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Hartford Avenue University School
Eighth-grade students investigate absorption of the Sun's energy by earth's various surfaces at Hartford Avenue University School, a participant in the Milwaukee Urban Systemic Initiative. One of the most successful MUSI components involves identifying lead teachers—those whose teaching methods are especially interactive and exciting—and providing them with in-depth training on inquiry-based curriculum by instructors at the Center for Mathematics and Science Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Credit: Sam Castro, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Research Profile Magazine

A Teacher for every learner The 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 team projects.

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.

The Taming of Complexity [Next]

The Computing Research Association outlined five illustrative Grand 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.