A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
December 15, 1999
Department of Education Leads Improved Learning Programs
Editor of E-Gov Journal discussed the issue of electronic government with Craig Luigart, the new Chief Information Officer of the U.S. Department of Education.
Editor: Mr. Luigart, you are relatively new to Education's CIO position. How did your previous position prepare you for this position?
Luigart: Yes, I am new, having been in this position for only three months. Previously, I was CTO for a medical process automation and clinical support technology provider in the South East and prior to that for the Navy's Information Infrastructure in the Washington Region. During the time I spent in the health care sector, I developed a great sense of the role of the Internet in providing access to emerging technologies for patient care and improved medical services.
Editor: Does this translate into electronic government thinking for the Department of Education?
Luigart: I think it does.
Editor: How would you define electronic government for your position at Education?
Luigart: I believe electronic government translate to service that provides for paperless processing. It is both reactive to requirements and proactive in anticipated needs. Service comes directly through the Internet or through extranets. Extranets are included because of the sensitive information involved in business transactions, and to protect our relationship with customers and partners. Electronic government must serve constitients, our customers, and all Education's stakeholders. It is a real-time operation that improves time to market. It is always sensitive to the need for customer satisfaction.
Editor: Do you see it as a fully automated process?
Luigart: Not at all! Human interaction is an important element of electronic government, especially in education. It responds to customers personally, in a virtual environment.
Editor: What do you mean by a virtual environment?
Luigart: Since coming on board, I have written a great deal of material, yet unpublished, on virtual classrooms and my views of education in the post Guttenberg era. I expect this material to be released in the near future. It explains my concept of virtual environments, especially in the context of experiential education and learning — technology beased simulation providing typical real life problems and experiences.
Editor: Is the virual classroom your idea, or is it part of the Department's philosophy?
Luigart: Secretary Riley asked me when I came on board to help foster new concepts for improving educational systems and increasing support to help students meet higher learning requirements. It's my idea that virtual classrooms and embedded experiential learning are a large part of this conceptualization.
Editor: How do you envision the implementation of virtual classrooms? Do they vary across the different levels of education, such as post-secondary and K through 12?
Luigart: It does vary across the different levels of education. Virtual classrooms can easily provide experiential training. They blend simulation with traditional textbook processes. As a Navy pilot, I benefited from the training we went through that brought visualization in simulated environments together with the then traditional classroom and book learning. This part of virtual clasroon ranges across all levels of education. There are differences, however. I can give you an example of how the secondary classroom benefits for a virtual environment. My daughter communicates across the Web with friends in the French school system. Interactively, they learn language skills from each other. Schools around the world can share educational programs through direct interaction between the students.
Editor: But isn't it true that in a language such as French, a great deal of the language skill comes from oral communication?
Luigart: Yes, it is true, and with the integration of an "internet phone," oral communication becomes a reality. The Toyota plant in partnership with the schools in Georgetown, Kentucky, already have a virtual classroon set up between the schools and sites in Japan with visual and sound capabilities to assist in teaching Japanese language skills. Japanese is another language sensitive to subtle pronunciation. The difficult logistic problem here is that we are dealing with points several time zones away. We may have to test such distance learning programs on a north-south basis, or at least within a small time zone band.
Editor: How does the virtual classroon serve higher education levels?
Luigart: Education must support different learning environments. Games that use virtual reality like Sony's PlayStation or the Sega Dreamcast can be used to promote basic understanding necessary for many disciplines such as chemistry or physics. Children will not be educated appropriately if we don't take these new technologies in our thinking. I go back to the computer games as an example. When I discuss such technologies in many educational settings, I get questions of relevance. People have to begin to understand that the skills our children are learning with computer games with advances visualization can be applied to educational settings. I can forsee that by the year 2006 an 18-year old who enters college may already be skilled in advances physics concepts because of the accessibility to similar skills embedded in virtual reality environments in earlier game play. We have an obligation to the children of our generation who will become adults in the near future. Their needs can be expected to transcend traditional teaching techniques broght about in the post Guttenburg age.
Editor: What is an example of an immediate support to customers?
Luigart: Today, students and universities should be able to access the education system and get the information on promising practices, research based ideas to improve education, as well as financial aid to help students and parents pay for college. This includes financial information as well as student application requirements ans qualifications. The response must be in real-time.
Editor: One of the major issues that the education community associates with the Department's programs is grants management. Several other federal agencies share in such a program. What is your perspective on how these agencies can work together?
Luigart: Yes, agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Transportation have evolving electronic grant programs. We all come together as part of the Federal Common Group to examine areas in which we can develop common solutions.
Editor: Can you describe how common solutions might work for different grants?
Luigart: Each grant program is established by a Congressional Act, by different legistative action. It's like a Venn diagram. There is overlap in the informational requirements in all these programs. We propose to examine the overlap to see what effeciencies can be developed to improve common processing. There are in each area differences, intended by Congress. These differences must be addressed individually by each agency program. We hope to find common elements to standardize grants processing and process management. The uniqueness of each program gets embellished beyond the standards. We have to stay within the Department rather than accept requirements identified for other programs with different sources of funding and support. Interaction between provider and customer must include support to all stakeholders; agencies, students, universities, guarantors, third-party buisness facilitators, all within the framework of the requirements of the legislation.
Editor: What educational issues are more immediate for the Department?
Luigart: The Department has a major concern for the inequalities that currently exist in educational jurisdictions. One of the problems is in the distribution of computer eqiupment and Internet accessibility. It's possible to visit one school that has 500 or more computers all wired to the Internet in a training environment with award-winning faculty. Down the street a few miles is another school with only a handful of computers with little access to outside networks. The second problem is that equal education programs are not available to the handicapped or otherwise disadvantaged child. We believe it is our responsibility to assure that every child in America has an equal opportunity to learn, and that technology is available to increase the opportunity to improve educational experiences. The third problem is the need for teacher familiarization — here is a need for a greater awareness concerning strategies for the most effective use and implementation of technology in the classroom.