April 20, 2015

Carnegie Corporation of New York Grants Carnegie Mellon $1 Million To Support Activities of the Simon Initiative

The Carnegie Corporation of New York has awarded Carnegie Mellon University a $1 million, two-year grant, to demonstrate and help promote the use of technology-enhanced learning techniques in higher education.

The grant — Carnegie Corporation's largest ever to CMU — will allow the university to better understand and develop strategies to overcome the roadblocks to using technology-enhanced learning (TEL) resources.

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March 17, 2015

CMU Scientists Discover How the Brain Learns the Way Things Work

When you learn a new technical concept, something happens in your brain, but exactly what has been a mystery until now. For the first time, Carnegie Mellon University scientists have traced the brain processes that occur during the learning of technical concepts. The findings reveal how new technical knowledge is built up in the brain during the course of different learning stages. They also foreshadow the capability to assess the effectiveness of instruction and efficiency of learning by monitoring changes in the brain.

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December 18, 2014

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grants CMU $2 Million To Transform Graduate Education in Humanities

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Carnegie Mellon University a five-year, $2 million grant to use technology-enhanced learning (TEL) to transform and enhance graduate education in the humanities. New TEL and digital humanities courses will be available online and open to anyone. With a well-established legacy of pioneering TEL and through its Simon InitiativeCMU is uniquely positioned to advance digital scholarship and TEL in the humanities.

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October 2, 2014

CMU Takes Learning Science To Next Level

A critical component of the success of The Simon Initiative, Carnegie Mellon University's pioneering development of the field of learning science, is persuading private companies and other education institutions to share learning data.

With $5 million in new National Science Foundation funding, CMU is leading an effort called LearnSphere to accelerate developing and disseminating learning techniques and technologies.

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June 24, 2014

Google Sponsors Carnegie Mellon Research to Improve Effectiveness of Online Education

Paying Attention to How People Learn Promises to Enhance MOOCs.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers will tap data-driven approaches to improving learning as part of a new Google-sponsored effort to unlock the educational potential of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

The multi-year program, made possible through a Google Focused Research Award, employs a variety of methods to improve MOOCs. The research plan includes development of techniques for automatically analyzing and providing feedback on student work, for creating social ties between learners and for designing MOOCS that are effective for students with a variety of cultural backgrounds.

"We're excited about Carnegie Mellon's work on mechanisms to allow online courses to adapt automatically to the learning needs of individual students," says Alfred Spector, vice president of Research and Special Initiatives at Google.  "We believe this research will make online courses much more engaging, and benefit both students and educators around the world."

The goal is to get online courses to be as successful as the best courses in brick-and-mortar classrooms, said Justine Cassell, associate vice provost of technology strategy and impact and co-director of CMU's Simon Initiative, a campus-wide effort that uses learning science and technology to improve student learning.

"A MOOC today typically means a lecture-style presentation with little if any opportunity for interaction with other people in the course," Cassell said. Not surprisingly, most students drop out long before the courses are complete, and learning gains are often low even for those who stick it out. "Unless the MOOCs pay attention to how people actually learn, they will not be able to improve effectiveness, and will end up as just a passing fad," she added.

The CMU program will approach the problem from several directions.

In one thrust, Emma Brunskill, assistant professor of computer science, and Ken Koedinger, professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and director of the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, will use machine-learning techniques to personalize the MOOC learning experience. Computer programs will evaluate each student's work, identifying subject matter that has been mastered and areas where additional study or different types of exercises could be beneficial.

This kind of data-driven learning, pioneered at Carnegie Mellon, has shown to make learning faster and more effective.

In another thrust, Carolyn Rosé, associate professor in the Language Technologies Institute, and Robert Kraut, professor of HCII, will look for ways to reduce attrition. Though many students in MOOCs are simply browsing, even committed students have a high drop-out rate. To improve retention, Kraut and Rosé will look for ways of increasing socialization, through mentoring, team assignments and other techniques. They also seek to identify warning signs that students are in danger of dropping out and to develop interventions to re-engage them in courses.

A third thrust will focus on how to make the content of the course more engaging. Jessica  Hammer, assistant professor in HCII and the Entertainment Technology Center, and Amy Ogan, assistant professor in HCII, will examine how to enhance the pleasurable aspects of MOOCs, adjust the design of courses available globally to account for cultural differences, and develop a deeper understanding of how and when to incorporate game play into MOOCs.

The Google award will fund the research at $300,000 a year for two years, with an option for a third year.

Google's Spector is a member of the Global Learning Council (GLC), which includes leaders from academia, the private sector and the foundation community. Chaired by Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh, the GLC aims to serve as a standards and best-practices resource for individuals and organizations seeking to deploy technology-enhanced learning approaches to improve learning outcomes. The GLC will have its first annual meeting in Pittsburgh in September.

The Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Language Technologies Institute and Computer Science Department are all part of Carnegie Mellon's top-ranked School of Computer Science, which is celebrating its 25th year. Follow the school on Twitter: @SCSatCMU.

May 13, 2014

First Round of ProSEED Simon Initiative Grants Announced

The Simon Initiative has kicked into high gear with the awarding of the first Simon Initiative ProSEED grants. The grants, created by President Suresh following his listening tour during his inaugural year, are intended to play a catalytic role in supporting promising, creative ideas in education and research. President Suresh announced the Simon Initiative in November to accelerate Carnegie Mellon's leadership in developing technology-enhanced learning tools and methods to improve learning outcomes.

In this first round of ProSEED grants, there were 42 applications from faculty across the CMU community interested in developing new course content using technology, or pursuing a new research path in the learning science domain. An eight-member faculty panel representing a balance of educational development concerns and educational research concerns reviewed applications.

"CMU faculty are very active in developing and testing educational innovations. I was delighted — but not at all surprised — to see the breadth of ideas proposed to the ProSEED Simon Initiative Seed Grants program," said Marsha Lovett, Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at CMU and co-director of the Simon Initiative. "It's great to see faculty across CMU departments and colleges collaborating with each other to promote student learning outcomes."

Twelve proposals were selected for funding:

To learn more about ProSEED grants, visit

March 3, 2014

White House Counselor John Podesta Praises CMU's Development of Cognitive Tutors

At the first of three scheduled conferences on big data and privacy hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, White House Counsel John Podesta singled out Carnegie Mellon University's development of cognitive tutors as an example of how big data can be harnessed to develop solutions for societal challenges while respecting privacy.

Podesta, tapped by President Obama to lead the administration's task force on big data, referred to CMU's DataLab as "the world's preeminent central repository for data on the interactions between students and educational software."

Originally funded by the National Science Foundation, the DataLab is a core element of the university-wide Simon Initiative, which aims to harness the science of learning to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on expertise and resources of university, industry, and government members, DataLab partners collect and store hundreds of data sets and accumulate the best analytic methods, thereby creating a research community devoted to improving learning outcomes through empirical research.

Podesta pointed to a CMU study utilizing data gathered from middle school and high school students using algebra tutoring software developed at CMU. The study demonstrated that students using the software learned nearly twice the material than in a typical algebra course.

"Importantly, what this type of research underscores is that the use of educational technologies is improving the scope, scale and granularity of data we have about how kids learn," Podesta said. "With that data, and applying cognitive and data science to the problem, we are better able to understand how to help our children move up the performance curve. We are gaining insights that were not previously possible, or maybe were dismissed for lack of concrete data, because of the new capability to capture student performance in detail and at scale in diverse, real-world school contexts."

Podesta said that privacy concerns must be accounted for when gathering and using student data.

"The researchers who developed those data-driven education tools deliberately decided not to collect the demographic data of the students. Now, given what we already know about effective education policy, demographic data might be useful both in developing effective curriculums and addressing the needs of the individual student. But the researchers decided that collection of such information raised privacy and ethical concerns, and that they could still make some progress without that data."

January 22, 2014

Simon at the World Economic Forum

Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh and select CMU faculty promoted the science of learning at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos, Switzerland, January 22-25. CMU is one of only 25 universities invited to participate in the Global University Leadership Forum at Davos. On Wednesday January 22, President Suresh introduced "CMU IdeasLab: Unlocking the Potential of Human Learning" which featured presentations by Simon Initiative co-coordinators Justine Cassell and Ken Koedinger, and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Emma Brunskill. On Thursday, January 23, President Suresh led discussions on a panel titled "The Future of Learning" which featured leaders of government, industry and academia.

November 11, 2013

Carnegie Mellon Creates Simon Initiative To Drive Better Understanding of Student Learning Using Emerging Educational Technology Platforms

University Provides Open Access to World's Largest Bank of Educational Technology Data; Forms Global Learning Council with Academic, Industry and Technology Leaders

PITTSBURGH — Carnegie Mellon University today launched the Simon Initiative to accelerate the use of learning science and technology to improve student learning. Named to honor the work of the late Nobel Laureate and CMU Professor Herbert Simon, the initiative will harness CMU's decades of learning data and research to improve educational outcomes for students everywhere.

In an email message to the campus community this morning, Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh announced the launch of the faculty-led Simon Initiative, the formation of the Global Learning Council (GLC) and the associated public data-sharing activities. He noted that CMU has called on experts from academia, industry and foundations to form the Global Learning Council. The new consortium of education and technology research leaders will share a commitment to develop standards, identify best practices and encourage engagement through the use of science and technology. The GLC is dedicated to open sharing of data and best practices among institutions and across sectors to improve learning outcomes for all.

As part of the initiative, CMU will provide open access to the world's largest bank of educational technology data — detailed data about how people learn and how effective learning software can be designed and deployed. CMU learning scientists have been performing research into every student interaction with learning software to reflect learners' activities for decades. This wealth of data will now be shared more broadly. Additionally, CMU will be providing seed funding to support the work of this initiative on campus.

“This council and the Simon Initiative arrive at a critical time for educators and students alike,” said President Suresh. “The world is experiencing an educational revolution, but there has not been sufficient effort to date to address the fundamental question: are students using these technology platforms really learning successfully? Carnegie Mellon has been studying how people learn with technology since the 1950s; working together with our council colleagues, our goal is to create guidelines and best practices that ensure academic rigor and successful learning for students worldwide.”

“Advances in learning science and technology offer transformative potential in education and training nationwide, supporting the work of excellent educators to address longstanding issues of equity and accelerating the country's return to educational leadership,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We as a country need to implement more proactive approaches to realizing that potential in education, as we have in other sectors. Providing a platform that can attract world-class talent and significant public and private resources is a critical step forward. Efforts like this new one from Carnegie Mellon will advance this vital conversation.”

President Suresh, who is also former director of the National Science Foundation, will chair the Global Learning Council. Other GLC members include leaders from academia, industry and technology.

They are:

“The current global conversation on technology-enhanced learning is missing a key element: what are the most useful metrics, standards, and methods for ensuring that modes of education using technology have a positive effect on learning outcomes? As a world-renowned leader in the development of technologies and methodologies to improve student learning, Carnegie Mellon is ideally suited to assemble a Global Learning Council to help establish the standards and metrics we need,” said Hunter R. Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, an association of 62 preeminent public and private research universities.

“An important step in the use of technology in online education is to develop rigorous methods and standards for learning outcomes,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. “The Global Learning Council created by Carnegie Mellon University is made up of thought leaders in technology-enabled learning. At edX, we are committed to fostering quality education, and I am honored to work with the council to develop innovative approaches to improving learning outcomes.”

“CMU is a true pioneer in the development and assessment of new technologies and approaches for learning,” said Dr. Tan Chorh Chuan, president of National University of Singapore. “CMU has a remarkable record of making the exciting and important connections between innovative pedagogy, cutting edge technology and quantifiable learning outcomes, which are critically needed in conceiving the role that technology can and will play in the education of the future.”

CMU's history in the learning sciences began in the 1950s, when Simon and CMU colleagues, including Allen Newell, advanced the fields of cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence and developed one of the first computer-based theories of learning. Since then, the university has been at the forefront of understanding how people learn, through such activities as the development of computer tutors based on cognitive learning technology, learning games and courses in CMU's Open Learning Initiative. Numerous controlled studies have found these courses to be as or more effective than traditional instruction. Students at six U.S. public universities using CMU's blended approach — which combines technology and teacher interaction — found that CMU's statistics courseware (combined with some classroom instruction) is just as effective in meeting learning goals as traditional lecture classes. A CMU study of the same statistics course found that students using this courseware master content just as well a students in traditional lecture classes, but in half the time — a much accelerated pace.

“We are honored that CMU has invited Microsoft to join the GLC as a member,” said Peter Lee, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Research. “Microsoft and CMU share a common, longstanding commitment to advancing the state of the art in learning technologies, and we are convinced that The Simon Initiative and the GLC will help accelerate this important mission.”

The Simon Initiative will focus on several areas where technology impacts education, ranging from data-rich research solutions to improving the residential experience of students at CMU campuses.

The goals of the project include:

Together, the Simon Initiative, the Global Learning Council and the databank will accelerate the use of learning science and technology to improve student success and help unlock the mystery and potential of human learning.