Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Games that Can Change the World

    I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create. . . educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up. -- President Obama, March 2011

    Computers and computer science are becoming ever more important to the future careers of today’s students. That’s one reason OSTP is interested in exploring the use of “games for impact” to address important societal challenges and opportunities—including in the realm of education. Games for impact (sometimes called “serious games”) are designed to be at once entertaining and engaging, and also something more: educational, enlightening, and perhaps even designed to motivate action.

    Just as books and films can be used to inform and educate as well as entertain, so can games. Topics that may be challenging to understand through traditional “linear” media can sometimes be easier to grasp when conveyed in an interactive manner. Games can enable students to explore a subject at their own pace, allowing them to try – and potentially to fail – repeatedly, until a concept is mastered, without external consequence.  Through games, students can learn to navigate the rule-set and world created by a game designer, which can be built around almost any task—from stealthily outwitting enemies to solving algebraic equations.

    Many current state-of-the-art games focus on entertainment more than education, but games show promise as powerful teaching and learning tools. Recent work utilizing adaptive learning games has demonstrated that such games can be effective tools for teaching children mathematics. Neuroscience research is increasingly identifying ways in which games can have a powerful positive impact on the brain.

    Across the Government, agencies are already beginning to explore and develop games for impact. Events such as the White House Apps for Healthy Kids Challenge and the National STEM Video Game Challenge are helping encourage the development of apps and games designed to teach. Some recently developed games for impact created in cooperation with Federal agencies include the State Department’s “Trace Effects”, NASA’s “Moonbase Alpha,” and Filament Games’ “Reach for the Sun” (which was supported by an SBIR grant from the Department of Education).

  • New Grants to Help More Students Pursue STEM Careers

    Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. And we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math -- the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future. -- President Obama, 2013 State of the Union

    Last month, President Obama announced a new $100 million competition launched by the U.S. Department of Labor to help American high schools prepare students for college and for careers in a 21st century economy.

    Computer Science Education Week is a perfect time to highlight this new Administration effort—called Youth CareerConnect—to inspire and prepare girls and boys in communities across the country to be the designers, programmers, engineers, and innovators of the future through increasing their access to hands-on, real-world-relevant education and skills.

    Through Youth CareerConnect, up to 40 grants will be awarded to partnerships between local schools systems, employers, community colleges or universities, and others that are committed to strengthening America’s talent pipeline and providing students with industry-relevant education to prepare them for college and careers.

    Schools and their partners will be challenged to focus on addressing key shortages in “H-1B fields”—occupations tied to the H1-B temporary-visa program, which are predominantly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

    This is an exciting investment that will prepare more American students to be the innovators, researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs of the future. This initiative also, in part, answers a call by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in its 2010 report on STEM K-12 Education, Prepare and Inspire, to increase the number of STEM-focused schools across the country.

    Applicants will be judged on their efforts to serve a diverse student population, which will ensure access to preparation and training in the STEM fields for girls and minority groups currently underrepresented in many of these careers.

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb and Medicines Patent Pool Increase Access to Critical HIV Drug

    Today, we congratulate the biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb and the voluntary-patent-licensing organization the Medicines Patent Pool on their newly-announced agreement to increase access to the critical HIV treatment, atazanavir, in developing countries.

    The announcement continues a steady drumbeat of positive steps by Gilead Sciences, ViiV Healthcare (a joint venture of GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Shionogi), and Roche to partner with the Medicines Patent Pool to lower the price of HIV medicines for use in developing nations. The Medicines Patent Pool is a UN-backed initiative that negotiates with pharmaceutical companies to come to voluntary licensing agreements that speed the production of affordable generic medicines. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) became the first patent holder to share patents with the Medicines Patent pool in 2010.

    Atazanavir is an important HIV treatment recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for use as patients develop resistance to first-line regimens. The WHO estimates there will be more than 1 million people on second-line treatment by 2016, and many more will need access to second-line medicines. The Medicine Patent Pool’s agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb will make atazanavir more affordable in 110 developing countries, where nearly 90% of people living with HIV reside.

    The United States leads the world in funding HIV treatment in developing countries, helping not only to keep people alive and able to take care of their families, but also to reduce new infections and contribute to economic growth.  By decreasing the cost of atazanavir and other HIV medicines, the Medicines Patent Pool is helping to ensure that the funds committed to create an AIDS-free generation are used as effectively as possible.

  • Continuing to Build Smart Policies for Spectrum Sharing

    Finding ways to use wireless spectrum more efficiently is a critical part of President Obama’s ambitious strategy for expanding the availability of spectrum for innovative and flexible commercial uses, including for broadband services, to drive innovation, expand consumer services, and create jobs.  
    This past summer, President Obama issued a memorandum directing Federal agencies to take a number of steps to more aggressively enhance spectrum efficiency and accelerate shared access to spectrum for consumer services and applications, including by advancing collaboration and information sharing with the private sector and other stakeholders, developing the necessary technology innovations to support spectrum sharing, and providing agencies with incentives  to relocate from or share spectrum in a timely and cost-effective manner.  
    Balancing the growing needs of both commercial and Federal spectrum users presents opportunities for increased efficiency and economic growth, but also poses challenges. In particular, commercial wireless providers must learn how to operate their systems in spectrum bands that will be shared by Federal agencies using that same spectrum for operations such as conducting military training exercises, maintaining air safety, or tracking criminal activity.
    That’s why it is absolutely essential to enhance collaboration and information sharing between Federal agencies and private-sector wireless technology companies.  And we already know that it can work. 
    For example, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently approved a Defense Department proposal to share with non-Federal users, by auction, a 25-megahertz band of spectrum—known as the “1755 band.” This band has been long coveted by the wireless industry for its appealing propagation characteristics and because it can be paired with another swath of spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission is required to license via auction by early 2015. However, because the 1755 band will not be vacated entirely, mechanisms must be in place for the band to be shared so that it maximizes its commercial value while also protecting essential government functions. For this to happen, bidders must be able to access technical details about the spectrum they may bid on, without jeopardizing sensitive Federal operations. To address these challenges, industry-agency working groups collaborated intensively, ahead of time, to help identify details about what kinds of Federal systems already operate in the 1755 megahertz band,  which ones would be relocated and which would remain, and how commercial networks could successfully move into the band.  The success of the process so far is a testament to the Defense Department’s commitment not just to protecting our nation militarily, but also to strengthening it economically.

  • Computer Science is for Everyone!

    This week, we’re celebrating Computer Science Education Week (CS Ed Week), which highlights the importance of computer science in our education system.  To recognize CS Ed Week this year, we encourage everyone to participate in the Hour of Code. It’s an easy way for anyone to learn computer science and see that it’s fun, creative, and challenging.

    Advances in computer science—which includes problem solving, creativity, abstraction and programming—have transformed the way we live, work, learn, play and communicate; they are actually changing the world. Whether designing artificial limbs, developing algorithms for self-driving cars, analyzing medical data to develop more effective treatments, creating simulations to better explore and understand complex scientific phenomena, or creating multimedia art—just about anything you can think of—computational skills are empowering. 

    Computer science also leads to great jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available and only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs. Further, Information Technology (IT) workers have been estimated to earn 74 percent more than the average worker. Even beyond IT jobs, computational skills will make you more valuable to employers.

    The National Science Foundation (NSF), with its long legacy of nurturing communities of research and education practitioners, is leading a transformation in CS education and learning at the national scale. NSF’s CS 10K Project aims to build the foundation needed to get engaging, rigorous academic computer science courses into 10,000 schools taught by 10,000 well-prepared teachers. To begin this, NSF has funded the development and implementation of two new computer science courses—CS Principles (to be a new College Board Advanced Placement course starting in the Fall of 2016) and Exploring Computer Science. Both courses are designed to teach the fundamental concepts and big ideas of computing along with coding, and to inspire kids about computer science’s creative potential to transform society. These courses were designed to be accessible and engaging for all students, with the particular goal of increasing inclusion of women and other groups that are significantly underrepresented in computing.

  • STEM Mentoring Initiative Gains Momentum

    At the 2013 White House Science Fair, President Obama announced US2020, a campaign led by a coalition of leading tech companies and education non-profits to encourage companies to mobilize 20 percent of their STEM employees to complete 20 hours of STEM teaching or mentoring per year by the year 2020—with a focus on girls, minorities, and low-income youth.

    Today, students who are part of communities typically underrepresented in STEM fields may be steered away from STEM careers because they aren’t connected to role models in those fields and may not understand the full range of STEM career options available to them or what people in those careers actually do. 

    America’s ten million scientists and engineers can be a powerful resource to address this problem. As Citizen Schools CEO and current US2020 Executive Chairman Eric Schwarz has noted, the goal of this campaign is to get “leading scientists teaming up with teachers to co-teach the chemistry of forensics during the regular school day; NASA physicists running semester-long, after-school robotics programs; and Google programmers showing urban youth how to design smartphone apps on weekends.”

    Since President Obama’s announcement, momentum for this effort has continued to grow.

    On September 18,  US2020 launched a competitive application process for cities across the country to develop plans to dramatically scale-up their STEM mentoring capacities. Applicants are being judged by a panel of experts from academia, government, non profits, and the private sector. Winning cities will be announced in March, 2014, and will receive access to a state-of-the-art volunteering matching web site, cash prizes to help hire city coordinators for STEM mentoring efforts, and support from AmeriCorps VISTA to help with volunteer recruitment and training. In the few months since applications opened, 52 cities formed coalitions of local governments, schools, businesses, and non-profits to develop these plans.