High-tech Research Group Joins S.O.E.

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A group of eight research experts from Internet pioneer BBN Corp. have joined the School of Education with the aim of establishing a new educational technology center at Boston College.

Known as the Research on Learning Communities team, the scientists - whose specialties include artificial intelligence and use of technology in teaching mathematics and science - are affiliated with the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy. Next year, they plan to launch the Center for Research on Learning Communities after receiving anticipated external funding.

The researchers had previously formed the educational technology wing of BBN, a Cambridge high-tech firm that developed the precursor to the Internet in the 1960s, and had achieved international distinction for their pioneering work in applying emerging technologies to learning and teaching.

SOE Dean Mary Brabeck welcomed the arrival of the researchers, who she said bring with them "big external funding, an incredibly rich research agenda, and expertise that we need, but do not currently have, in educational technology."

BBN was sold last year and after the new parent corporation expressed limited interest in retaining the educational technology arm, the researchers began looking for a university or private foundation host. They agreed to come to SOE last month.

Brabeck said the team chose SOE as its new home out of a regard for "our students, our faculty and our mission. They're interested in being a member of the community at the School of Education, not just a separate research center. They were attracted by the high quality of the graduate students who would be available to work on their projects."

In addition, Brabeck said, the BBN researchers have worked with SOE faculty such as Asst. Prof. Lillie Albert, Prof. Walter Haney and CSTEEP Research Associate Michael Russell.

"They know who we are and what we're trying to achieve," she said. "They share our mission."

Leaders of the research team include Allan Collins, a principal scientist at BBN and professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, known for his work in cognitive science and artificial intelligence; and Beverly Hunter, a lead scientist and manager of BBN's Educational Technology Systems group who has sought to apply computer networking to the reform of mathematics and science education.

Others who have come to Boston College from BBN are senior scientists Katerine Bielaczyc, Richard Carter, Melanie Goldman and Fadia Harik, and scientists Laurie Pattison-Gordon and David Reider.

At BBN, the researchers explored ways of building networked "learning communities" in which classrooms across the globe are linked by computer. For example, Reider, a woodwind player, helped develop software that enabled schools on different continents to hold the first live Internet-based school concert.

Bielaczyc said the proposed Center for Research on Learning Communities will further several of Boston College's stated priorities in its effort to bolster research and enhance internationalism and technology.

"The excellence of the Boston College School of Education provides a foundation for national and international leadership in advancing knowledge of new forms of learning communities," she said. "The core team that is moving from BBN to Boston College, and other participants we hope to attract as the center grows, will bring strengths in cognitive science, informational technologies and educational reform that complement BC's excellence in developmental and educational psychology, teacher education, educational administration, measurement and evaluation, and family and community partnerships."

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