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NSF Funds Projects to Expand the Potential of the Administration’s Digital Promise Initiative


NSF-supported research will amplify, expand and transform new technology-enabled opportunities for anytime, anywhere learning

Officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF) today joined in an event at which U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Administration’s Digital Promise Initiative to advance breakthrough technologies that can help transform teaching and learning. Building on the themes of innovation and entrepreneurship in President Obama’s recent speech to a joint session of Congress, Digital Promise is designed to spur research and development and private-sector investment in learning technology. NSF officials took the occasion to announce the first round of awards in its complementary “Cyberlearning: Transforming Education” program, a $15 million portfolio of multidisciplinary, potentially transformative NSF awards.

At the White House event today, NSF’s Assistant Directors Joan Ferrini-Mundy of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources and Farnam Jahanian of the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering described Cyberlearning: Transforming Education, a program that encompasses a variety of projects that aim to develop next-generation learning environments in order to reach America’s diversity of learners, and to improve learning.

Innovative research projects and prototypes include:

• “GeoGames” that help students analyze data across geographical areas to solve real-world challenges;
• Robots that use non-verbal cues to teach vocabulary to children;
• Systems that create augmented reality for learners with hearing disabilities to support their learning; and
• Online tutors that assess a student’s real-time comprehension and tailor learning strategies to improve achievement.

NSF’s Cyberlearning: Transforming Education is a joint program among the directorates for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering; Education and Human Resources; and Social, Behavioral, Economic Sciences; as well as the Office of Cyberinfrastructure.

“Amplifying, expanding and transforming opportunities for effective learning, and better attracting, motivating and engaging young learners are among society’s central challenges,” said Ferrini-Mundy. “Participating actively as a citizen and productively in the workforce requires understanding science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts and the ability to collaborate, learn, solve problems and make decisions.”

“We are in a very exciting time,” added Jahanian, “Realizing the promise of a new technology depends on more than inventing new tools or resources. Success also depends on designing the ways they will be used and integrated into learning, and on research on learning in technology-rich environments.”

NSF has invested in the development of innovative educational technologies for decades. These research projects have resulted in sophisticated simulation, modeling and programming tools that make it easier to learn science and engineering. Systems used extensively in schools, industry and the military, such as Cognitive Tutors and Intelligent Tutoring Systems, were NSF-supported. Systems such as NetLogo, Scratch, micro-computer-based laboratory science, Crickets, Lego Mindstorms and Agent Sheets also had their start as federally-funded research projects.

“NSF invests in cyberlearning research and development to integrate what is known about how people learn with advances in information and communications technologies in order to cultivate a citizenry that engages productively in learning throughout a lifetime,” said Ferrini-Mundy.

Jahanian continued, “The projects within the cyberlearning portfolio stand to demonstrate the promise of learning technologies to transform our schools and enhance our lives.”

Visit the program page to see a full list of awards made through this program so far, as well as the new solicitation for its second year of funding.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2011, its budget is about $6.9 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.


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