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FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
Summer 2003
Volume 56, Number 2
FAS Home | Download PDF | PIR Archive
Front Page
Nuclear Terror: Ambling Toward Apocalypse
21st-Century Physics: Grand Challenges
The Afghan Housing Crisis: Can New Technology Make a Difference?
Congress Permits Research on Smaller Nuclear Weapons
Molecular Manufacturing: Start Planning
Progress Report for FAS Learning Technology Initiatives
Challenging Conventional Wisdom on Arms Exports
How Well did TOPOFF2 Prepare Us?

Progress Report for FAS Ed Tech Initiatives

by Marianne Bakia

Earlier issues of the PIR have outlined the need for a national initiative in educational technology research and development. FAS initiatives in this area include the Learning Federation and the Digital Promise, two projects that are promoting solutions to problems associated with under-investment. During our first phase of operation, we have been working actively to create a research roadmap that describes the types of learning environments that are possible, and outlines the types of projects that should be supported to achieve them. The roadmap is being developed through an iterative process that includes: literature reviews; interviews with researchers and practioners; and workshops that convene experts from universities, schools, government, corporate training organizations and software publishers.

Four workshops have been held to date. The themes of each addressed key processes of teaching and learning, including: pedagogy and instructional design; learner modeling and assessment; question answering systems; and technical aspects associated with building robust and immersive simulations. These have been held at universities across the country from Seattle, Washington to Orlando, Florida.

Our most recent workshop focused on the theme of Learner Modeling and Assessment in May 2003. Assessment is defined as the measurement of learners' knowledge and skills, as well as the measurement of other individual characteristics that influence learning and performance, particularly general cognitive and metacognitive abilities, motivation and personality. The terms "learner model" and "learner modeling" have mostly been used in the context of intelligent tutoring systems. In an intelligent tutoring system (ITS), learner modeling refers to the process of generating and maintaining a continuous/dynamic model or profile of the learner and using the data for diagnosis, feedback, coaching and prescription of content during instruction.

Researchers at the workshop indicated that it is possible to create a class of software tools that can closely monitor a student's emotional state as well as their current level of understanding of any subject matter. This information could be used by another class of tools designed to customize instruction to improve rates of learning and depth of understanding, especially for complex topics. To accomplish these goals, our workshop findings suggest that research and development activities must:

  • Map and reconcile disparate models of content expertise, competency and pedagogy;
  • Automate modular assessment design, development, delivery and analysis;
  • Develop multidimensional learner models and measurement methods;
  • Create web services infrastructure for integration of software applications and services.

In each of these areas, the emphasis is on developing scalable, interoperable, cost-effective software tools and systems that embody and automate practices and processes that are supported by theory and research.

We are now preparing for our final workshop, which will focus on the development of an Educational Technology Research Roadmap. This meeting will be held in Alexandria, Virginia at the Institute of Defense Analysis, on July 24, 2003. The purpose of this workshop is to examine the scale of operation and management structure needed to accomplish the priorities outlined in earlier workshops. The roadmap is scheduled for publication in September of 2003.

At the invitation of Chairman Upton of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Larry Grossman, FAS Board member, testified on behalf of the Digital Promise Project in favor of establishing an educational trust fund that will provide substantial funding for the research and development of educational technologies. In his testimony, Mr. Grossman noted: " if only the nation's system of education and training could begin to take effective advantage of the remarkable new information technologies, as the Defense Department, the press, and the private sector have already done, we could transform the quality and character of American teaching and learning as effectively as we've transformed the military, the media, and business." This testimony represents an important effort to increase congressional support for a national trust fund for driving educational technology innovation. The Digital Promise Project and the Learning Federation will continue to leverage their efforts to create an ambitious national endeavor.

Follow our progress via the Learning Federation link on the FAS website, www.fas.org and www.digitalpromise.org. We encourage your support for this important investment in the future of American education.

Author's Note: Marianne Bakia is the director of the Learning Technologies Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

  1. Snow, R.E., & Lohman, D.F. Implications of cognitive psychology for educational measurement. In R. L. Linn (Ed.), Educational measurement (3rd ed.). (Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1989), pp. 263-331; and Kyllonen, P.C.. Training assessment. In S. Tobias & D. Fletcher (Eds.), Training and retraining: A handbook for business, industry, government, and the military. (New York: Macmillan, 2000), pp. 525-549.
  2. Shute, V., & Psotka, J. Intelligent tutoring systems: Past, present, and future. In D.H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. (New York: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 570-600).