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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Jocelyn Bowie
IU College of Arts and Sciences

Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Federal grant to fund evaluation of groundbreaking online teaching program

Results could promote nationwide deployment of program invented by IU chemistry professor

April 1, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University faculty members recently received a $2 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate the efficacy of an IU-developed online learning tool called Computer Assisted Learning Method (CALM).

This grant could determine if CALM -- used by high school chemistry students and teacher -- becomes the leading program of its kind nationwide. IU Chemistry Professor Romualdo de Souza originally developed CALM (, for students of an introductory chemistry class at IU. The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) in the IU School of Education will conduct the study.

Computer Assisted Learning Method

Screen shot from the Computer Assisted Learning Method program

CALM is offered to any school at no cost, and is already used extensively in Indiana, New Jersey and some other states. While the program has grown considerably, de Souza hopes that the outcome of the study will enable IU to take CALM to even more high school students and teachers both regionally and nationally.

"There really is the opportunity for CALM to have a tremendous national impact, should we show the efficacy of the intervention," de Souza said. "This really represents a wonderful opportunity here for the university. Our success in building bridges to high school teachers demonstrates, that we can't afford to wait. The situation with education in this country is extremely serious. We need to start both expanding the reach of CALM geographically as well as replicating what we've done with chemistry in other areas, such as physics and math."

De Souza, who unveiled CALM in 1996, said that the program is, at its simplest level, an online homework system that allows students to interactively solve chemistry problems using the internet. The program provides individualized questions to students and provides them with immediate feedback about the correctness of their answers. Teachers can use the program to enhance instruction with additional practice tools and quizzes that the program grades for them. The program also facilitates monitoring the progress of a student or a group of students.

During the summer, the chemistry department provides a two-day training workshop to familiarize teachers with the program and assist them in customizing their individual CALM course. After seeing its effectiveness with IU students, the department began offering CALM to high school teachers in Indiana in 2002.

"CALM has really helped us build a bridge from IU science departments to high school teachers in 50 schools across the state," de Souza said.

CEEP researchers said the fact that the program is free to teachers and that many teachers already support it make the study very important.

"It already has some anecdotal evidence of effectiveness -- teachers who are saying 'this program's great. It's making a huge difference,'" said Patty Muller, associate director of CEEP and senior research scientist. "Since this program is also free, if we can prove its effectiveness, that would ramp up capacity quickly for large-scale implementation across the country."

Muller said recruiting of participating teachers will start right away, initially evaluating 70 teachers, half using the program, half not using it. Although a final report is four years away, there will be preliminary results available after each year of the study. "It's going to provide some clear-cut answers on whether this is working," Muller said of the study.

"Developing critical thinking skills in students is one of the foremost tasks for any educator," said Bennett I. Bertenthal, dean of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences. "Dr. De Souza deserves a great deal of credit for developing this method and implementing it in school systems throughout the state. CALM is already demonstrating its utility as a tool for learning chemistry, and shows promise for other academic areas as well. The College of Arts and Sciences is very pleased that the Department of Education has funded an assessment of CALM so that Dr. De Souza and his colleagues will be able to use the results to improve on its effectiveness."

"Demonstrating the effectiveness of a tool such as CALM is very important as our nation seeks to strengthen the 'STEM' disciplines -- science, technology, engineering and math," said School of Education Dean Gerardo Gonzalez. "I'm delighted to see how the collaboration between our researchers and faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences is helping to advance an area so critical to school reform such as STEM education."

De Souza says he is very excited by other possible uses for CALM. "You can create online learning communities where a student, who is very good sitting in a very small school where they are not challenged, where perhaps they don't have the best teacher, isn't held back by that. These are human resources that we, as a society, can't afford to lose."

CEEP, Indiana's leading non-partisan evaluation and education policy research center, promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and education policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services, and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state and national education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education.

To learn more about CEEP, go to