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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Announces New Private/Public Technology-Based Learning Initiative

In a Wall Street Journal Op Ed this morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced a new “unique public-private partnership called Digital Promise.” Digital Promise, Duncan and Reed write, is meant “to advance breakthrough technologies that transform teaching and learning in and out of the classroom, while creating a business environment that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Digital Promise encourages a market-oriented approach to technology-based learning by mixing public money and private leadership. The ultimate goal of the partnership is to provide a “more efficient market for education technology.” Secretary Duncan notes that Digital Promise is modeled after successful companies like Netflix, which use “low-cost experimentation” to improve outputs. By using this approach, Digital Promise hopes to identify those educational technology tools which help students, and abandon those which do not.

Organizations like Digital Promise and the Susan Crown Exchange help refocus the debate over 21st Century learning. The question America’s educators should be asking is no longer whether computers should play a role in education; for better or worse, that question was long ago answered. Rather, Digital Promise focuses on finding ways to make the most efficient use of what has become an ubiquitous part of the American classroom. The Harlan Institute seeks to accomplish this same goal by using new technology to connect students with timeless constitutional lessons.

Constitution Day Presentation by David McCullough from the Constitutional Sources Project

Today is Constitution Day, which urges educators to respond to the federal mandate to teach the Constitution in their classrooms. There are a number of websites, like iCivics and the National Constitution Center, that are offering videos and games to help teachers meet this mandate in a way that engages their students.

We recommend that you check out this video lecture by David McCullough of the Constitutional Sources Project, made available at the ConSource website. In this 30 minute lecture recorded at the National Archives in Washington DC, McCullough describes how our Founding Fathers joined together “and in the midst of crisis… arrived at the words we live by.”

On behalf of Harlan Institute, Happy Constitution Day!

Supreme Court to Decide Whether GPS Tracking Constitutes an “Unreasonable Search”

This fall, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in U.S. v. Jones, a case where modern technology meets the guarantee against “unreasonable search and seizure” in the 4th Amendment. Specifically, the case raises the question: Do police need a warrant to install a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitor his behavior?

While some courts have applied the protections of the 4th Amendment to cases involving e-mail and cell phone use, the Supreme Court has yet to consider the implications of the police using common and current technology like GPS tracking.  In fact, two of the most recent precedents for this case are Kyllo v. U.S. (which held that police cannot use a thermal imaging device to “search” a suspect’s house without a warrant) and U.S. v. Knotts(a 1983 case dealing with police use of beepers).

The D.C. Court of Appeals held in this case that police must obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS device to the suspects car and tracking his movement for weeks at a time.  Other district courts, however, have held that GPS tracking is no different than the permissible practice of a police “shadow surveillance,” which involves officers staking out and tailing a suspect. These judges reason that the GPS simply allows the officer to tail an individual more efficiently, and therefore, can be done without a warrant.

The New York Times is calling U.S. v. Jones “the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade,” and certainly the Supreme Court’s holding may have widespread effects on the ability of law enforcement to use GPS and other modern technology for the surveillance of individuals.

Technology in the Classroom: Misguided Investment or Immeasurable Benefit?

As a new school year begins, an article in the New York Times considers a conundrum in the current push for the use of technology in the classroom. The article highlights Kyrene School District where, after major investments, the classes are “decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject.” Despite the presence of cutting-edge technology, however, Kyrene has seen no improvement in their students’ math and reading scores. In fact, since the technological upgrade in 2005, the school’s scores have remained stagnant, while the statewide average has risen.

The article considers several possible explanations for stagnant scores in a tech-savvy school like Kyrene; many of which look to the way we assess educational progress in general. For example, while standardized tests reflect that the students at Kyrene have stagnated in past years, the tests do not show the subsequent improvement of students’ technological skills, which are arguably more important in the digital age. Proponents argues that “technology has inspired students and helped them grow, but that there is no good way to quantify those achievements.”

Further, the assessment of technology in the classroom underscores an important point: as the push for more technology increases, “computers are not intended to replace teachers.” To the districts that pour money into laptops and Smart Boards while cutting their budgets and laying off teachers, Bryan Goodwin, spokesman for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, points out: “Good teachers can make good use of computers, while bad teachers won’t, and they and their students could wind up becoming distracted by the technology.”

The ideal educational structure, it seems, is one where a teacher can use technological tools to engage with students, as a jumping off point for further discussion or independent analysis. This idea rings true when thinking of the classrooms that use FantasySCOTUS as a teaching tool. While Harlan Institute aims to provide resources that fit into history and civics curricula in the digital age, the important part happens in the classroom as students think critically about cases and respond with blog posts or as classes collaborate to predict the outcome of a case before casting their vote on the website. This year, we have also introduced the Podcast Badge, which allows students to record their responses to certain topics, and we hope some students will experiment with this medium and enhance their oral communication skills.

The National Constitution Center Features the Harlan Institute on Its Constitution Daily Blog

The National Constitution Center, whose extraordinary museum sits directly across from the birthplace of the Constitution in Philadelphia, recently noted the role that the Harlan Institute plays in bringing civics education to the modern classroom.  The NCC featured a blog post by Harlan Institute President and Co-Founder Josh Blackman in which Blackman discussed the success of FantasySCOTUS in teaching students about the Supreme Court, the Constitution and our legal system.  “What makes FantasySCOTUS.org so effective for pedagogical purposes,” Blackman wrote, “is that it is real.”

The NCC has clearly shown the need for a resurgence in civics education and the Harlan Institute is proud to share the NCC’s goal of bringing the Constitution to life in a fun and interactive medium with which students can relate.


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