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Aroutis Foster Awarded Two Grants From National Science Foundation

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October 22, 2013

Aroutis Foster, assistant professor of Learning Technologies and the School of Education’s PhD program, has received funding for two projects from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Foster will serve as Co-PI on both projects.

The NSF awarded nearly $150,000 (from September 2013 through August 2014) for the project “EAGER: TAEMILE: Towards Automating Experience Management in Interactive Learning Environments.” In a world saturated with technology, users expect to interact with technology autonomously, yet studies have shown that this is not the most effective method of learning, and that learners may need guidance from others such as teachers. The fundamental problem and the key to all forms of interactive learning environments is the conflict between learners’ increasing desire for autonomy and the necessary pedagogical structure needed for learning.

To address this problem, the long-term research goal of Foster and his colleagues is how to automatically co-regulate, balancing learners’ autonomy and the pedagogical processes intended by educators. They will focus on exploring experience management (EM), a family of new AI techniques that are gaining popularity in entertainment-based interactive systems but are not yet sufficiently explored in educational domains. Their approach will combine EM with a transformative play-based learning pedagogical model, Play-Curricular activity-Reflection Discussion (PCaRD). This exploratory project seeks to collect preliminary data about the relationship between a learner’s achievement goal orientations and play style, and the impact of dynamically adjusting the learning environment using EM on learner’s autonomy and learning outcomes.

The second grant, which totals more than $270,000, is for the project “EAGER: US Ignite: A Cloud-Enabled Virtual Reality-Based Pedagogical Ecosystem for Green Energy and Environmental Engineering Education.” Funding for this project begins on Jan. 1., 2014 and runs through Dec. 31, 2015.

The U.S. faces a current dilemma: unemployment has been above average for years, with many out of work because they do not possess certain skills needed for jobs. Yet, the U.S. has limited resources for teaching these needed skills in many school districts.

If part of the learning could take place in automated virtual learning environments, it would help to improve learning conditions and more effectively utilize teachers’ in-class time. These learning environments may benefit learners in ways that traditional classrooms cannot provide, such as personalized learning.

This EAGER project is inspired by and aligned to the US IGNITE’s mission to foster the creation of next-generation Internet applications that provide transformative public benefit. The research will develop, implement, and evaluate a novel, scalable, and transferable virtual reality-based pedagogical ecosystem that provides learners with the relevant skill training to address existing skilled worker shortage in the area of green energy, and thus facilitate the growth of new jobs and training opportunities for entry-level positions in this sector. The educational modules resulting from this effort will be hosted in the cloud and made accessible through a web-browser.