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Global resources for on-line education
Envisioning a research agenda for the future of technology and education
by Beverly Park Woolf and Burton I. Woolf

The Challenge
Over the last 40 years, educational technology has been used extensively to replicate, replace, expedite, or support existing approaches to education and learning.  However, notwithstanding the pervasive presence of computers in the educational landscape today, in most cases, technology has effected only incremental changes in the fundamental way we actually teach and foster learning.  The potential for technology to re-shape the very discourse and practice of teaching and learning is still far from being realized.  Education technology has not been challenged to produce dramatic educational innovations that profoundly transform the ways people learn, moving them towards life-long and life-wide learning, or supporting learners to be fully active through inquiry, collaboration, discussion, and practice. 

Global Resources for Online Education (GROE) is a two-year project designed to articulate and propose a long range vision for these issues and opportunities, and to outline a path for developing potentially powerful educational tools and infrastructures through an intentional program of research over the next 20-30 years. 

The GROE project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Computing Community Consortium (CCC)[1]. The project goal is to set a future vision for educational technology and to recommend a research agenda(s) for Research funding of that vision. Dr. Beverly Park Woolf (UMass-Amherst) is Principal Investigator for the GROE project and Dr. John L. King (University of Michigan) is the GROE Project's liaison to CCC.  As described below, project team leaders are assisting in the preparation of topical papers and reports.  We recognize and thank Dr. King and the GROE project team leaders for the contributions in content and editing that they made to this article.

The GROE Project is convening a series of facilitated collaborative workshops in which leaders from several disciplines - computer science, education, psychology, public policy - engage in creative conversations to investigate the role of computation and technology in education. The perspective has wide coverage and extends from what is learned, where it is learned (everywhere and at all times), how it is learned (through simulations and virtual worlds) and how it is enabled (data management to support learning processes and enable global studies of learning). Workshop participants are identifying educational needs, outlining perceived challenges, defining future impacts, and articulating a roadmap to achieve the results.

Prior to convening any workshops, preliminary discussions, led by Dr. Paul Cohen (University of Arizona), were held during the Fall Symposium of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, November 7-9, 2008.[2]  The first GROE Project workshop was formally convened at Arizona State University, April 23-26, 2009 for 27 invited participants from throughout the U.S. representing a broad range of disciplines. A second forum was convened in Brighton, England on July 4-5, 2009, where twenty participants (including participants from Europe and Australia) contributed additional comments, ideas and recommendations to the conversation.

Preliminary Vision and Recommendations
The GROE Project is evolving a vision of the future of education and a set of recommendations that build on each successive participatory workshop we have convened, complemented by comments we are receiving from the field.  Several of the ideas, visions, questions, concerns and recommendations emerging from these conversations are described in this section divided into to six key areas: personalizing education, assessing student learning, supporting social learning, diminishing educational boundaries, developing alternative teaching strategies and enhancing the role of stakeholders. For each key area we identify the educational challenges and future visions, list the key technologies that might be challenged to produce dramatic changes, and then suggest opportunities for research and funding.    

Personalizing instruction.
Vision: Learning environments will personalize instruction to harmonize with students' traits (e.g., personality, learning style, motivation and culture) as well as students' states (e.g., affect, level of engagement and level of frustration).  Technology enables instruction that understands students' weaknesses and challenges, as well as their motivational style (e.g., is a star, wants competition, needs peer acknowledgement, seeks personal improvement). We challenge technology to understand an individual as might a human tutor. (Team leaders: Kurt Van Lehn, Arizona State University; Bert Bredeweg, University of Amsterdam).

Technology: Customized instruction; user-models; intelligent tutors; gaming environments; adaptive hypermedia.

Research funding should consider: (1) Implementing advanced learning models that represent what learners know, can do, when and how knowledge was learned and what pedagogy worked best for each learner. (2) Developing machine learning and data mining techniques, including algorithms that are particularly adapted to educational data - How do we manage vast amounts of data, effectively store, make available and analyze data for different purposes and stakeholders? (3) Developing simulations and representations that explain themselves to learners- How do we address the communicative interaction and use multimedia to switch modalities as appropriate?
Assessing student learning.
Vision: Educational assessment should have as its primary goal to improve learning and move beyond the current "Teach / Stop / and Test" model.  Technology enables assessment to be everywhere and every time a student learns. It will be seamless and ubiquitous and consistent with learning. (Team Leader: Valerie Shute, Florida State University).

Technology: Improving human capabilities; building cognitive partnerships; developing instructional databases and digital libraries; educational data mining.

Research funding should consider: (1) Understanding the full complement of characteristics brought to bear in learning - What are learning competencies? How do they relate and how do we acquire evidence about them? (2) Fusion of assessment and learning - What are new sources of assessment? How do they flow to, from and with learning, and how can we tear down conceptual and practical barriers between assessment and learning? (3) Rendering assessments useful to all parties - Who makes what decisions? What information do they need, how does assessment provide evidence for those decisions, and how to best communicate the complicated results of assessment to each party?

Supporting social learning.
Vision: We can no longer consider individual learners as acting in isolation. Social learning is pervasive. Technology will sustain continuous learning by active students in a way that is highly distributed and valued. (Team Leaders: Daniel Suthers, University of Hawaii at Manoa; Rose Luckin, London Knowledge Lab).

Technology: Distributed cognition, learning communities, networking, collaboration, mobile and ubiquitous computing to create seamless social learning.

Research funding should consider:  (1) Supporting learning communities to sustain, build on and share knowledge - How do communities interact and share knowledge resources? (2) Addressing infrastructure (API, management) and application level (representations) issues - How can we achieve more than just technical interoperability and also support semantic interoperability? What integrations/mashups of devices/platforms would more effectively support social learning distributed across time, space and media? (3) Treating the social group as a cognitive unit, but not to the exclusion of the individual - What analyses are needed to relate the two?

Diminishing educational boundaries
Vision: Many artificial and non-productive boundaries have been established within educational institutions that do not support active learning, including place of study (home, work, institutions), education level (school, college, university and professional development), personal ability (special and typical students) and type of learning (formal and informal).  How can we re-examine, cross, mitigate and/or eliminate many of these boundaries? For example, mobile technology and social networks provide seamless and ubiquitous learning across place of study, educational level and type of learning.  Intelligent environments enable students to engage in learning at their appropriate level. (Team Leader: Emma Tonkin, UKOLN, University of Bath, UK).

Technology: Wireless, pervasive and ubiquitous learning; accessing digitized artifacts anytime, anywhere; virtual computing from many computers; augmenting physical space; aggregating across all students; technical, physical and security considerations.

Research funding should consider:  (1) Increasing opportunities for learning outside as well as inside the educational apparatus- When does learning occur? How should learning outside of the norm (e.g., at home and informally) be supported? (2) Developing tools and resources for learning that are available across society. (3) Supporting students to transition, transfer, apply, and enhance their knowledge, experience, and discovery and imaginative inquiry across boundaries.

Developing alternative learning modes
Vision: We need new teaching strategies to enable students to function in the 21st Century. For example, students will need to solve complex problems in innovative ways and think clearly about vast amounts of knowledge. They may need to work across domains, collaborate with others and engage in inquiry reasoning. These needs are more pressing than ever as citizenship in a high-technology world requires scientific reasoning and disciplined thinking. Teamwork is vital. (Team leader: Win Burleson, Arizona State University).

Technology: Rich computer interfaces, intelligent agents; multimedia; learning companions; teachable agents; detecting and responding to student emotion.
Research funding should consider: (1) Developing resources to support collaborative inquiry - What is the process by which teams generate, evaluate, and revise knowledge? Which tools support learning of more complex, realistic problems? Which tools match learners with other learners and/or mentors taking into account learner interests? (2) Developing students' communication skills and creative abilities as they become exposed to diverse cultures and viewpoints. (3) Developing resources to support exploratory, social, and ubiquitous learning.

Enhancing the role of stakeholders.
Vision: As technology becomes more pervasive in education, stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, administrators and employers) will more effectively and consistently utilize it as part of instruction and in some cases fully integrate it fully into their teaching/learning. Stakeholders will trust educational technology to do what it claims to do and be assured that students have absolute privacy. We expect teachers to continue to be of primary importance in school environments. (Team leader: John L. King, University of Michigan).

Research funding should consider: (1) Extending a teacher's significance to informal settings as well as formal ones and increases their interactions with students in broader and more diverse contexts. (2) Developing more tailored and higher quality information for teachers to inform their decisions. (3) Addressing the historical imbalance between children and teachers - Which activities and environments make teachers' experiences as engaging and motivational and productive as children's experiences?
The specific ambition of the GROE Project is to push the frontier of thinking about education and technology, to speculate about what is possible, and then to turn to the prioritization of issues and implementation.  This is a significant task for which we cannot expect to include the full range of interests in the vast realms of education and learning.  Rather, our success in achieving the broad objectives of improved learning will depend on encouraging ongoing involvement in this conversation -either through the GROE project or in other settings- of as many communities as possible, including teachers, students, parents, and educational leaders, in addition to researchers and technologists. We trust that our ideas and recommendations will motivate interest and stimulate further conversations by articulating a set of grand challenges to be considered, and by making suggestions of what technological advancement might offer in meeting those challenges.

This article has provided an overview of the discussions held during the first two workshops sponsored by the GROE Project.  These discussions offer the beginnings of a roadmap for an integrated approach to computer science, cognitive science, and learning sciences research that addresses the high-level challenges faced in developing learning technologies that are relevant to current and future educational needs. This roadmap will be further embellished and refined through additional workshops and forums (as funding allows), and by comments from the field, including the input from members of the learning technology community.  For updates on our progress and to download the most current release of the GROE Project report (a work in progress), please visit the GROE page on the CCC website:  Please send your thoughts and comments to

Beverly Park Woolf
Department of Computer Science
I. Woolf
School of Education
University of Massachusetts-Amherst, USA

[1]  The Computing Community Consortium is funded by the National Science Foundation through the Computing Research Association to mobilize the computing research community to formulate important questions facing the field and develop strategies for pursuing them.

[2] See and

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