For a team of researchers in the College of Engineering, the key to educational equality is the virtual world. Using “cloud” computing technology, they hope to demonstrate that the 21st century classroom doesn’t need walls, teachers or students — at least not in the traditional sense.
“The goal is to create an intellectual interchange in which every member is a learner and an educator,” said Joe Guarino, associate chair and professor in the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering. “Our challenge as educators is to develop engaging and supportive environments that increase knowledge and motivate learning, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”
That challenge is being met by a project called “Rising Cloud,” which recently received a $75,000 grant through the Hewlett Packard Labs Innovation Research Program. The principal investigators are Guarino and professor of Instructional and Performance Technology Yonnie Chyung, and the funding will support the addition of two graduate students to their team.
The primary goal of Rising Cloud is to prove that STEM curricula can effectively be implemented in a virtual learning community supported by cloud technology. The research team will rely on established cloud technology provided by the Engineering Learning Community for Idaho (ELCI), which was developed by Guarino in 2009 through an “Innovations in Education” grant from the Hewlett Packard Foundation.
The ELCI cloud already works in concert with an established website and protocol that allow anyone with a user name and password to share software resources from any computer anytime. The Rising Cloud team plans to apply new strategies and methods for instruction and evaluation to the system in order to create and continuously improve the virtual learning environment.
“Cloud technology makes possible a truly egalitarian community in which opinions and contributions are valued and encouraged from everyone, regardless of social status or location,” said Chyung. “We now have the technology to extend the availability of software resources beyond the privileged few in higher education and high-technology. What is lacking is the methodology needed to transform the way we teach and learn.”
With support from Hewlett Packard, the Rising Cloud team will develop best practices for creating and sustaining a virtual learning and teaching community by:
- Identifying learning objectives from targeted high school and higher education STEM fields
- Creating virtual learning environments to support the accomplishment of learning objectives
- Building interactive simulations using software resources at Boise State, including specialized analytical and simulation programs that have been unavailable to secondary schools and casual learners
- Enlisting a wide demographic and geographic range of K12 and undergraduate college students to form vibrant and productive virtual communities of teachers and learners
- Measuring the attainment of learning objectives and satisfaction in each virtual community
- Developing and implementing a feedback mechanism to continuously adapt and improve our simulations and learning environments
- Demonstrating the scalability and portability of the successful virtual learning environment for each STEM topic
- Disseminating results through presentations, publications and virtual conferences hosted on the ELCI network
“It seems that we are on the verge of an exciting and transformational advance in education,” Guarino said.