Carnegie Mellon University

Joel Smith

Joel Smith

Distinguished Career Teaching Professor




1987 - Ph.D. History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

1984 - M.A. History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

1982 - M.S. Physics, Baylor University

1979 - B.S. Physics, Baylor University

1976 - B.A. Philosophy, Baylor University

Joel Smith

Philosophy of Science

My graduate studies and subsequent research and teaching in philosophy have focused largely on various aspects of philosophy of science. Early in my career I worked on inconsistencies in scientific theories with an emphasis on analyzing and explaining historical cases of accepted scientific theories that contained inconsistent principles, e.g. the early quantum theory of blackbody radiation and of atomic structure. After that, I also did some research on the nature scientific representations and their role in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. After taking on several administrative positions directing campus support for technology for education and for campus information technology services for more than two decades, my philosophical research continued only as personal pursuit and to support the teaching I have continued to do throughout my career. During my tenure at the Claremont Graduate University, in addition to being the chief academic information officer, I also held an appointment as an associate professor in the philosophy department. In that role, I continued to teach philosophy but also served on the supervisory committees for graduate students in both philosophy and in the social sciences. While serving as Dean of Academic Information Services at MiraCosta College, I was able to continue teaching courses in philosophy through an adjunct appointment at UCSD.

I returned to full-time teaching as a Distinguished Career Teaching Professor in the philosophy department in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon in August 2012.

Technology for Education

Early in my career (4 years after I received my Ph.D.) I was encouraged by a vice president for planning at Allegheny College to take on an effort to see if information technology (IT) could improve liberal arts instruction. Trying to answer this question (subsequently extended to focus on instruction in science, engineering, and mathematics as well as the humanities) and to actually implement uses of technology to improve education became a life-long vocation for me. It led me to hold a number of positions overseeing academic computing as well as the whole of IT services at a number of institutions. Achievements that I would point to along the way as illumining the path if not fully answering the original question include: the significant development over a sustained period of educational software by faculty at Allegheny College in the late 1980s (when faculty development of software was rare), design and implementation of meaningful and effective IT support for community college education, including online education, and library services at MiraCosta college, and the development of the Office of Technology for Education (now a function of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence) and the Open Learning Initiative (in collaboration with several faculty and its Director, Candace Thille) at Carnegie Mellon. The Open Learning Initiative in particular is widely recognized internationally as a cutting edge, high impact project, which for over a decade has helped define promising directions for the use of technology to improve learning outcomes. Of particular importance to me was our success in both the OLI and Office of Technology for Education at bringing together knowledge from faculty, educational technologists, cognitive scientists, and designers in the efforts at Carnegie Mellon to try to use technology in ways informed by the best current theories of how people learn. I believe this is a key strategy for trying to achieve significant improvements in learning outcomes. I am also pleased to have overseen all central IT services at Carnegie Mellon for almost 11 years (from 2002 until 2012) during a period when those services became more widespread, reliable, transparent, sustainable, and responsive to the needs of students, faculty, and staff.


2012-Present: Distinguished Career Teaching Professor, Philosophy Department, Dietrich College, Carnegie Mellon University.

2002-2012: Vice-Provost for Computing Services and Chief Information Officer, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

2000-2012: Director, Office of Technology for Education, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

2007: Visiting Faculty, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh.

2002: Associated Faculty, Philosophy Department, Carnegie Mellon University.

1996-1999: Dean, Academic Information Services (Computing Services and the College Libraries), MiraCosta College, Oceanside, California.

1998-1999: Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego.

1992-1996: Director of Academic Computing and then Associate Provost for Information Technology, The Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California.

1992-1996: Associate Professor of Philosophy, Philosophy Department, The Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California.

1990-1992: Director of Educational Computing, Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania

1989-1992: Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania.

1987-1989: Assistant Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Grants (2000 - Present)

2009-2012: Co-Principle Investigator with Candace Thille, Community College Open Learning Initiative. Grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation.

2002-2008: Co-Principle Investigator with Candace Thille, Initial Funding and Renewal of Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative. Grant funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

2001: Co-Principle Investigator with Peter Lee, Klaus Sutner, Dana Scott, and Michael Kohlhase on a National Science Foundation Information and Technology Research Grant: "Course Capsules: Persistent, Personalized Courseware."

2000: Co-Principle Investigator with Richard Scheines, Clark Glymour, and Gaea Linehardt, A.W. Mellon Foundation Grant to disseminate and evaluate costs of "Teaching Causal Reasoning On-Line."

Principle Narrative Author and Administrator, with Joel Greenhouse, Marsha Lovett, and Ken Koedinger, Pew Program in Academic Redesign Grant "Cognitive Tutors for Teaching Introductory Statistics."

Participating author with David Yaron, Andres van Dam, Anne Spalter, and Rea Freeland, "Project CREATE.".

Selected Publications

"Cold Rolled Steel and Knowledge: What Can Higher Education Learn About Productivity?" with Candace Thille, in Change Magazine Vol. 43, (March-April 2011): 21-27.

"Learning Unbound: Disrupting the Baumol/Bowen Effect in Higher Education," with Candace Thille, Forum Futures, (2010): 32-38.

"The Open Learning Initiative, Scientifically Designed and Feedback Driven eLearning," The Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Volume III, (January 2009).

"Management of Information and Communications Technology Ecosystems in Higher Education," eUniversity – Update Bologna. Waxman Verlag (2007): 133-145.

"Institutional Leadership in Information Technology for Higher Education," with Jared Cohon, Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2005.

"Replacing Lecture with Web-Based Course Materials,” with Richard Scheines, Gaea Leinhardt, and Kwangsu Cho, The Journal of Educational Computing Research, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 1-26. (2005).

"The Newest Media and a Principled Approach for Integrating Technology into Instruction," with Dr. Susan Ambrose, Syllabus Magazine (June 2004).

"The 'Open Learning Initiative'- Cognitively Informed E-Learning at Carnegie Mellon University," with Candace Thille, The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, (2004).

Invited Presentations

"Organizing to Solve Complex Problem," at the invitation of the Provost, California State University at Northridge, November 22, 2013.

"Deep Collaboration," keynote speech at Campus Technology's annual conference, July, 2012.

"Open Educational Resources: Access, Impact, and Sustainability Through Policy" with Cable Green, Educause, October 20, 2011.

"Multi-Institutional Course Redesign," with Dr. Michael Tanner, Vice President of the American Public and Land Grant Universities, State Higher Education Executive Officers, July 13, 2011.

"Improving the Quality and Efficiency of Teaching," with Dr. Marsha Lovett, University of British Columbia, December 14, 2010.

"Open Learning Initiative," Federal Communication Commission hearing on Broadband Needs in Education, August, 2009.

"Learning Unbound: Disrupting the Baumol Effect in Higher Education," with Candace Thille, Forum on the Future of Higher Education, June 2009.

"Learning How to Learn, Networks, Feedback, and the Future of eLearning," ESPOL University, Ecuador, November 2008.

"eLearning Excellence," with Drs. Susan Ambrose and Richard Mayer, Campus Technology Conference, San Francisco, December, 2007.

"Leading Change in eLearning: How to Succeed Amid Endless Change," with Philip Long, Chris Dede, Roadmap to Leadership Conference, Boston, July 2007.

"The Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative: Cognitively Informed Web-Based Instruction," with Candace Thille, Educause Educational Learning Initiative Conference, January, 2007.

"Planning for and Managing the Complex IT Ecosystem for Research, Teaching, and Administration at the Modern University," Campus Innovation Conference, Bonn, Germany, November 2007.

"Open Learning Initiative and the Need for eLearning," Univ. of Manchester, Fall 2005.

"Supporting Teaching and Learning with Data from the Learning Sciences," University of Western Michigan, August 2005.

"Making E-Learning Effective," National Academies of Science Board on Higher Education and the Workforce, Washington D. C., April 2005.

Keynote Speech, "Cognitive Science and Course Design," ICTO Symposium on eLearning, University of Gent, March 2005.