Creating an Engine for Breakthrough Innovation in STEM Education

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Reposted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement:

Just as we created DARPA to keep the United States at the forefront of technological advancement, we must pursue advanced education research projects to create breakthrough innovations to ensure that future generations of Americans have the skills and abilities they need to compete in and lead the world. Advancements emerging from this process would create the next generation of innovative, highly trained scientists and engineers to sustain a significant technological lead. It would also help to create an education system that promotes lifelong learning to enable U.S. workers to continue to adapt to rapidly changing technology environments and remain competitive.

Projects created within a DARPA model — like those necessary to win the race to the moon — do not fit well within traditional research management structures in which basic and applied research are separated. Typical applied research programs require specific milestones and clearly defined deliverables. Project details remain fairly static over the course of a project or program. In the DARPA model, by contrast, every project is a mini-moonshot. The final goal is clear, but the process for getting there remains nimble to account for what is learned during the research process and what new challenges may arise.

How do we use this process to create innovation in education? We bring together interdisciplinary teams of world-class experts with proven track records of innovative thought and action. It requires a balance of expertise, flexibility, discipline, collaboration, and creativity along with a visionary program officer to lead the work of these experts according to a rigorous program plan. Performers are given plenty of room to be creative while progressing toward the established goal.

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