December 2, 2001
A Fund For America's Future,
A Digital Gift To The Nation
We recommend the creation
of the Digital Opportunity Investment Trust (DO IT), a nonprofit, nongovernmental
agency designed to meet the urgent need to transform learning in the 21st
Our emerging knowledge-based economy makes the people's access to knowledge
and learning-across-a-lifetime in the sciences and humanities a national
imperative. DO IT will do for education what NIH does for health, NSF
does for science, and DARPA does for national defense.
It is the 21st century counterpart of the 19th century's Land-Grant Colleges
Act and the 20th century's GI Bill. DO IT's charge will be to unlock the
potential of the Internet and other new information technologies for education
in the broadest sense; to stimulate public and private sector research
into the development and use of new learning techniques, and to encourage
public and private sector partnerships and alliances in education, science,
the humanities, the arts, civic affairs and government.
For example, DO IT will commission research and fund the development of
models and prototypes to: Train teachers in the best uses of new information
Digitize America's collected memory stored in our nation's universities,
libraries, and museums to make these materials available for use at home,
school, and work. Develop learning models and simulations that invite
the learner to explore a virtual solar system, an authentic three-dimensional
model of the human body, a realistic trip to Mars, a historic recreation
of Mark Twain's America.
Create voice sensitive computer programs to teach language to new immigrants
as well as fourth graders. Create inviting training materials for workforce
development, adult learning, skills improvement, and civic engagement.
Develop programs that measure the learning progress of individual students
so teachers can adjust their teaching to the specific needs and abilities
of each learner.
Utilize new technologies to disseminate the best of our arts and culture
locally, regionally, nationally, and even globally. The proposed Trust
will be financed by revenues earned from investing $18 billion received
from the mandated FCC auctions of the radio spectrum.
This parallels the historic use of revenues from the sale of public lands,
which helped finance public education in every new state and created the
great system of land-grant colleges voted by Congress and signed by President
Lincoln during the darkest days of the Civil War.
In this digital age, libraries, museums, school systems, community colleges,
universities, arts and cultural centers, public broadcasting stations,
and other such institutions need to make innovative use of advanced information
technologies to continue to serve their essential public purposes.
DO IT will help make that happen. Examples of projects -- It is obviously
impossible to predict what might happen as a result of the wave of creativity
and innovation that would be unleashed by the Grossman/Minow proposal.
Here are a few possible scenarios, many of which are based on ongoing
work in research institutions: Students who need help with their reading
skills have access to a computer-based reading tutor.
Students can chose one of their favorite stories, and practice reading
it out loud. Using speech recognition and speech understanding, the software
can diagnose mistakes with ninety-five percent accuracy, and determine
which reading skills the student needs help with.
Software that has been designed for adults with low literacy levels or
who are learning English as a Second Language is also available. Many
of the classics (great novels, history, philosophy, etc.) that are in
the public domain are now accessible in an easy-to-read format and downloadable
to an affordable e-book.
Large "digital libraries" allow students to learn about America's history
and culture using primary documents - such as digitized archives from
Presidential libraries and online oral historie
s. Medical students practice complicated surgeries on "digital humans."
Haptic feedback enables the student's sense of touch actually to "feel"
making a particular kind of incision - which significantly reduces medical
errors. Political science students are transported to the virtual Oval
Office to advise the President on a foreign policy crisis.
The President's key advisors can't agree on the best course of action,
and are divided between "hawks" and "doves." To develop a proposed strategy
and justify their answer, students listen to the competing advisors and
hear "war stories" in the form of short video clips from real diplomats
and political figures.
Students use remote supercomputers to model the energy efficiency of their
houses, and offer suggestions to their parents about how they might reduce
their heating bill. People who are making the transition from welfare-to-work
have access to training software that gives them the "soft skills" they
need for entry-level jobs.
For example, they might use a simulation that realistically portrays a
range of customers, some of whom are irate. Computer-based assessment
also gives people in low-income jobs a sense for what skills they need
to acquire to compete for higher-wage jobs. Students play for hours in
online, multiplayer games.
As opposed to slaying mythical monsters or alien mutants, however, students
in these online worlds are learning the skills they need to establish
their own businesses or better understand our political processes.
Business schools and companies often host "tournaments" for at-risk youth
during the summer, which encourages many of them to become entrepreneurs.
Students routinely take "virtual field trips" to the bottom of the ocean,
ancient ruins, and to other planets.
They can also use remote satellite imagery and demographic data to increase
their understanding of foreign countries. People visit online museums
to view paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.
Objects are captured using a laser-based 3-D camera, allowing visitors
to look at a priceless artifact from any angle. A virtual docent is available
to answer questions on the background of the artist and his or her works.
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