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Dec. 15: Three Foundations Grant $4 Million in Awards To Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative


Ken Walters   

Three Foundations Grant $4 Million in Awards
To Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative

Funds To Support Community College Open Courses; White House Recognizes OLI Model

PITTSBURGH—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation for Education and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are providing grants totaling $4 million to Carnegie Mellon University to build on the success of the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) and launch the Community College Open Learning Initiative (CC-OLI).

In collaboration with community college faculty across the country, Carnegie Mellon will blend the best of learning science and technology to create, evaluate and continuously improve virtual learning environments that support teachers and accelerate students' academic progress. The grants will be dedicated to creating a partnership with faculty at an array of community colleges around the United States to create open "gate keeper" courses to help more community college students achieve success. Creating such open courses is part of the White House's education proposal to be considered by Congress in the coming months. The "American Graduation Initiative" sets aside $500 million to provide open online learning courses to community college students. The White House has recognized OLI as a possible model for those courses.

"OLI is an example of what Carnegie Mellon does best: linking different disciplines — in this case, cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, design and computer science — to have an impact on solving difficult problems," said Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon. "We are very grateful to the Gates, Lumina and Hewlett foundations for their recognition that this innovative approach to learning holds real promise for increasing student success in community colleges."

OLI instruction differs from other online learning programs in that OLI courses are designed so that both students and teachers receive continuous feedback, allowing the instruction to be modified mid-course if necessary to better facilitate learning, according to OLI Project Director Candace Thille.

"The power in these courses comes from the assessment component that is embedded in every instructional activity," Thille said. "This keeps teachers in tune with how students are learning and provides students with a way to assess their learning and receive immediate feedback."

Another distinct feature of Carnegie Mellon's open learning environments is that course design is based on learning science research, which is integrated into OLI's offerings, Thille said.

"The rigorous application of learning sciences research into the courses' design and the OLI environment that supports continuous data collection serves not only students and teachers, but also course designers and learning science researchers, including researchers at the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center," she said. "We collect interaction level data from student work that allows us to evaluate and improve courses and supports researchers to create the rigorous, theory-based experiments that pave the way to an understanding of robust learning."

The Gates Foundation will donate $2.5 million to the project, while Lumina and Hewlett will provide $750,000 each in funding. The Hewlett Foundation has generously supported OLI since its inception in 2002.

While this program's focus will be on community colleges, OLI courses have been used in a wide variety of settings since 2002, including large teaching colleges, large state research universities and other educational settings, Thille said.