Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) and Indiana University (IU) have been awarded $1.7 million to collaborate on artificial intelligence (AI) programming for rural students. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) funded the AI pilot program, which will begin this summer for middle school students.
NSWC Crane is teaming up with two IU schools, the School of Education and the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering. NSWC Crane and IU received the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) Award from OSD to pilot the program, “AI Goes Rural: Middle School Artificial Intelligence Education” to Indiana middle schools.
Tina Closser, the NSWC Crane Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Program Coordinator, says the program will focus on how AI is involved in students’ lives and the ethics surrounding AI.
“The expertise that IU is bringing to ‘AI Goes Rural’ program is exciting and we are thrilled to have them as a partner to bring this curriculum to regional students,” Closser said. “People, including kids, think AI is alien and science fiction. They don’t realize how it is already integrated into their lives. AI is a hot topic right now and it is more than Netflix and Spotify curating movies or music for the user. This pilot program is unique; I’ve never seen anything like this. There’s a lot out there about the technical side of AI and how it works, but will be talking about what AI does and how it affects their lives.”
Dr. Jeff Zaleski, interim vice provost for research at IU Bloomington said about the partnership:
“I’m extremely pleased that IU is continuing our strong partnership with NSWC Crane through this new grant,” Zaleski said. “The involvement of the faculty from two of our schools points to IU Bloomington’s deep strengths in areas related to artificial intelligence, and the application of this expertise to the lives of rural Hoosier students is especially exciting.”
Dr. Kyungbin Kwon, an Associate Professor at the IU School of Education, says learning AI is very important for children’s education and career.
“AI will transform our educational systems and learning gaps between students who utilize AI and those who do not will increase,” Kwon said. “Our ‘AI Goes Rural’ program will develop AI curricula in collaboration with teachers, which will support our teachers and provide students with better learning opportunities. We envision that our program will broaden participation in CS to rural students and suggest teaching models for AI education.”
Dr. Raj Acharya, the Associate Vice President for Research for AI Innovation at IU, says the curriculum is designed to help students understand what AI can and cannot do.
“We will educate students on AI and machine learning techniques by designing modules that students will experiment under varying conditions,” Acharya said. “This will help them understand not only the potential of routine AI methodologies used, but also their limitations such as bias and ethical considerations.”
Dr. Mehmet Dalkilic, a Professor of Computer Science at IU, says AI is a way of making machines behave like people when solving problems.
“In last few years, AI has come to dominate almost every aspect of technology, including computer science itself,” Dalkilic said. “With AI’s prominence, educated its citizenry is of the upmost importance—and especially those who, while affected by AI, will least likely have an understanding of it. This is where computer science (CS) plays a role. CS shows what’s behind the AI curtain, explores its limitations, but also points to its advantages in helping both people and our planet.”
Dr. Krista Glazewski, professor and chair of Instructional Systems Technology said on addressing economic equity: “We recognize the importance of exposure to advanced technologies for kids of all ages who represent a wide range of contexts, and we see this as an opportunity kids to consider the impacts and potential opportunities of AI technologies in their lives. There is a well-documented opportunity gap in STEM that we will bridge with project. At the same time, we will work directly with kids and their teachers to consider AI technologies, ethics, and the role of AI in their current and future lives.”
Dr. Anne Leftwich, associate professor, Instructional Systems Technology and adjunct associate professor, Computer Science said: “Our current students will become the workers, creators, policymakers, and innovators of the future. By time these middle schoolers are in the workforce, artificial intelligence will likely be integrated into every crevasse of society and jobs. For example, law about who has access to our personal data, who is held responsible for AI like self-driving cars, what are the unintended consequences of using AI…Preparing these future innovators and citizens requires a reframing of education that deeply considers how to prepare them for their futures with AI.”
The program received many letters of support to pilot this program from across the DoD: the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and US Central Command (USCENTCOM) to name a few. The letters make note of the critical importance of developing the AI talent pipeline. The curriculum and training is intended to be scalable across the nation.
The “AI Goes Rural” team members are from NSWC Crane, IU School of Education, and IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering. The NSWC Crane team includes Closser and Dr. Alison Smith. Kwon, Leftwich, and Glazewski are from the IU School of Education, and Acharya and Dalkilic are from IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering.
Closser says the intention is to create something that has broad applications.
“We wanted to create something that anyone around the country can implement, copy, and paste,” Closser said.
A report from the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the National Science and Technology Council mentions that investing in STEM education and outreach is critical for several reasons: the demand for STEM professionals will exceed the expected supply over the next decade, our nation’s students are ‘middle of the pack’ when evaluated across other countries, and participation and achievement of underrepresented groups such as women and minorities is lower than desired.
The STEM talent pipeline is part of the DoD STEM Strategic Plan and includes promoting an “increased participation of underserved groups in STEM activities and education programs.” Closser says this and several other factors led to the development of this program.
“As our STEM team and IU were in the brainstorming process, we considered the rural, underserved area,” Closser said. “There’s a large percentage of students that attend Title 1 schools in the area, or schools that under the Department of Education have high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families. We have talented people in the area, but the number seeking STEM degrees isn’t high. We have an opportunity through this program and programs like this to show kids what options they have and what they can do as a career.”
Closser says integrated and early exposure to AI provides insight into what is possible.
“AI isn’t going away,” she said. “We can give these kids more of an opportunity to have a chance to have a voice in how things are done.”