Public Schools: Advanced Technology Program


Program Manager: Dr. Omid Omidvar

The Advanced Technology Program (ATP) bridges the gap between the research lab and the marketplace. Funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Department of Commerce, ATP supports projects with risky, challenging technologies that would also have significant benefit to the nation. Awards are prestigious based on rigorous, multi-tiered peer review to assess the challenge of the development risk, the innovation of the technology and the payoff to the nation. The competition is intense; in 2003, fewer than 10% of the 472 submitted proposals passed muster.

The Acuitus/ATP project set out to realize the vision of every middle-school math student having an expert personal tutor. Unfortunately, effective, highly skilled human tutors are scarce, and most charge fees beyond many family budgets. So, Acuitus is setting out to develop the digital equivalent of an expert—and affordable—math tutor.

Currently, educational software application and systems are based almost exclusively on models of how students learn, important but not sufficient for successful instruction. The missing ingredient is modeling how effective tutors teach in one-to-one situations.

Acuitus, working with faculty at Stanford University’s Department of Psychology, will carry out a multidisciplinary program that integrates research on effective instruction in areas ranging from communication, education and motivational theory to artificial intelligence and core computer science. A major challenge will be integrating these disparate pieces into a whole that complements models of student learning. The envisioned digital tutor will be able to interact—affectively and socially—with a broad range of students in ways that are almost indistinguishable from a live expert tutor.

Research credits expert tutoring with a “2-sigma improvement” in student outcomes—equivalent to a jump from the bottom tier to the top tier of a class with tutoring performance. The eventual digital system will complement classroom instruction, leveraging the teacher while at the same time reducing the workload most teachers face; in short, to bring the benefits of technology to teaching that other professions have exploited. It would help teachers to readily provide quality education to a greater number of students, closing the educational gap within classrooms and raising everyone's standardized test scores

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