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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
January 14, 2005

Hewlett Foundation Grant Will Fund the Next Wave of Carnegie Mellon's Free Online Courses

PITTSBURGH—The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has awarded Carnegie Mellon University a $1.5 million grant to fund the next phase of the university's Open Learning Initiative (OLI), a cutting-edge program to develop online versions of high-demand courses in fields ranging from biology and chemistry to statistics.

The grant, the second that Carnegie Mellon has received from the Hewlett Foundation for the project, will allow the university to expand the number of courses it currently offers through OLI from four to 12. The introductory-level university courses are available free to anyone with Internet access and for a nominal fee to colleges and universities that want to offer them to their students for credit. In the long term, OLI will help colleges and universities cope with a surge in enrollments at the same time that higher-education budgets are shrinking. To date, 3,500 students at 35 institutions have enrolled in the courses.

"Despite its potential, the World Wide Web has not made a truly significant impact on how people learn or how higher education is delivered. We believe that Carnegie Mellon University, with its emphasis on interdisciplinary, research-based instruction, can change that," said Marshall S. Smith, education program director for the Hewlett Foundation.

In 2002, the foundation awarded Carnegie Mellon $1.9 million to launch the project.

"This is not technology for technology's sake. This is something that will make a positive difference in the lives of students and in the quality of education that our colleges and universities can provide," Smith said.

A major difference between OLI and other online education programs is that OLI incorporates sophisticated research by professors at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center into how people learn successfully. The courses provide real-time feedback, pinpoint students' individual weaknesses and provide them with individualized tutoring to suit their specific needs. Students are able to work at their own pace. The courses that currently are available are: causal reasoning, statistics, economics, and logic. Others to be added under the new grant are advanced statistics, biology, calculus, chemistry, empirical research methods, French, physics, and statics (mechanical engineering).

"Ultimately, OLI will take us from merely putting textbooks on the Web to effective, learner-centered online education. The work is transformational. It's the sort of thing we've long hoped for but almost never have seen in educational technology," said lead researcher Joel Smith, vice provost for computing services at Carnegie Mellon.

Faculty in several disciplines at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh have come together to produce the OLI courses, including experts in human-computer interaction and cognitive science. The OLI project will collaborate with the new Pittsburgh Science of Learning Science, a joint Carnegie Mellon-Pitt education research center that was launched in the fall with a $25 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Previously, several faculty involved in the OLI project, created Carnegie Mellon's popular Cognitive Tutor®, a comprehensive secondary mathematics curricula and computer-based tutoring program that has been commended by the U.S. Department of Education and is in use in 1,500 schools nationwide.


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