Neil Schwartz Researches at NASA’s Classroom of the Future

Neil Schwartz, Psychology, spent ten weeks this past summer on a research fellowship at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Classroom of the Future (COTF) located in Wheeling, West Virginia. Schwartz, whose field is the theory and practice of the ways maps and graphic adjuncts are processed cognitively by learners, studied the best methods for training children and adults in the use of the Internet for research and problem solving.

The Classroom of the Future (COTF) Program at Wheeling Jesuit University serves as NASA's premier research and development center for educational technologies and provides technology-based tools and resources to K-12 schools. COTF's mission is to develop resources that improve mathematics, science, and technology education and to make its curriculum materials available to all schools in the United States.

The COTF agenda includes innovative uses of computer and telecommunications technologies. Schwartz's research is in response to students' use of "hypermedia (computer and Internet programs) systems in exponentially increasing numbers to understand and solve problems, find information, and communicate with new friends."

"The Internet," writes Schwartz in his proposal, "is only a medium for disseminating and interacting with new information. The nature of that information, in terms of the way the information is organized, configured, and presented, will determine the success of the Internet as a source of new knowledge and a tool with which to teach. Teachers and students will have to be able to successfully use the Internet."

Schwartz's ten-week task was to conceive, design, organize, find materials, set up, and create the graphic design for a project to measure the effectiveness of one of four ways of navigating an Internet site. He used COTF's curriculum program Exploring Issues on Earth: The Situation of the Temperate Rainforest. Sixty subjects between the ages of nine and seventeen were assigned to one of four groups using either a site designed as a (1) traditional outline; (2) a labeled diagram of the cyberspace environment; (3) a visual metaphor showing categories of information as puzzle pieces; or (4) a geographic map of the Pacific Northwest.

The students were asked to complete a demographic data sheet, two questionnaires about the way they solved problems and used the Internet, and three measures of spatial ability. After learning about the rainforest problem by searching the Temperate Rainforest Site on the Internet for two and one-half hours, the students were asked to recall what they remembered from their search; write down their understanding of the problem, their position on the problem, and their strategy for solving it; and draw a sketch map of the Internet site. The students were then asked to search for ten pieces of information. That task produced data in terms of numbers of attempts and time-on-page to find the target information.

Schwartz just returned from a second trip to COTF where he was completing the data analysis and interpretation and exploring the theoretical and practical application to media in the classroom. He recently completed a grant preproposal to the National Science Foundation to extend this work.

Schwartz is excited about his work with COTF, the resources available there, and the networking with other top scientists in his field. He is interested in the possibility of establishing a western "connection" to COTF at CSU, Chico. This would mean tremendous benefits for CSU graduate researchers and local schools.

If you are interested in exploring NASA's Classroom of the Future on the Internet, the address is


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