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First Wave of Carnegie Mellon Learning Tools Now Available

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Carnegie Mellon University has moved forward in its efforts to release education tools into the world. Last week, the institution officially introduced OpenSimon, a community and collection of tools dedicated to "[catalyzing] a revolution in learning and teaching" for higher education and K-12. According to the university, the software that will eventually be made available under open source licenses represents an investment of $100 million in research and development.

OpenSimon includes tools for multiple audiences: those teaching as well as those doing research or developing educational technology products.

The first wave of releases include the following:

  • XBlock, a discussion forum that allows for MOOC collaboration;
  • Social recommendation technology that supports "help seekers" in MOOC discussion forums;
  • Bazaar, components for providing conversational agent-based support in group learning, especially useful for facilitating research in collaborative learning;
  • Echo, for creating curriculum and customizing existing open educational resources and evaluating them from a data-science perspective;
  • The Open Learning Initiative, a platform that replaces textbooks with alternative online courses;
  • DiscourseDB, a National Science Foundation-funded project for integrating data sources from multiple platforms in learning;
  • DataShop, a repository for research data, and a set of analysis and reporting tools;
  • LearnSphere, a learning analytics infrastructure, including a workflow authoring tool that facilitates creation and sharing of custom analyses and interaction with external repositories, such as DataShop;
  • Tetrad, a suite of programs for doing causal modeling, data search and data exploration without the user requiring programming knowledge or "statistical sophistication"; and
  • ChemCollective, a set of virtual labs, scenario-based learning activities, tutorials and concept tests.

For K-12 specifically, the project has made RoboTutor available. This Android tablet app lets students ages 7 to 10 learn basic reading, writing and math without adult intervention. The app incorporates Project LISTEN (Literacy Innovation that Speech Technology ENables), which offers an automated reading tutor that displays stories on a computer screen and listens to children read aloud.

In August the initiative expects to release the Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools (CTAT), a suite that enables the user to embed active learning into online courses. The university said that CTAT supports the creation of "flexible" tutors to help students with problem solving and tracks their progress as they work through problems, providing context-sensitive, just-in-time help.

The organizers of the initiative are hoping the larger community of educators, ed tech companies and others will continue developing the tools to move forward the work of making "deliberate, iterative improvements in education."

"With today's release of OpenSimon, Carnegie Mellon intends to put the suite of learning science and education technology tools into the hands of educators around the world who are committed to shifting the culture of education from traditional practices to new methods supported by evidence," said Norman Bier, executive director of the Simon Initiative, in a statement.

The university will continue lending support for OpenSimon, including through training and other measures. Recently, it announced a partnership with the Empirical Educator Project to pilot the toolkit within EEP's network of universities and vendors through a year-long "EDwhy learning science hackathon."

EEP and Carnegie Mellon have also announced development of training programs to introduce people to the techniques and tools available in OpenSimon. Those can be taken on campus or brought in-house.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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