appeal of the online world, for some people in some circumstances,
is undeniable. Devotees of massively multiplayer online games
can spend almost as much time in virtual worlds as they do
in the "real" world. Web sites, despite the hit-or-miss
quality of information, have become important sources of
knowledge. Chat rooms, instant messaging and e-mail have
become key to establishing communities and keeping in touch.
Distance learning makes it possible to take college courses
at your own speed from any computer.
These technologies and others will one day enable virtual "one-on-one" instruction
for students of all ages, tailored to their learning style,
in an environment of unlimited digital resources. To do so
will require a concerted effort from computer science researchers
that ranks as a grand challenge for information systems.
For such learning environments, intelligent tutors must
be able to adapt to the subject matter and a student's learning
style. Tutors will be not only a source of knowledge but
also a guide as the student explores vast online resources.
Simulations and modeling, which provides great insight to
computational scientists, must be adapted as a learning tool.
A model, for example, must match a student's learning level
as well as the topic at hand.
Of course, much research is also needed to evaluate existing
technologies and incorporate their strengths into engaging
and effective learning environments. And learning should
not be an isolated activity. Research must also provide tools
that allow students to work together to solve problems, conduct
experiments in virtual labs, write joint papers or create
At NSF, education is a core part of the agency's mission. Applying
technology to the needs of learners is a goal that spans the
agency. The Computer and Information Science and Engineering
directorate has its own emphasis on education and workforce,
with programs, for example, that support the design, development,
testing and dissemination of innovative approaches for increasing
the effectiveness of educational experiences.
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The Computing Research Association outlined five
Research Challenges in a report resulting from a three-day
workshop supported by the National Science Foundation. The
grand challenges relate to building the information systems
of the future and provide long-term goals for the activities
of the research community.