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.
* 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.
* 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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