NASA Awards $10 Million Grant to Develop Digital Science Courseware

Arizona State University (ASU) will receive more than $10 million over the next five years from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop next-generation science education courseware.

A team of researchers from the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration will receive a $10.18-million grant to develop a digital learning design platform that goes beyond current science education models that rely on lectures and the memorization of facts.

The courseware the group hopes to develop will incorporate online simulations, virtual field trips and adaptive learning analytics.

The ASU team will work with the Inspark Science Network and ASU's Center for Education Through eXploration (ETX). The Inspark Science Network is a joint initiative of ETX and Smart Sparrow, a company that focuses on adaptive learning.

ASU Professors Lindy Elkins-Tanton and Ariel Anbar will be principal and deputy principal investigator, respectively. Anbar, a biogeochemist has already created an online course, "Habitable Worlds," that is used at a number of colleges around the country to teach the fundamentals of science as students take a virtual extraterrestrial journey exploring the question, "Are we alone?"

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

The researchers will work to develop personalized and adaptive learning experiences that focus on astrobiology and "small bodies" such as Saturn's moon Enceladus, Jupiter's moon Europa and asteroids. By doing so, the team will incorporate content that will be supplied by NASA.

The most immediate goal is to develop learning programs for so-called "self-learners" and the longer-term goal is to develop a program for formal K-12 students.

"With this grant, we can promote a greater public understanding and appreciation for science, and inspire a new generation of explorers," Elkins-Tanton said. "We hope to share the exciting world of NASA science in a way that is both approachable and interactive."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.