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Former NC Gov. Bev Perdue launches digital learning nonprofit

By Caitlin Owens
cowens@newsobserver.com

Former Democrat Gov. Bev Perdue had a few kind words for the GOP-led state legislature and her successor Wednesday as she launched DigiLEARN, a nonprofit that wants to enhance education through digital learning.

Perdue, a former teacher, pushed for more technology in schools while she was in office, and some of her efforts are now seen in school systems statewide. She said the legislature has been “very generous” in its continuation of funding for digital education.

DigiLEARN or Digital Learning Institute, which she founded and chairs, seeks to foster collaboration between educators, policymakers and entrepreneurs. She says that’s what sets it apart from other organizations promoting digital learning.

It’s also a marked difference from the regimen most schools require students to follow.

“We have policies in place (in schools) all over the country ... You have to be there 180 days, you have to make up a snow day, you have to be in a seat, learning has to take place from 8 till 4,” she said. Digital learning is different, she said, because it allows students, no matter their age, to “learn in their own time and their own place.”

Myra Best, the project director for DigiLEARN, called it personalizing learning. She said the organization will focus both on finding new technologies and implementing emerging technologies in schools. These include rapid analytics that provide feedback on how students are doing, digital literacy and, ultimately, tools that allow students to conduct self-assessment.

DigiLEARN, which is funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and one from the Carnegie Corp., is in its planning stage. It held its first strategic planning session with board members, educators and business leaders on Wednesday afternoon at the Friday Institute on N.C. State University’s campus.

Perdue, in an interview before the session started, placed particular emphasis on the importance of the role of policymakers and the need for policy change.

“In the South, we’re about where we were 100 years ago in terms of educational policy,” she said.

The launch of her nonprofit came one day after Gov. Pat McCrory vowed to get a teacher pay package through the General Assembly once it reconvenes in May.

“I was delighted this morning to see the comment that there would be teacher pay increases for this next calendar year,” Perdue said. “We are losing teachers, and I hope that that statement covers community colleges and universities, too, as well as state employees.”

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