Education Innovation Clusters: Sustaining the Momentum
How far have EdClusters come since launching as an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education and where will they go as Digital Promise takes the lead?
Education Innovation Clusters (or EdClusters) are collaborative regional networks designed to “accelerate the pace of innovation by bringing together education, research, and commercial partners.” The EdClusters concept and the framework behind it was foundational to the establishment of the Remake Learning Network in the greater Pittsburgh region and we’ve written regularly about EdClusters over the past four years, tracking their development from a promising idea borrowed from another field, to the first proof points emerging, to the discussion of guiding principles for cluster development, to the work now underway by Digital Promise to support EdClusters across the country.
Last month, Katrina Stevens, the outgoing Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, shared a blog post on Medium about the past:
Taking a step back before my time at the Department, at the request of then Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Shelton in 2011, Richard Culatta began an exploration of innovation cluster grants given by the Department of Commerce. Finding no education-focused grants, and few education-related proposals in the pipeline, Richard began developing a plan to support the creation of education innovation clusters. In those early days, the Department pulled together two of the first annual education innovation cluster convenings in Philadelphia (2012) and then Arizona (2013) with a handful of participants.
It became clear that the work would be advanced more effectively with an external partner. When the U.S. Department of Education partnered with Digital Promise in 2014 to provide support for these regional education innovation clusters, the annual convenings began to gain grow exponentially.
In August of 2014, I was fortunate to attend the 3rd Annual Convening in Pittsburgh, which was co-hosted by the Department, Digital Promise, the Remake Learning Network, and the Sprout Fund. I was energized by the school visits, which included seeing students using makerspaces, and hearing from other regions how they were building communities across their different stakeholders.
My experience at this convening cemented for me the importance of clusters having opportunities to learn and grow with and from one another. Since joining OET, we co-hosted two additional convenings with Digital Promise and our regional hosts, LEAP Innovations in Chicago in August 2015, and the Highlander Institute and the Rhode Island Office of Innovation in Providence, RI, in September 2016, both events bringing in well over 100 participants.
And the future of EdClusters:
Over the past two and half years, the Office of Educational Technology has been honored to work closely with Digital Promise to provide leadership for education innovation clusters.
As education innovation clusters move into the next phase, our hope is that the incredible momentum begun will continue to build. Thanks to all of the regional ed tech ecosystems, and Digital Promise, education innovation clusters are a real, connected community. While the larger ecosystem system is still in its early stages, it has matured to the point where we have confidence this work will continue.
As an idea borne out of work that began in the U.S. Department of Education in 2011, the future of EdClusters is now in the hands of the community of cities and regions that make up this national network of educators and innovators. As a proud member of this community, Remake Learning is more committed than ever to working with our fellow EdCluster pioneers and those communities just starting to organize for education innovation.