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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 century.

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 technologies.

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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