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Focus on Grand Challenge Problems

We urge the national research center to focus on grand challenge problems in education research and development. “Grand challenge problems” are important problems that require bringing together a community of scientists and researchers to work toward their solution.

American computer science was advanced by a grand challenge problems strategy when its research community articulated a set of science and social problems whose solutions required a thousand-fold increase in the power and speed of supercomputers and their supporting networks, storage systems, and software. Since that time, grand challenge problems have been used to catalyze advances in genetics (the Human Genome Project), environmental science, and world health.

To qualify as grand challenge problems suitable for this organization, research problems should be

  • Understandable and significant, with a clearly stated compelling case for contributing to long-term benefits for society
  • Challenging, timely, and achievable with concerted, coordinated efforts
  • Clearly useful in terms of impact and scale, if solved, with long-term benefits for many people and international in scope
  • Measurable and incremental, with interim milestones that produce useful benefits as they are reached.

This kind of grand challenge problem strategy has driven innovation and knowledge building in science, engineering, and mathematics, The time is right to undertake it to improve our education system (Pea, 2007).

The following grand challenge problems illustrate the kinds of ambitious R&D efforts this organization could lead. Notably, although each of these problems is a grand challenge in its own right, they all combine to form the ultimate grand challenge problem in education: establishing an integrated, end-to-end real-time system for managing learning outcomes and costs across our entire education system at all levels.

1.0: Design and validate an integrated system that provides real-time access to learning experiences tuned to the levels of difficulty and assistance that optimizes learning for all learners, and that incorporates self-improving features that enable it to become increasingly effective through interaction with learners.

2.0: Design and validate an integrated system for designing and implementing valid, reliable, and cost-effective assessments of complex aspects of 21st century expertise and competencies across academic disciplines.

3.0: Design and validate an integrated approach for capturing, aggregating, mining, and sharing content, student learning, and financial data cost-effectively for multiple purposes across many learning platforms and data systems in near real time.

4.0: Identify and validate design principles for efficient and effective online learning systems and combined online and offline learning systems that produce content expertise and competencies equal to or better than those produced by the best conventional instruction in half the time at half the cost.

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