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Dr. Franco Capaldi

March 30, 2015
An Infinitely Explorable Online Learning Environment

With the tremendous growth of online education over the past ten years, the appearance of fully online degree programs has signaled a disruptive shift in the manner in which education is delivered. However, online teaching systems are still at their core content delivery systems. These systems fail students in two major ways. First, they constrain student responses to quantities the system explicitly asks for, and in the way students must enter their answers. Secondly, these systems lack the ability to discern what is incorrect in a student answer.

Here at Merrimack, Dr. Capaldi devised a next generation intelligent online homework system to address the above shortfalls. This system revolutionizes engineering online education by “understanding a subject” instead of delivering content. When presented with a problem, student response is not constrained in any way—a student may enter an equation, diagram, graph, or text related to any solution, intermediate step, or even extraneous aspect of the system. Any and all possible entries are evaluated and the student is given feedback. This gives students the freedom to explore their ideas and receive feedback as if the instructor were looking over their work in real time. 

Pictured above is an image of the educational software in action.

In addition, the system is based on interactive, fully three-dimensional engineering problems which lends authenticity and gives students the ability to explore the spatial relation between machine parts, gears, pulleys, etc. Students may engage with the question content on a level that is not available in any other online homework systems. Here at Merrimack, Dr. Capaldi has partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Stout to undertake a pilot study, which has shown both the efficacy of the methodology and has promoted further development of the software. In addition, Sigma Learning Systems, Inc. has been founded with the intent of spreading this online software system to multiple institutions around the country. A patent application has been filed for the underlying technology powering the online homework system. 

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