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Gates $50M Smithsonian Gift Includes Digital Outreach

The Smithsonian Institution has announced it has received a $50 million pledge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support new programs, including $30 million of funding toward a youth outreach program that employs interactive websites, online conferences, distance learning, and games.

The remaining $20 million will be split, with $10 million going toward four consortia identified in the Smithsonian's strategic plan, and $10 million having already been directed in the fall of 2009 toward the design and construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The $30 million goes to what the Smithsonian terms its Youth Access Endowment, which aims to reach underserved students nationwide via the development of already-existing interactive programs. For example, the Smithsonian last year held online conferences on Abraham Lincoln and climate change (yes, separate events, not some funky time-traveling odyssey) that each drew more than 7,000 participants. The Smithsonian also archived the sessions for review.

The gift follows the recent unveiling of another ed-tech endeavor from the Gates Foundation, which also contributes to Editorial Projects in Education, the non-profit publisher of Education Week. That program, called the Next Generation Learning Challenges, will award grants to K-12 and higher ed programs that use ed-tech to promote use of blended learning models, open source software, and data analytics. Up to $20 million will be distributed toward higher education projects in the first round of funding.

Meanwhile, increasing digital access to the Smithsonian and other national education institutions has been a stated priority by the U.S. Department of Education, which in July announced the creation of a digital learning registry to organize those institutions' resources.

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