MIT Reports to the President 1994-95

Center for Educational Computing Initiatives


The Center for Educational Computing Initiatives (CECI) was created in July 1991 to advance the state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice in the use of computation and communication technologies in education. The concept of a permanent, interdepartmental research center at MIT that would focus on educational applications of computing was one of the recommendations of the Committee on Academic Computing in the 90s chaired by the late Dean Margaret Macvicar. The creation of CECI, reporting directly to the Provost, and the migration of the operating responsibility for Project Athena to MIT Information Systems were the two major strategic decisions made by the Institute as Project Athena neared its June 1991 ending date.

In brief, CECI's mission is as follows:

to undertake research in the application of computer and communications technologies directed towards the goal of improving the effectiveness and productivity of learning and education.

Implicit in this mission statement is the hypothesis that new technologies can improve the quality of education in many areas and that a sustained research focus on such uses of technology will, over time, yield such improvements. An interdepartmental, MIT-wide center such as CECI is essential because such research does not fit well within traditional departmental organizational structures.


Projects in CECI focus on the three following areas:

* enabling technologies - the development of technologies that enable educational applications, including authoring systems, tool kits or libraries of computer code that make the creation of effective computer applications easier and less expensive;

* creation of applications - the authoring of new educational applications of computation and computer technologies;

* evaluation - studies of how various uses of computer technology affect education, particularly the extent to which innovations in computer applications improve the quality of education.

Some of the major initiatives already begun or in planning are described below.

Athenamusereg.: A Multimedia Authoring Environment
During Project Athena, a small group of researchers developed a research prototype of a multimedia authoring system that has come to be called AthenaMuse. This system had many innovative features but was limited in its portability, maintainability, and adaptability to new media types. CECI is developing a completely new generation of multimedia authoring software, called AthenaMuse 2, with the following goals:

* To build a suite of highly interactive, visual, and user friendly multimedia editors that support all phases of the creation of multimedia applications. The goal is to provide a set of tools for multimedia applications that can be used by subject experts who are not programmers.

* To develop an improved multimedia runtime environment for the presentation of multimedia documents and interactive applications in a distributed network environment as well as in stand-alone modes.

* To provide independent object libraries that will facilitate the introduction of new multimedia modules and will allow the combination of multimedia components with other software technologies such as three-dimensional rendering, an object-oriented database, and natural language analysis.

* To define a platform-independent language to describe multimedia applications. The software will provide a low-level structured application interchange format that will allow a multimedia application authored on one computer system to run on another that may have very different media peripherals and screen resolution. Versions of AthenaMuse are currently being implemented for UNIX (using the MIT-developed X Window System), Microsoft Windows (both NT and Windows 95), and Macintosh System 7.

* To create content-rich applications that span a wide range of educational areas, including in-class instruction, tutorials, museum collections, and library applications.

This initiative continues MIT's leadership in multimedia authoring environments for educational applications and the development of applications themselves. The software development is being undertaken by an industry-sponsored research and development consortium. This group, called the AthenaMuse Software Consortium, includes both MIT sponsored research staff and full-time industry and academic visitors.

A first release of a tested and stable version of AthenaMuse was done in August 1995. Versions with new features will be released approximately every six months. Discussions are underway with several commercial organizations that have expressed interest in the commercialization of AthenaMuse.

Environmental Education
Environmental education is an area in which computer and communication technologies have enormous potential. This is in part because environmental studies are typically multidisciplinary in nature, making them a fertile area for tools that allow sharing of different expertise. In addition, learning about the environment can be aided by giving students access to visual images of remote locations (as in studies of the Antarctic ozone hole), providing them with a wide range of data (as in studies of ocean currents or global warming), or providing them with sophisticated simulation tools that allow them to trace the complex economic and social effects of environmental decisions (as in the regulation of CFCs or shifts in automotive pollution control standards). All of these aids can be provided by the technologies at the center of CECI's research interests.

CECI is currently working with the Professor Dennis McLaughlin of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering on EPA-funded extensions to a computer application on ground water pollution that is now in use in courses at MIT. The core of this application is a simulation of a contaminant plume. Students can take remedial actions such as pumping contaminated water from wells, treating it, and injecting the treated water into other wells. Costs are assigned to these various actions, encouraging students to think through which measures are likely to be most cost-effective.

We are also developing a multimedia kiosk application in conjunction with the New England Aquarium. This software will allow visitors to the aquarium to explore the biology and ecology of local New England ponds.

Multimedia Exposition on Professor Harold Edgerton
In collaboration with the MIT Museum and the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography, we are developing two distinct computer-based applications that capture the ideas, art, and technology developed by Professor Harold ("Doc") Edgerton. Doc Edgerton's work includes the development of stroboscopic photography and many of the technologies involved in side-scanning sonar. This project is funded by the Harold E. Edgerton Trust.

The first of the computer applications is part of a traveling, international museum exhibit being created by the George Eastman House Museum of Photography. Unlike many earlier Edgerton exhibits, this one focuses not only on the artistic contributions of Edgerton's important stop-action photographs, but also on the experimental apparatus he created in "Strobe Alley." The computer application explores the many aspects of Doc's life and times, including his work as an artist, scientist, engineer, celebrity, and explorer.

The second computer application is intended for use in middle schools. It will include curriculum materials, still images, video, and educational exercises both on the computer and with "hands-on" kits. Through this combination of traditional and new media, we hope to convey a sense of how Doc Edgerton solved real problems and to empower the student to explore some of the ideas that Edgerton pioneered.

The third component of the project is the creation of a database application for the MIT Museum. This innovative system will allow anyone connected to the Internet to access digitized versions of the important photographs created by Doc Edgerton that will be stored in an innovative database managed by the MIT Museum. Access through the Internet World Wide Web (using the Mosaic browser software developed at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications) is already being tested. We expect this entire system to be the basis for future digital versions of collections at the MIT Museum.

Foreign Language Projects
Languages will be taught in the future less from a book-centered approach and more from an immersion in authentic speech. The ability of multimedia computer technology to provide a simulated environment in which the sounds and images presented to the student reflect the native speech and culture of a foreign country makes it a powerful tool for language instruction, perhaps second only to actually being in the other country.

As a result of work started during Project Athena, MIT is an international leader in this effort. The Athena Language Learning Project at MIT created award-winning multimedia computer applications to teach French and Spanish. Dr. Janet Murray (Senior Research Scientist), Gilberte Furstenberg (Senior Lecturer in French), Douglas Morgenstern (Senior Lecturer in Spanish), and Professor Suzanne Flynn (who specializes in Linguistics and English as a Second Language), all from the Foreign Languages and Literature Section, and former CECI staff members Evelyn Schlusselberg and Ben Davis developed these applications. Much of this research continues in the Laboratory for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, a research group under the direction of Dr. Murray that is affiliated with CECI.

More recently, CECI has been working with our visiting scholar Ana Beatriz Chiquito from the University of Norway to develop a series of Spanish Language applications. These applications use the AthenaMuse authoring system to create virtual environments in which students hear and use Spanish in realistic contexts.

The Robert R. Taylor Network
Working with the Black Alumni/ae Association of MIT, CECI has been developing a new initiative to create a computer-based archive that documents the contributions of African-American scientists, engineers, and architects. This project has produced a first prototype computer application. In the longer term, we are seeking support of a project called the Robert R. Taylor Network that would have three major features:

* the creation of a network-accessible archive that could be used by scholars and teachers;

* the implementation of a series of projects that would be undertaken by secondary school students who would add contributions to the archive;

* the development of specific educational modules for distribution to public schools (K-12) that can be used by teachers in curricula either in the sciences or history. These modules would introduce students to the scientific contributions of people of color in the United States.

Visualization of Multi-Attribute Queries and Databases
As the amount of computer-based information grows and the tools to retrieve that data become more sophisticated, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to formulate appropriate queries for electronic information and to understand the results of these queries. Dr. Anselm Spoerri, a former CECI graduate student, developed a set of graphical tools that use color, shape of polygons, geometric layout, shading, and other visual queues to manage such information.

The Shakespeare Interactive Archive Project
The Shakespeare Interactive Archive Project, directed by Professor Peter Donaldson of the MIT Department of Humanities, is creating a prototype environment for studying text and film of Shakespearean plays as an aid to learning and to scholarly research. This project addresses key questions of how to index and annotate electronic and performance texts so that they are readily accessible to multiple, concurrent users. Source materials for this archive will include various versions of major plays, images of early published editions of those plays, supplemental essays, and digitized versions of films of the plays. These efforts coincide with a shift in emphasis in Shakespeare studies toward the serious study of performance at the micro, or highly detailed, level.

The Shakespeare Archive is also expected to contribute in the long-range to work in Film and Media Studies at MIT, in particular the effort to access film materials in relation to text and commentary and to create a new kind of classroom in which video and text sources are integrated and made readily available for analysis.

Museums, Archives, and Libraries
Museums, archives and libraries share a common need to provide information to broad constituencies. CECI has been working with several such organizations to explore the potential of computer and communication technologies to aid in this mission. In several cases, CECI staff have created prototypes of computer applications that allow users to browse the rich information resources of such organizations. Specific projects include:

* project with the MIT Museum to create a multimedia collection describing the life and work of Doc Edgerton. This project is the first in a proposed series on famous MIT researchers.

* a prototype of an application (and a proposal for continuing work) on new techniques for computer-assisted reading for the new Bibliotheque de France.

* the development of a computer application that presents the history of architecture at MIT. This project is being done with the MIT Museum and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

* a prototype with the Smithsonian Museums showing a portion of their Native American collection.

* a project being undertaken with the Rotch Library to deliver portions of their collection of still images over the campus network.

* a prototype for human interface research for the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

Journal of Science Education and Technology
CECI is the home for a journal in the use of information technology in science education. The publication is entitled the Journal of Science Education and Technology. It covers all levels of education, including K-12. Dr. Karen Cohen, a Senior Research Associate, is the editor of the journal, and Professor Steven R. Lerman, Director of CECI, is on the editorial board. Plenum Press is the publisher.

MIT faculty and research staff are encouraged to use the journal as the scholarly publication of choice for educational computing. This connection will provide peer review for young faculty who are interested in this area but are concerned about how such work will be recognized in the tenure and promotion process.

Conference on the Uses of Multimedia
In November 1995, CECI organized and hosted a symposium on the uses of multimedia computer applications in life-long education, particularly in corporate settings. This conference brought together approximately 90 people for an entire day to discuss the major issues in the creation and distribution of effective multimedia software applications. Speakers at the conference came from industry and academia.

Multimedia Course on Probability, Statistics, and their Application to Manufacturing
CECI is starting work on a project funded through the ARPA Technology Reinvestment Program to develop undergraduate-level course modules to teach probability, statistics, and their application to quality control in manufacturing. This effort is part of a larger, five university program called the Realization Project under which the universities will develop and share a range of educational materials that they create. The computer-based multimedia modules will be created by CECI researchers working with Professors Drake, Larson, Lerman, and Welsch, all of whom have taught various courses in this area.

This project is scheduled to run for three years starting in the summer of 1994. The first modules should be ready for testing by the end of the first year.

The Geology Tutor
CECI has supported an ongoing project on the development of a computer-based tutoring system for introductory geology. This project is directed by Professor Herbert Einstein of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Geology Tutor has both expository and testing modules on various aspects of geology, particularly those that affect the design of foundations for major construction projects. It is used extensively in an undergraduate course on geotechnology taught by Professor Einstein.


To be successful, CECI must establish working relationships with many other organizations, both at MIT and elsewhere. These relationships are mutually beneficial, with both CECI and the other organizations gaining from the collaboration. One pattern of cooperation already emerging is where MIT academic departments or outside organizations provide their substantive knowledge of some field and CECI provides the computer application design/implementation expertise to build an educational system.

The most significant change for CECI is the merger of its activities with the Center for Educational Computing Services (formerly the Center for Advanced Engineering Studies). Starting in September 1995, CECI and CAES have been reorganized to foster closer collaboration. CECI retains a distinct identity as a research organization, but reports to the Provost for administrative and financial purposes through a restructured CAES. This arrangement brings together the research strengths of CECI with the video production capabilities of CAES. Together the two organizations will have capabilities that span the full range of problems in the uses of educational technology, ranging from basic research through the publication of multimedia software for K-12, higher education, and lifelong learning.

The remainder of this section describes some of the other significant relationships that are important to the achievement of CECI's goals in the next five years.

Black Alumni/ae Association of MIT
CECI has developed an ongoing relationship with the Black Alumni/ae Association to work together on creating multimedia archives on the contributions of African-American scientists, architects, and engineers. The first project, a prototype on the work of Robert R. Taylor, the first university-educated African American architect from MIT, has been completed. A larger project that includes educational programs for secondary school students and an ongoing data collection effort is now being developed.

Center for Advanced Engineering Studies
We are currently working closely with the Center for Advanced Engineering Studies. In addition to sharing some computational and video production facilities, we have been collaborating on the Mechanical Engineering Design Project. One of the CAES visiting fellows from industry is working with CECI on our library image server project.

The MIT Libraries
There is substantial opportunity for collaboration between CECI and the MIT Libraries. As discussed above, the libraries are one of the major participants in the Distributed Library Initiative (DLI). CECI may play a major role in some of the research initiatives under the larger umbrella of DLI, particularly in the area of image delivery. As part of Project Athena, several CECI staff worked on the pilot electronic image delivery system that provided network access to a collection of 3,000 slides in the Rotch Visual Collection. We are planning to update that system to provide broader access and digital images. (The earlier system used analog transmission of images via the MIT CATV system.)

The MIT Museum
In addition to working together on the Edgerton project, CECI and the MIT Museum are collaborating on developing a computer-based information system on the Museum's collection. Through this system, we plan to make text, images, and eventually video segments that describe elements of the collection accessible over the MIT campus network and the Internet. We are also developing several proposals together on other topics, including the computer-based presentation of the drawings and other materials in the Museum's architecture collection.

Information Systems
CECI retains a close working relationship with the part of MIT Information Systems that now operates the Athena Computing Environment. This relationship includes shared facilities, seminars, and joint participation in several initiatives. Some of CECI's current computing capability runs the Athena software system and is maintained under contract by Information Systems. While CECI operates computers for its research needs that are not part of the Athena system, some portion of our computer system will be kept Athena-compatible.

Current research in CECI is developing enhancements to the Athena computing system in areas such as multimedia and scientific visualization. To the extent that CECI demonstrates the importance of new technologies in university education, these capabilities will, over time, be incorporated in some form in the Athena system. Clearly, such technology transfer will be very case-specific, depending upon the costs of the technology and the funding available for the Athena system. Because of their physical proximity in Building E40, CECI and Information Systems share some facilities.


CECI currently has six MIT employees (including the Director of the Center), seven full-time visiting research scientists, and approximately 18 graduate and undergraduate research assistants.

The Center currently occupies approximately 2400 square feet of usable space on the third floor of Building E40 (The Muckley Building). This space includes nine offices totaling about 1300 square feet, cubicle space for student assistants and administrative support, and six carrels intended for use by UROPS. The Center also has a small video editing studio in the basement of E40. This facility is used for making master videotapes and working videodisks used in the development of multimedia computer applications. All of the work areas are equipped with network connections to the campus network and cable TV access. This infrastructure is essential for the research done at the Center, particularly our work with multimedia computing.

Many of the initiatives in CECI will be done in the space of the home departments of the participating faculty. In the long-run, CECI should become a hybrid between a "virtual center" and a more conventional research laboratory. Some of the research of the Center will be done by full-time staff housed centrally in CECI space, while other projects will be done by faculty, students, and staff belonging to other groups on campus. This approach will allow CECI's activities to expand without requiring a commensurate growth in the Center's space.


CECI has a number of goals for the next five years. In particular, CECI has adopted the following goals:

* CECI should continue to be part of several major, state-of-the-art initiatives in educational computing. These initiatives should draw on the Institute's traditional strengths in computer and communications technology and our recognized leadership as an educational institution.

* CECI must become the focus of a community of faculty, staff, and students who share a common interest in educational computing. This is essential because most of our academic departments have only one or two faculty with interests in this area. Without a more Institute-wide community, these individuals lack both the peer support and financial resources for sustained, effective research.

* CECI should provide a testbed for new ideas that, if successful, can influence the campus computing environment built under Project Athena. In effect, part of CECI's role is to explore the possible strategic directions the campus computing environment should take and to identify those directions that, at least in small-scale experiments, seem the most promising.

* CECI should increase the group of undergraduate and graduate students who, while working on degrees in various other academic departments, want to focus their research on educational computing.

* CECI should assist faculty in finding the external funding needed for educational computing initiatives. This assistance will take the form of direct fund-raising, help in proposal preparation, provision of seed grants for promising new ideas, and the organization of consortia.

* When appropriate, CECI should provide technical assistance to educational computing projects. For example, CECI staff should include individuals with specialized skills that can be used as part of a number of different projects, no one of which could support someone with that expertise full-time.

* CECI's initiatives should have a direct effect on the MIT curriculum, ideally affecting some of the fundamental, core undergraduate subjects at MIT.

Steven R. Lerman

MIT Reports to the President 1994-95