• Institute Professor Thomas L. Magnanti, dean of engineering (left) and Peter Path�, general manager, Microsoft Research, University Relations.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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MIT and Microsoft announce Project I-Campus


MIT and Microsoft Corp. have unveiled an ambitious alliance to enhance university education through information technology.

Announced at an event held in Building 9 yesterday, the new collaboration involves cooperative projects among students, faculty and researchers at MIT and members of Microsoft Research. Sharing a commitment to excellence in technologically enhanced education, Microsoft and MIT will focus on methods and technologies that will enhance education on our campus and could set the pace for university education in the next five to 10 years.

Microsoft Research will assign several research staff members to this collaboration, dubbed "Project I-Campus," in addition to allocating $25 million for work at MIT over the project's five-year lifetime. To support the goal of broad impact in technology-enhanced education, both MIT and Microsoft plan to engage additional academic and industry partners and produce materials that adhere to open standards, with results and source code that can be widely published and disseminated.

"This partnership draws upon MIT's research expertise and our core strength of highly interactive teaching and learning," said President Charles Vest. "Education-focused research supported by Microsoft will lead to new learning environments for our students and will make us an even better university. Still more important, the MIT-Microsoft alliance will help create knowledge and information-based services that can improve higher education worldwide."

Dr. Rick Rashid, vice president of Microsoft Research, underscored the importance of information technology to education. "Microsoft views education as one of the great frontiers where information-based services and advanced technology can help people improve their lives," he said. "Microsoft Research has collaborated with numerous institutions and research organizations through the years. And we are delighted to launch a new era of commitments and support with MIT."

The alliance will involve research and development in three broad areas in which information technology has a major impact on university education:

  • New pedagogical approaches and structures. Possibilities include remote access to laboratory instruments; new software tools for delivering educational content; and new tools to aid student learning, such as tutoring and mentoring at a distance and web-based virtual museums.
  • Integrating information technology concepts and methods throughout university education. Examples include large-scale collaborative engineering design, the study of complex systems and the creation of information-based curricula across traditional disciplinary boundaries.
  • Addressing the changing environment of university education (such as providing education at a distance and lifelong learning to a larger community) and the impact of digital information technologies on academic publishing.

"The partnership aspires to reinvent teaching and learning for the 21st century research university, leveraging all of the great inventions and innovations in computers and telecommunications that have occurred in the last half of the 20th century," said Institute Professor Thomas L. Magnanti, dean of the School of Engineering. "MIT reinvented engineering education in the late 1950s based upon 'engineering science' -- largely in response to the Sputnik scare. Today, by collaborating with such an outstanding software company as Microsoft, we can reinvent again, this time using modern information technologies to enhance teaching, learning and university administration."

Dean Magnanti will serve as co-director of Project I-Campus at MIT with Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

THREE PROJECTS

Project I-Campus begins with three initial projects: an expansion of the MIT Shakespeare Electronic Archive; the design of an educational system using a "global classroom" recently established between MIT and the National University of Singapore under the auspices of the Singapore-MIT Alliance (which also includes Nanyang Technological University); and an initiative in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics on the experimental use of distance collaboration in design courses. For more information about these projects and about Project I-Campus, see http://web.mit.edu/alliance.

A Joint Steering Committee (JSC) composed of three members from MIT and three from Microsoft will review MIT proposals for research projects and manage the collaborative research. MIT members of the JSC are Professor Abelson (MIT co-chair), Dean Magnanti and M.S. Vijay Kumar, director of Academic Computing Information Systems. Microsoft's members are Peter Path�, general manager, Microsoft Research, University Relations (Microsoft co-chair); Anoop Gupta, senior researcher in Microsoft Research's Collaboration and Multimedia Systems Group; and William Vablais, manager, Microsoft University Research Programs.

In addition to Dean Magnanti, who led MIT's efforts in working toward this new alliance, other members of the team were Professor Abelson; Dr. Kumar; Richard Larson, director of the Center for Advanced Educational Services; Steve Lerman, director of the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives; Chris Terman, senior lecturer in electrical engineering and computer science; and Rachel Oberai-Soltz, manager of corporate relations in the Office of Corporate Relations.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. Microsoft joins Ford, Merck, Amgen, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and Merrill Lynch as the sixth industrial leader in the last few years to join in a partnership agreement with MIT. Collaborating on large-scale research initiatives, these alliances build on synergies between MIT and its partners and bring value to both organizations.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 6, 1999.


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