Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Promoting Innovation and Protecting Privacy in the Classroom

    Though often invisible, big data technologies are a part of our lives, and will be even more so in the coming years. Earlier this year, Counselor to the President John Podesta and members of the OSTP team authored a report to the President with a clear message: these technologies hold great promise, but those benefits might go unrealized if we don’t get the policy right. Nowhere is that truer than in education, where we have the chance to transform teaching and learning through data, thereby improving individual outcomes and our national competitiveness. But when we do, we have to make sure we are protecting students’ privacy.

    Student data can help personalize a single student’s learning experience to deliver better outcomes across populations. For instance, a mobile application that teaches algebra can pinpoint not only where one student is struggling, but also where the app’s own content could use improvement by assessing the performance of thousands of users. But that data is also sensitive; it will be important that it remains under student and parent control to the extent possible, and not used for purposes inconsistent with the educational mission.

  • The BRAIN Initiative and Grand Challenge Scholars

    On Tuesday, September 30, OSTP hosted the White House BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Conference. The BRAIN Initiative seeks to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain by mapping the brain, linking neural activity to behavior, and integrating computation with neuroscience experiments. Last week, former competitive snowboarder Kevin Pearce shared why the BRAIN Initiative has personal meaning for him, demonstrating the real positive impact that the Initiative has on individuals. The BRAIN Conference was held to highlight recent progress on the President’s BRAIN Initiative, and to look ahead at the tools and technologies that still need to be envisioned and created to meet the goals of the BRAIN Initiative.  The conference participants included representatives from the academic research community, national laboratories, philanthropic foundations, companies, and other key contributors across America that have aligned their research goals with the Initiative.

    Several students from the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars Program were also invited to participate. Students selected for this prestigious, nationwide program may become some of the next generation’s top scholars. OSTP invited two of them, Kevin Mauro from Duke University and Kaleia Kramer from Arizona State University, to share their experiences from the conference.

  • Celebrating the Federal STEM Workforce at the White House

    STEM Workforce Event

    Participants in a White House event celebrating the Federal science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce demonstrate a prototype tool being developed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to help hiring managers better target and recruit top STEM job applicants. (Photo by Sheena Friend)

    Today the U.S. Office of Personal Management (OPM) and the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) welcomed more than 50 Federal innovators to the White House to celebrate the key contributions of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals working in our Government.

    Every day, these STEM employees conduct scientific research in laboratories and in the field; collect and analyze measurements of Earth from land, air, sea, and space; synthesize scientific insights to inform policy decisions; and administer and carry out a host of programs and initiatives that help grow our Nation’s economy, boost national security, and protect public health and our environment.

    These innovators are skilled professionals with expertise in areas as diverse as supercomputing, climate science, ecosystem conservation, robotics, energy systems, and epidemiology. It is their job to seek answers to urgent science and technology questions; help ensure that innovative solutions and technologies are rapidly prototyped and brought to market; and collectively contribute to keeping our nation on the cutting edge. 

    Since its earliest days, the Obama Administration has emphasized the importance of maintaining a dynamic, diverse, and high-caliber Federal STEM workforce with multi-disciplinary skills and the necessary professional, technical, and policy expertise to achieve the wide-ranging missions of Federal agencies. This includes:

    • Ensuring responsible stewardship of taxpayer resources in government-funded research and procurement programs;
    • Managing large, dynamic, and complex research and engineering organizations that perform and fund research
    • Conducting in-house research at Federal laboratories and other institutions;
    • Developing Federal policies and regulations based on accurate technical and scientific information; and
    • Performing operational activities at the state, local, and Federal levels.

  • The White House Education Game Jam

    More than 90% of America’s youth play video games. What if the power of these games to engage and entertain could be used to teach as well?

    "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, 2011

    In response to the President’s call to action to create compelling educational software, the White House recently hosted its first-ever education game jam, the culminating event of an education games week developed with the U.S. Department of Education. Over the weekend of September 6-7, 100 game developers plus 35 teachers, learning researchers, and students gathered together at Difference Engine, an education technology startup in Washington, D.C., to develop new, fun ways to learn.

  • Kevin Pearce: "I may never get to stand on the Olympic podium, but:"

    Yesterday, at the White House, some of America’s leading researchers, scientists, and technologists met to discuss how to answer one of our next grand challenges -- the human brain.

    In fact, the 3-pound mass between our ears, remains one of the greatest mysteries in science. Nearly 100 trillion neural connections, which help drive our thoughts, emotions, and actions, remain uncharted.

    But just like scientists mapped the human genome, catalyzing breakthroughs, creating jobs, and birthing industries, we are now poised to capture a dynamic image of the human brain.

    The President’s BRAIN Initiative has amassed more than $300 million in commitments from the private, public, philanthropic, and academic sectors in an all-hands-on-deck effort to accelerate the development and application of new technologies to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how cells and circuits interact at the speed of thought. These technologies will open new windows into the world of the brain, and help us tackle disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury.

    That’s why students and scientists, companies and citizens -- and even former competitive snowboarder Kevin Pearce -- are coming together to answer the President’s call to action to take the next great leap in human discovery by unlocking the mysteries of the human brain.

    Read the message that Kevin sent to the White House email list this morning about the BRAIN initiative -- and why it's personal for him:

  • PCAST Examines Technology for Targeting Job-Skills Training and Matching Talent to Jobs

    Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a letter report to the President about opportunities for information technology (IT) to improve the way the labor market works and to help get more people into jobs. The report – which focuses on “middle-skill” workers, people whose jobs require post-secondary training, but not a conventional college degree – describes how IT can be used to enhance interactions among workers, trainers, and employers, and to help boost the performance of the labor market as a whole.

    Getting more people into jobs calls for closing the gap between the kinds of skills potential workers have and the kinds of skills needed for jobs that are currently available.  IT can play a role in assessing skills of a potential employee or workforce and helping to facilitate targeted training opportunities, beginning with students and other individuals who are already investigating job and training options.  IT can also be deployed to help analyze, at a large scale, what kinds of jobs are available, where they are available, and what skills are available admits the talent-pool that is actively seeking work. Building on such analyses, it can help in the matching of workers with jobs.

    In its new report, PCAST recommends three steps the Federal Government can take to enhance the performance of the U.S. middle-skill labor market:

    • Improve the operation of the worker-trainer-employer ecosystem by better coordination of related Federal efforts.  In addition to continuing to support the important activities at the Departments of Labor and Education, as encouraged by the White House’s Ready to Work report, engage the convening power of the Department of Commerce, which can help to bring industry together with government to foster improvements to the WTE system, as well as encourage activity such as technical standards-setting and approaches to facilitate information exchange across the associated ecosystem.
    • Continue to support development of information technology to facilitate assessment of skills and training needs, counseling about training and career options, and delivery of training that culminates in credentials that can be validated.  Federal support for IT research can not only generate new capabilities, it can also promote commercial use by helping to prove concepts and lower costs.
    • The Federal Government should lead by example in exploring opportunities to use information technology, in particular large-scale Web services in the private sector and machine-learning capabilities emerging from research, to identify and forecast the detailed skills required in the evolving Federal workforce and to match candidates from across the country with those opportunities.  Further, in skill development, the Federal Government should look to harness both private-sector and captive IT-based training mechanisms to deliver the ongoing skills development required for new and existing Federal employees.