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Policy: Technology

Ex-NC Gov. Perdue announces education tech effort

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News,Science and Technology,North Carolina,Technology

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue returned briefly Wednesday to the public stage after a year away by announcing her initiative to expand the scope and value of electronic technology for teaching students of all ages.

Perdue, the founder and chairwoman of DigiLEARN, or the Digital Learning Institute, envisions the effort as bringing together teachers, policymakers, entrepreneurs and students to develop the most effective online or portable learning tools. The idea, Perdue said, is to determine how technology can best be used, then encourage companies or software engineers develop it for use in all classrooms.

DigiLEARN "will help build a pathway so that we can scale digital learning all over the world," Perdue said at a news conference as the institute held a strategic planning meeting on the North Caroilna State University campus. Such digital innovation also can lead to job creation, she added.

Perdue, a Democrat from New Bern, was elected North Carolina's first female governor in 2008 and left office in January 2013 after choosing not to seek re-election. Since then, Perdue has spent time on the campuses of Harvard and Duke universities and started a consulting firm.

Now the ex-governor says she'll give a lot of time to the institute, which is getting off the ground thanks to $450,000 in grants from the Carnegie Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The next steps are to flesh out the nonprofit foundation's work and raise additional funds.

"This is a primary job for me because I want to see it succeed," Perdue said.

Now age 67 and out of elected office for the first time in more than 25 years, Perdue has chosen to remain on the political sidelines as Republicans have run state government since she left the Executive Mansion. Fellow Democrats have complained GOP Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature are reversing course on education.

Save for praising words from McCrory this week on teacher pay increases, Perdue didn't want to comment on the past year in state government, saying it was a day to talk about digital learning.

"I politely decline," she said. Perdue said McCrory and legislative leaders have spoken out in support of digital learning efforts.

Perdue, a former public school teacher herself, was involved in digital learning expansion while governor and previously lieutenant governor. She helped in the creation of the North Carolina Virtual Public School, where tens of thousands of students take classes online, and promoted the use of hand-held devices for teachers to assess students.

Perdue held the news conference with vice chairman and former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer. He talked about how the Western Governors University — an online, accredited college founded by 19 governors and which he is a founder and current trustee board chairman — is a great example of how technology transforms education. Students work at their own pace and can be assessed for learning skills and concepts on a routine basis, not just at midterms and exam time.

Young learners are engaged by technology found in smartphones and tablets, Geringer said.

"If you can make that work in a classroom you've got the opportunity for 'discovery learning' that every child gets very excited about," he said.

The DigiLEARN board includes, among others, former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, former National Education Association executive director John Wilson and the CEOs of the Research Triangle Foundation and broadband infrastructure provider MCNC. Wednesday's scheduled speakers included former Gov. Jim Hunt and venture capital company founder Michael Moe.

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