to provide more details on ARPA-Ed, for which President Obama proposed $90 million in his fiscal 2012 budget. The agency would provide competitive grants for researchers, business experts, and others "selected based on their potential to create a dramatic breakthrough in using technology to empower learning and teaching," according to the White House.

Intelligent software programs that adapt to students' use seems to be the first order of business. The president hopes ARPA-Ed can translate for schools' use a successful adaptive digital tutor developed by DARPA to train Navy personnel in information technology, or pull technology from game designers to create in-depth educational games and courses. It's probably a good time to keep an eye on Carnegie-Mellon University's Cognitive Tutor and others invested in intelligent tutors systems.

Perhaps most intriguing, the White House specifically voiced interest in the use of mass data-mining research and short, deep-dive projects to identify subtle patterns and develop interventions quickly.

"For example, after developing a game designed to teach fractions, researchers could study how tens of thousands of students master different concepts, creating a 'virtual learning laboratory' for continuous improvement," according to a White House briefing on the program.

As I wrote back in January, the short projects have caught the interest of the nation's regional educational laboratories and the Institute of Education Sciences has expressed interest in them recently, too, so this high-level support gives more evidence that data-mining could be a major force in education research to come.

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