Carnegie Mellon University
April 09, 2024

The Simon Initiative Hosts Inaugural Simon Lunch

By Sofia Baybekova

On March 13th, the Simon Initiative hosted the first Simon Lunch since the COVID-19 pandemic social distancing strategies were employed on campus, commencing a new series of upcoming events that will run throughout 2024. This exciting event covered many new developments and projects within the Simon Initiative and provided an opportunity for cross-departmental collaboration. 

Featured presenters at the event included Simon Initiative Executive Director Norman Bier, Simon Initiative K-12 Coordinator Lindsay Forman, and Simon Initiative Co-Coordinator Dr. Marsha Lovett. These speakers shared updates to the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), OLI’s Torus Project, campus-wide K-12 efforts, and grant opportunities related to the Generative Artificial Intelligence Teaching As Research Initiative (GAITAR).

Norman Bier highlighted upcoming changes to OLI with support from ongoing grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, new assistance from Partner in Publishing, and the onboarding of a new product team to push Torus platform development forward. 

“OLI is a flagship project of The Simon Initiative. It provides textbook-replacement courseware built upon principles gleaned from decades of research in three CMU’s strengths: cognitive science, computer engineering and human-computer interaction.”

Two years ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put out a call for equity-centered exemplar courseware that could demonstrably improve outcomes for minority students and students experiencing poverty. In alignment with that call, CMU partnered with Arizona State University to build the Relevant, Equitable, and Active Learning (REAL) STEM courseware, extending previous OLI General Chemistry I and General Chemistry II courses.

One offshoot of this work is a new relationship with Partner in Publishing, a company that promotes and publishes various ed-tech efforts. They are working with OLI to aid in building a catalog, promoting courseware, and helping the Simon Initiative explore how OLI should grow and expand.

These exciting developments have spurred the creation of a new product team for OLI’s Torus Project. The team includes Simon Initiative Technical Product Manager Amanda Buddemeyer, UX designers Jessica Fortunato and Preeti Sharma, and QA Engineer Dovid Creeger. This team will help lay out a roadmap of new updates for Torus in alignment with the goals of OLI’s work and continue refining the accessibility of the platform for months to come.

Next, Lindsay Forman highlighted several exciting developments within CMU’s K-12 outreach and engagement space. Forman joined the Simon Initiative in July of 2023 and has put great effort into developing and maintaining connections between CMU and regional K-12 partners.. You can learn more about the exciting work she’s been doing here

Dr. Marsha Lovett, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Innovation at the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation and Co-Coordinator for the Simon Initiative, closed the event by presenting new opportunities for seed grants for work related to the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence in student learning outcomes. 

The Eberly Center has been working on projects that include Teaching as Research, to encourage CMU colleagues to conduct systematic research on student learning in the context of their live courses. More recently they have launched a new initiative, GAITAR, which seeks to explore how generative artificial intelligence can improve student learning, experience, and equity.

Dr. Lovett and the Eberly Center have put out a call for proposals for generative AI-enabled educational tool research and development and will award a number of internal seed grants to get those projects underway. You can find out more information here

With all the exciting projects going on in the Simon Initiative ecosystem, we will continue to update our network with future Simon Lunch events. If you’re interested in attending a future Simon Lunch, please watch this space for future announcements. As was the case during the previous iteration of this presentation and meeting series, if you are involved with or know of an ed-tech project at CMU, the Simon Initiative would very much like to hear from you! You can sign up for the Simon Initiative mailing list here