Published: Oct. 23, 2020 By

Angela Bielefeldt

Angela Bielefeldt

A new research initiative is inspiring collaborations within the College of Engineering and Applied Science – and across the CU Boulder campus – around the future of education and artificial intelligence in the classroom.

The Engineering Education and AI-Augmented Learning Interdisciplinary Research Theme was launched in July with significant internal funding for seed grants, equipment purchases and team building. Its scope includes research in engineering and computing education and assessment, as well as AI and machine learning and the convergence between those two areas. One key goal is to develop the theories, technologies, and know-how for advancing student-centered learning and then creating next-generation learning environments in K-16, graduate, and professional engineering and computing education.

Angela Bielefeldt is the director of the Engineering Plus Program and a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. She is serving as co-director of the new theme along with Assistant Professor Alessandro Roncone from the Department of Computer Science. 

Bielefeldt has been an active researcher in engineering education and the scholarship of teaching and learning for many years, and in 2019 was elected as a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education. She said the college has a rich history in those areas that pairs well with a growing strength in AI, machine learning, and natural language processing. Because of this synergy, she said the theme is uniquely poised to both apply existing evidence of proven methods to their teaching practice and to innovate in this space. Particularly in areas like dialog generation and management, computer vision, multi-modal analysis, and embodiment in robotics that are key to integrating AI into the classroom.

“We have important experience in both areas. For example, CU has developed innovative programs in hands-on project-based learning, spatial visualization, and helping students transition to college as well as conducted engineering education research related to social responsibility and ethics,” said Bielefeldt. “All of which have been recognized with a number of best paper awards at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference over the years. And there is a critical mass of talented researchers here working on human robot interaction for many applications and venues. It really is a powerful combination of expertise.”

She added that the theme provides a focal point for all of this collaboration across disciplines in the college, with partners on campus, and outside industry leaders. She pointed the new $20 million AI Institute for Student-AI Teaming as an example of the kinds of high-level collaborative work the theme would enable and encourage.

“This systems level approach we are seeking and seeing with that new NSF institute matches the college’s strategic vision and goals of providing research with great societal impact while growing our national leadership role in engineering education and artificial intelligence research,” she said.

The college launched its first six interdisciplinary research themes in 2018 to aid faculty teaming on larger projects, build up shared facility resources and provide internal seed grants. In addition to the Engineering Education and AI-Augmented Learning theme other clusters explore autonomous systems, multifunctional materials, hypersonics and resilient infrastructure with a focus on sustainability and equity.