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New Grants from BU’s Digital Learning Initiative

DLI funds assessment tool, secure communications portal, and blended computer courses


MOOCs (massive open online courses) use online technology to reach students who are far from the classroom. Could technology help instructors do some test grading as well? That question punched Eric Braude’s ticket for the latest round of EdTech Seed Grants from BU’s Digital Learning Initiative (DLI).

Braude, a Metropolitan College associate professor of computer science, is designing his Knowla (“knowledge assembly”) system and already has a prototype. Knowla would allow students to respond to test questions in forms that could be automatically graded, he says. Knowla first would dissect test material, be it a speech, poem, essay, or computer program, into fragments according to the instructor’s specifications. The student would view the randomly ordered fragments. “A drag-and-drop interface will allow students to rearrange the fragments and inspect the evolving result,” Braude says. Knowla would score the student based on how well she reconstructs the fragments to match the original document.

Two other proposals, from the School of Public Health and the College of Engineering, won EdTech grants from the DLI, the faculty-led group that develops BU’s MOOCs and awards the grants, which pay for faculty and staff innovations in educational technology. This was the second round of EdTech grants, following inaugural awards earlier this year.

The DLI is seeking proposals for its next round of grants and will hold informational meetings about that process on October 20, 21, and 22 at the Hariri Institue. Information about DLI’s call for proposals is also on its website.

In addition to Braude, two other faculty members received grants in this latest round:

Jacey Greece, a SPH clinical assistant professor, is designing an online portal, the Community Link, for courses that involve collaboration with community service agencies. The portal would allow secure communications between the various parties, regardless of their location or schedule, says Greece. “For example,” she says, “students may be developing a program to address low usage of sexual reproductive services in male high school students for a community-based health center in western Massachusetts. The platform will allow the BU students and the center to engage remotely throughout the semester,” sharing ideas, information, and student assignments.

While several existing SPH courses link students with community agencies, the Community Link would allow more such collaborations while ensuring that student projects “are well-informed, innovative, and evidence-based, and meet the scope of work” requested by the agency, Greece says, adding that the technology could be used by other University schools.

Thomas Little, an ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering, hopes to reboot two core sophomore courses—Circuits and Introduction to Computing—as “blended” courses involving both online instruction and in-class time with professors. The idea would be to move “the lecture component to online video and allow more in-class time [to be] spent on the application of learned concepts,” he says.

“The potential for impact on our residential experience makes this a very interesting endeavor,” he says. “If we can be successful in transforming our large, core courses, we will affect more than 600 students per year.”

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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