Fueling Education Innovation with Open Data

Earlier this month, as part of the Education Data Initiative, a diverse set of educational technology experts and entrepreneurs joined staff from the White House and Department of Education to participate in an “Education Data Jam” at the George Washington School of Business. One of the goals of the half-day workshop was to brainstorm how freely available datasets—i.e. open data—might be used by entrepreneurs and innovators for new products, services, or apps that improve student outcomes or help families with college selection and affordability.

Launched by the Obama Administration earlier this year, the Education Data Initiative is an Administration-wide effort to “liberate” government data and voluntarily-contributed non-government data as fuel to spur entrepreneurship, create value, and create jobs while improving educational outcomes for students.

Led by the U.S. Department of Education, in close partnership with the White House, the Education Data Initiative has two fundamental goals. First, it seeks to work with data owners inside and outside of government to make education-related data available, machine-readable, and accessible, while ensuring personal privacy is protected. Second, the initiative fosters collaboration with private-sector entrepreneurs and innovators by ensuring that they are aware of existing and new types of data and encouraging them to leverage these data for new products and services that improve student success.  The Education Data Initiative also encourages schools to enable students to securely download electronic copies of their own transcript and assessment data to store in their personal learning profiles and use in personalized learning tools.

Participants at the Education Data Jam developed a number of interesting ideas about how open data can be put to use, including:

  • College and Career Pathway Planner - a personalized career planner based on students’ unique interests and performance.
  • “Kayak” for Colleges - a meta-search engine for students evaluating different colleges.  The search results could be customized based upon an individual’s financial student aid data.
  • Students Like Me - a recommendation tool that helps students find the right college for “students like them” based on program information, learning preferences, affordability, and location.

If you are interested in seeing all of the ideas generated at the workshop, check out the project summaries and materials from the Data Jam.  You can also contribute your own ideas for new products, applications, features and services that leverage open data by e-mailing EdTech@ed.gov. If you’ve already got a great product, service, or application that uses open educational data, let us know! 

Nick Sinai is the Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.  Richard Culatta is the Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the US Department of Education.

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