ASU receives $10 Million NASA grant for science courseware

March 28th, 2016


University will develop adaptive, simulation-based lessons that help faculty bring science to life, drawing upon NASA’s own science content.

Arizona State University has received a $10.18 million grant from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Education Community to develop next-generation digital learning experiences that incorporate NASA science content.

Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton and Deputy Principal Investigator Ariel Anbar of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) will lead the development and evaluation teams for this grant.

During the five-year program, ASU-based teams will work with the Inspark Science Network and ASU’s Center for Education Through eXploration (ETX), to develop a new way of learning and teaching through exploration of the unknown, at scale, via a digital learning design platform.

The Inspark Science Network is a joint initiative of ETX and adaptive learning pioneer Smart Sparrow, designed to promote active learning and teaching science through exploration.

The Network was launched in 2015, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to create new digital courseware that incorporates online simulations, virtual field trips and adaptive learning analytics to help students who typically fail science courses succeed.

“SESE is known for combining the creative strengths of science, engineering and education, setting the stage for a new era of exploration,” said Elkins-Tanton. “With this grant, we can promote a greater public understanding and appreciation for science, and inspire a new generation of explorers. We hope to share the exciting world of NASA science in a way that is both approachable and interactive.”

Of particular focus will be the “active and adaptive” approach to science education, where learning becomes interactive and the platform can be modified for different audiences and teaching goals.

“The aim is to help learners become problem-solvers capable of exploring the unknown, rather than just mastering what is already known,” said Anbar. “It is learning science as process and as a universe of questions rather than as a dusty collection of facts.”

The ASU team is also led by Co-Investigators Steven Semken and Sheri Klug-Boonstra as well as ASU professor of practice and Smart Sparrow CEO Dror Ben-Naim. Other co-investigators include SESE’s Erik Asphaug, Jim Bell, Philip Christensen, Scott Parazynski, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Sara Imari Walker, David Williams and Patrick Young.

Together with Smart Sparrow, this team will develop personalized and adaptive learning experiences centered on astrobiology and “small bodies” such as Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and asteroids. These are specific areas of expertise among the NASA subject matter experts on the ASU team.

“By pairing the best of learning technology and design with NASA’s groundbreaking research and experience, educators will be able to inspire students in new ways,” said Ben-Naim.

In the near term, the focus will be on independent self-learners of science. In the longer term, the team seeks to expand the program to formal K-12 education, in coordination with NASA’s new education strategies.

“This grant brings together education powerhouses — ASU and NASA, together with a trusted edtech partner — to promote STEM education through exploration,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, chief research and innovation officer and executive vice president at the ASU Knowledge Enterprise. “This opportunity helps ASU engage and empower learners from all backgrounds and proficiencies to master concepts, ask open-ended questions regarding what’s next, and prepare to explore the unknown with the help of technology.”

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Education Community vision is to share the story, the science, and the adventure of NASA’s scientific explorations of our home planet, the solar system, and the universe beyond, through stimulating and informative activities and experiences created by experts, delivered effectively and efficiently to learners of many backgrounds via proven conduits, thus providing a direct return on the public’s investment in NASA’s scientific research.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Managing Editor of eCampus News, and was formerly the Associate Editor of eSchool News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated cum laude from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.

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