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iCampus Selects Final Recipients of Funding

By Benjamin P. Gleitzman

In its last year of funding, projects funded by iCampus, a $25 million partnership between MIT and Microsoft Research, are going international.

If OpenAfrica, a project by Mohamed A. Haji ’06 is successful, more students in Africa may have the chance to take the SAT’s and apply to colleges around the world. iCampus has championed the funding of sustainable student and faculty-led projects to revolutionize the practice of higher education using the tools of information technology.

Grants from iCampus were available to MIT students for one year of funding, and to faculty for two.

OpenWetWare, created by Jason R. Kelly G, is a Web site that can be edited by the public, also known as a wiki, designed to promote the sharing of information, know-how, and wisdom among researchers and groups working in biology and biological engineering. OpenWetWare allows labs, groups, and individuals to organize information and collaborate easily with others, according to the iCampus Web site. The project was inspired by the online editable encyclopedia Wikipedia and OpenCourseWare, an MIT initiative that posts course material for hundreds of MIT classes on the internet for public use.

This year’s student recipients of an iCampus grant include Walter D. Stiehl G, who has designed Huggable, a robotic companion that will provide pet therapy to those who do not have access to companion animals, according to the iCampus Web site and Stiehl’s wiki.

Campus Tour Bot, created by Collin E. Johnson ’07, may someday replace human tour guides because, according to Johnson’s wiki, it will be capable of traversing indoor corridors and outdoor walkways of MIT.

Mohamed A. Haji’s OpenAfrica will work in conjunction with MIT OpenCourseWare and iLabs, which provides online access to a remote laboratory for classes that, due to cost, space, and other reasons, do not include an on-site laboratory, Student teams working on OpenAfrica will be allowed to travel to three locations in Africa with the goal of constructing OCW mirror sites, remote laboratories, and enabling high school students to take the SAT’s and fill out college applications, said Paul Oka, co-chair of University Relations at Microsoft Research.

MIT students are not the only group to receive iCampus funding; faculty at the Institute can apply for iCampus grants. Among other projects, iLabs was created by Professor Steven R. Lerman ’72 and Professor Jes s A. del Alamo and funded in two phases from 2000 to 2004.

Dr. Kimberly Koile is currently being funded by iCampus for a project entitled ”The Classroom Learning Partner,” described by Oka as a Personal-Response System “on steroids.” Koile hopes to upgrade PRS, a wireless polling system currently employed in the interactive freshmen TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) physics classes, to a tablet-PC based format allowing dynamic and wireless submission of digital ink answers to in-class exercises, according to the iCampus Web site.

Although varied in scope and implementation, not all iCampus projects have enjoyed a welcoming embrace from the MIT community.

TEAL, an approach for teaching freshmen physics that stresses active learning through the use of networked computers and desktop experiments rather than a straight lecture format, has met with opposition in a number of forms. A petition was signed in 2003 by MIT students stating that TEAL does not provide the intellectual challenge and stimulation that should be expected from a course at MIT, and numerous student-led groups on the college networking Web site theFacebook decry the merits of the TEAL program.

Nevertheless, international support for TEAL continues to grow, with two TEAL classrooms already constructed at the Technion in Israel and at the National University in Taiwan, according to the iCampus Web site.

But some student projects for iCampus have had problems with sustainability.

In previous years iCampus student projects included Domeview, a series of monitors dispersed throughout the MIT campus to provide information about upcoming events and information pertinent to student life. LAMP, the Library Access Music Project, is currently available on MIT cable, stations 63-76, and provides free, legal, and efficient access to a wide variety of music. ShuttleTrack, a web-based system that uses GPS technology to track MIT SafeRide vans, is also an iCampus funded project.

Both LAMP and ShuttleTrack ran into trouble soon after their creation. Implemented in April 2003, ShuttleTrack was not sustained after its creators graduated, Samuel N. Korb G said last spring. Ilia Mirkin G and Korb repaired the site and it became functional again in April 2005, after being down since the summer of 2004.

In late 2003, LAMP’s services went offline because its creators, one of whom is a senior editor for The Tech, were struggling to find a music supplier that allowed the purchase of music that could be broadcasted legally. It reopened months later in the fall of 2004 in a different form than the original design.

iCampus funding at MIT is scheduled to end in 2007 following the expiration of two-year grants given to MIT faculty in 2005. “Things are drastically different today than they were in 1999,” said Oka. “The purpose of iCampus was to incubate ideas and move the state of the art forward, and I think we’ve done that.”

This year’s winners can be found on the iCampus Web site