LearnLab Grant Money

by John Gross
Layout Staff

Last Tuesday, the National Science Foundation jointly awarded Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh one of three $25 million federal grants to be used towards the study of learning and better education. This innovative endeavor is being co-directed by faculty members from both universities including Carnegie Mellon associate professor of human-computer interaction and psychology Kenneth Koedinger and Kurt VanLehn, a University of Pittsburgh computer science professor and senior scientist of Pitt?s Learning Research and Development Center.
In the beginning of the selection process, 60 different colleges and universities applied for grant money. Eventually, the group was narrowed down to 12, and then to the final three. The other two awardees of the grant money were Boston University and a joint program between the University of Washington and Stanford University.
Koedinger and VanLehn together will use their grant towards managing the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center. A major part of the center includes an educational facility nicknamed ?LearnLab,? which provides technology for Koedinger and VanLehn to use to help explain why certain educational methods work better compared to other ones. ?I think we?re going to fundamentally change how students learn,? said Koedinger.
Over the next five years, experimental and observational studies will occur in high school and college settings, with high emphasis on computer education. Experimenting and testing out theories in laboratory and classroom settings are the only current plans as yet. Researchers plan to try out all different approaches in several courses including two high-school mathematics classes, two college science classes, and three college language classes. The courses include algebra and geometry, chemistry and physics, and Chinese, French, and English. Approaches include learning through technology, tutoring systems, and tracking student processes and progress with the simple yet challenging goal of improving education. An added advantage with the tracking of student progress is that researchers will be able to see the benefits that arise through the tracking from the beginning to end of the studies.
?Carnegie Learning,? a currently existing high school program, will be involved with LearnLab. Koedinger stressed that there needs to be a balance between the realism of experiments in the classroom and the rigor of experiments in a lab setting.
Under the ?No Child Left Behind? bill, each school is required to be able to show an improvement in academic performance. Thus, with this grant money, Koedinger hopes that proven instructional techniques can be developed through this program. Koedinger stated, ?This is a very timely and needed endeavor.?
With more progression in the studies, Koedinger hopes to be able to send college students from both universities to various high schools to serve as role models, tutors and aids to the experiments. ?We hope to produce trustworthy results about education.?