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CHIPS Articles: STEM Grand Challenge Winners to Build Better Digital Tutors for Students

STEM Grand Challenge Winners to Build Better Digital Tutors for Students
By CHIPS Magazine - February 22, 2012
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced the selection of four academic and industry teams to develop affordable digital tutoring software to improve the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge of middle and high school students.

As winners of ONR's STEM Grand Challenge (http://www.onr.navy.mil/Conference-Event-ONR/STEM-Forum/Grand-STEM-Challenge.aspx), the teams will produce intelligent tutoring technology that ultimately will be used to enhance the STEM skills of students, Sailors and Marines while helping to prepare the future naval science and engineering work force to address emerging challenges to the nation's defense.

"I look to these teams of researchers and their unique approaches with intelligent tutoring systems to help the Navy, Marine Corps and our nation in delivering a steady work force of talented scientists and engineers," said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research.

The Department of the Navy (DON) is committed to doubling its investment in STEM in the next five years. Last year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus initiated a STEM Roadmap (http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=61044) to guide the department in its commitment to help improve the nation's STEM education this decade.

"Secretary Mabus inspired our early grass root efforts and now ONR, government labs and warfare centers as well as initiatives coming out of the president's office are taking hold and really starting to energize young people to pursue STEM education and careers," Klunder said.

ONR's STEM education Grand Challenge, an $8 million three-year initiative, is designed to spur innovation and creativity in the advancement of cost-effective digital tutors that tailor instruction to the individual needs and learning pace of students. The software systems mimic one-on-one interactions between teachers and pupils and are expected to improve student academic performance by two or more letter grades in a short amount of time.

The selection of the four teams was based on the scientific and technical merits of their proposals in addressing ONR's STEM Grand Challenge research goals. The winning proposals were submitted by:

1. University of Memphis
2. Arizona State University
3. University of Massachusetts
4. Raytheon BBN Technologies

In the first phase, each team will receive up to $1.5 million to develop a digital tutor that will provide instruction in STEM-related topics. The range of approaches includes: developing techniques for creating realistic and supportive student-tutor interactions; creating analytic and modeling methods for adapting to students' learning capabilities; producing methods for mapping information to an instructional curriculum; and crafting techniques for maintaining students' active engagement. Each team also will conduct assessments of their unique solutions in order to evaluate the return on investment for these tutors.

At the end of the first phase, the four teams will be judged upon how well the tutors improve students' knowledge retention, reasoning and problem-solving skills. One or two teams will be selected for phase two, which provides another year of funding—up to $1 million per team—to produce a system that can be used to educate Sailors and Marines.

"An aggressive development plan across two very different student populations will drive significant technical innovation in the development of digital tutoring technology. This approach will make a significant positive impact on the quality of educational technology in the teach

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (June 15, 2011) Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus presents the Department of the Navy science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) strategy at the Naval STEM Forum, hosted by the Office of Naval Research. U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (June 15, 2011) Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus presents the Department of the Navy science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) strategy at the Naval STEM Forum, hosted by the Office of Naval Research. U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

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