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October 14, 2004

Pitt, CMU get $25 Million from NSF for Learning Center

The National Science Foundation has awarded Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University a five-year, $25 million grant to establish the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center (PSLC). The new center will sponsor research into how people learn and, based on what they find, develop technologies and approaches to teaching that will foster consistently high achievement in the nation’s classrooms.

The core of the PSLC will be a novel research facility, called LearnLab, where education researchers will create, run and analyze experiments on how people learn.

LearnLab will address what has long been a dilemma for education researchers: Experiments conducted in the artificial confines of the laboratory produce results and innovations that are not broadly transferable to schools, while studies conducted in classrooms have tended to be less rigorously controlled and therefore do not provide sufficiently trustworthy results that can be used by others. Thus, education research has lacked the kind of rigor that can be found, for example, in medical research, a problem federal policy makers are eager to correct.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools must demonstrate yearly progress through standardized tests, requiring teachers and school administrators to make more data-driven decisions.

The PSLC codirectors are Pitt computer science professor Kurt VanLehn, senior scientist in Pitt’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), and Kenneth R. Koedinger, associate professor of human-computer interaction and psychology at Carnegie Mellon.

In addition to VanLehn, 18 other LRDC researchers will represent Pitt in the new center, including Lauren Resnick, LRDC director and professor of psychology; Charles Perfetti, LRDC executive associate director and University Professor of Psychology and Linguistics, and Michelene T. H. Chi, LRDC senior scientist and professor of psychology.

LearnLab scientists initially will use seven high school and college-level courses as a basis for their research – two high school mathematics courses, two college science courses, and three college language courses, including Chinese, French and English as a second language. The PSLC will invite schools in the Pittsburgh area and across the country to participate as “research schools” and serve much as research hospitals do for medical research.

LearnLab will build an infrastructure for conducting school-based studies by establishing streamlined procedures, troubleshooting common problems and creating methods for researchers without computer programming experience to employ computer learning technologies. In addition to being a center for research in education, LearnLab also will be a repository for education data.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 36 Issue 4

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