D-Lib Magazine
October 1998

ISSN 1082-9873

A National Digital Library for Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education

Frank Wattenberg
Program Director
Division of Undergraduate Education
National Science Foundation
Arlington, VA

on leave from
Mathematics Department
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

Faculty, teachers, software developers, publishers, and a host of others across the United States and around the world are contributing to the development of rich and engaging new environments for active, inquiry-driven learning in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET). This revolution draws much of its vigor from the contemporaneous technological revolution that has put enormous computational power on desktops and in backpacks; that has created networks that bridge distance, discipline, institution, and even culture; and that has created a new generation of powerful, flexible, and inexpensive experimental equipment. The recently released Interim Report of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee offers a compelling vision of what is possible.

Any individual can participate in on-line education programs regardless of geographic location, age, physical limitation, or personal schedule. Everyone can access repositories of educational materials, easily recalling past lessons, updating skills, or selecting from among different teaching methods in order to discover the most effective style for that individual. Educational programs can be customized to each individual's needs, so that our information revolution reaches everyone and no one gets left behind.

Many individual projects are already exploiting the World Wide Web as a platform for rich, multidisciplinary, interactive SMET learning and as a vehicle for dissemination. The World Wide Web is a medium made for this message. Its richly linked hypertext architecture matches the richly linked architecture of human knowledge, and its extraordinary variety of resources encourages and supports inquiry-driven, collaborative learning.

But the World Wide Web has shortcomings -- it is often difficult to find high quality and appropriate material; Web-based resources may not be stable or reliable; and developers often squander precious time with multiple reinventions of the same wheels. Individually developed resources may not interoperate well and, thus, may miss the opportunities offered by the underlying technologies for richly connected, multidisciplinary perspectives.

A national digital library for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education could be a natural next step based on the Web and building on foundational work in computer science, networks, and digital libraries to leverage and disseminate advances in the content and practice of SMET education (SMETE). For convenience, we will refer to one conception of such a resource as a National SMETE Digital Library (NSDL). Such a library could provide:

A fully implemented NSDL could attain immediate utility at the pre-college, undergraduate and graduate levels as well as provide a mechanism for continuing education. In many respects, NSDL could move well beyond the image of a library. In addition to providing timely and wide access to up-to-date, high quality resources for SMET education, NSDL could exploit the connectivity provided by the Internet and the potential of interactive technologies to create a rich, asynchronous workplace -- a seminar room, a reading room, and laboratory for sharing and building knowledge. Consequently, it could provide a framework for facilitating the work of people in different settings through a diverse and powerful set of resources.

Meaningful, coherent, and systemic innovation in SMET education requires the coevolution of diverse institutions as well as new tools and materials. NSDL could provide a virtual meeting place supporting and creating the necessary new communities. For example, in-service teachers might meet with faculty and students in teacher preparation programs and with SMET disciplinary experts -- bringing a healthy dose of reality to teacher preparation and keeping in-service teachers in contact with the cutting edge in the SMET disciplines and in SMET education. They might be joined in another virtual meeting room by experts in cognitive science and learning theory -- strengthening the research base supporting the improvement of SMET education and shortening the path from research to practice.

The links below lead to further discussion about the possible uses, architecture, and features of an NSDL. Throughout this discussion it is imperative to keep in mind the underlying twin goals of an NSDL -- to improve the quality of SMET education and to extend the reach of the highest quality SMET education to all students.


Top | Magazine
Search | Author Index | Title Index | Monthly Issues
Previous Story | Next Story
Comments | E-mail the Editor

D-Lib Magazine Access Terms and Conditions