The Virtual School of Computational Science and Engineering (VSCSE) is a national virtual organization whose goal is to develop and deliver a computational science curriculum that accelerates the ability of faculty, staff, and students to use emerging computational resources to advance science and engineering. Developing and delivering appropriate educational resources requires the collaboration of multiple geographically distributed partner sites with the ability to rapidly experiment with new content and forms of pedagogy in response to new opportunities, technical developments, and challenges.
Due to rapid change in the practice of computational science, a key challenge for the Virtual School is to develop the human resources and cyberinfrastructure required for high-quality, innovative approaches to distributed teaching and learning. In order to meet this challenge, the Virtual School will deploy conventional collaboration technologies in unconventional ways to create a national-scale virtual classroom that provides multiple high-quality audio and video channels for speakers, remote audiences, and various forms of content of immediate educational value to students. By experimenting with new and ambitious technical configurations, we will create both a human and technical capacity to deploy high-quality collaboration technologies that may be used to support even more interactive and collaboration-intensive forms of pedagogy in the future.
A unique characteristic of the Virtual School is its use of high-definition (HD) videoconferencing technology to assemble a geographically dispersed group of sites into a cohesive HD classroom. In doing so, the Virtual School delivers a quality curriculum to a large number of students at a reduced cost. Moreover, since the resulting cyberinfrastructure is reusable, the per-site cost may be further amortized over time.
Past students have indicated that the Virtual School educational experience is nearly as good as a traditional classroom experience. Indeed, a large distributed HD classroom has been shown to have the pedagogical benefits of a small face-to-face classroom experience coupled with the fiscal savings of a large class. An unexpected side benefit is an extended and productive sense of community.
Funding and support for the Virtual School are provided by the Great Lakes Consortium for Petascale Computation (GLCPC), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the State of Illinois, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), and Internet2 Commons.