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Drexel is joining NSF research on how AI can make education more accessible

College of Computing & Informatics faculty and students will focus on using artificial intelligence to reskill and upskill working adults for workplaces of the future.

The founders of Launch Lane's inaugural cohort. (Courtesy photo)

Drexel University’s College of Computing & Informatics was recently selected to join a $220 million National Science Foundation initiative aiming to expand the use of artificial intelligence in areas ranging from agriculture and food supply chains to adult and online learning.

Drexel’s role specifically will involve using AI to make education more accessible for Americans who are adapting to rapidly changing workplaces. Drexel will work with the NSF’s Adult Learning & Online Education (ALOE) Institute. The NSF will spend $20 million over five years on this research.

Assistant Professor of Information Science and Computer Science Christopher MacLellan will lead Drexel’s involvement with the initiative. Two Drexel Ph.D. students and one undergraduate student will join him in this research over the next five years.

Eleven other partner organizations are participating in ALOE’s research, including including Georgia Research Alliance, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Arizona State University, University of North Carolina Greensboro, Harvard University, Technical College System of Georgia, Wiley, Boeing, IBM and IMS Global.

Christopher MacLellan. (Photo via LinkedIn)

“This is the first AI initiative of this scope and scale,” MacLellan said. “This kind of sustained, long-term investment by NSF will make it possible to advance foundational AI capabilities and to leverage these capabilities to transform how adults learn, reskill and upskill.”

MacLellan currently leads Drexel’s Teachable AI Lab where his team studies how people teach and learn in an effort to build machines that can teach and learn like people. The Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Lab is currently funding this work to build teachable AI capabilities that can enhance human-machine collaboration. They also aim for the creation of AI models that diagnose battlefield injuries in a more cost-effective way.

Ashok Goel, a professor of computer science and human-centered computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, will lead the ALOE Institute as its executive director. The institute will work on AI in four categories: personalization at scale, mutual theory of mind, machine teaching and responsible AI.

ALOE will use virtual assistants to make education more equitable and affordable for adults, and will blend online educational resources and courses to make education more widely available.

“The goal of ALOE is to develop new artificial intelligence theories and techniques to make online education for adults at least as effective as in-person education in STEM fields,” Goel said. “ALOE will develop new types of trainable virtual assistants, novel AI techniques to personalize learning at an unprecedented scale and AI systems to support both learners and teachers.”

Companies: Drexel University College of Computing & Informatics / Drexel University / National Science Foundation

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