Eric Westervelt

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During Betsy DeVos' bitter confirmation hearing last month for education secretary, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet pointed to Denver as a potential national model of a big city school district that's found an innovative, balanced approach to school choice.

There hasn't been a more controversial pick for secretary of education, arguably, in recent memory than Donald Trump's choice of Betsy DeVos. The Senate confirmation hearings for the billionaire Republican fundraiser and activist from Michigan start today.

On campuses today almost every educational interaction leaves digital traces. Assignments and feedback are given through online portals; debates and discussions happen via learning management systems as well as in classrooms, cafes and dorm rooms.

Those and other digital crumbs give technologists the opportunities to examine the processes, practices and goals of higher education in ways that were largely impossible a decade or so ago.

'Tis the day after Christmas and all through the house many kids aren't stirring... They're joyfully lost in their new smartphones, tablets or smart TVs.

And it's likely mom and dad are a little digitally distracted too.

In many households, screens are omnipresent. That reality has some big implications for children. Researchers, for example, have found language delays in those who watch more television.

Companies use lots and lots of data, including your daily Web surfing, to help them sell you stuff. They follow you across the Internet with annoying ads, and the data they collect is now essential for their business.

So why aren't the best minds in higher education doing more to tap all that information to improve teaching and learning?

Now, some of them are. Schools such as Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., are wading into the data streams of what's being called "predictive and learning analytics."

If you got 13 percent back on your investments every year, you'd be pretty happy, right? Remember, the S&P 500, historically, has averaged about 7 percent when adjusted for inflation.

What if the investment is in children, and the return on investment not only makes economic sense but results in richer, fuller, healthier lives for the entire family?

The unofficial motto of a public charter school co-founded by Betsy DeVos — President-elect Trump's choice to lead the Department of Education — could be "No Pilot Left Behind."

Nearby a small maintenance hangar that's part of the West Michigan Aviation Academy, one of the school's two Cessna 172 airplanes chugs down the tarmac of Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The school is based on the airport's grounds, just outside Grand Rapids.

President-elect Donald Trump has picked billionaire Betsy DeVos, a Michigan Republican activist and philanthropist who is a strong supporter of school choice but has limited experience with public education, as his secretary of education.

DeVos, 58, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and helped push a failed 2000 ballot proposal to amend the Michigan state Constitution to create a voucher system for students to attend nonpublic schools.

We've always been a hands-on, DIY kind of nation. Ben Franklin didn't just invent the lightning rod. His creations include bifocals, swim fins, the catheter, innovative stoves and more.

Franklin, who was largely self-taught, may have been a genius, but he wasn't really an outlier when it comes to American making and tinkering.

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