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26 May 2011 / erikduval

50 years ago… Are you an adventurer and explorer?

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy announced the plan “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”.

This anniversary coincides with a 2 day meeting we just finished to formulate Grand Challenges for Technology Enhanced Learning. Actually, I wasn’t aware of the anniversary, but we did use Kennedy’s speech as an example of the kind of challenge that we would like to develop.

For me, the Moon Challenge continues to be a great source of inspiration, because it

  • is easy to understand: compare it with for instance “Transforming the quality of learning, teaching and assessment by exploiting the responsive and adaptive capabilities of advanced digital technologies to achieve a better match with learners’ needs, dispositions and identities.”(source)
  • speaks to the imagination: haven’t we all had the experience of looking at the moon and stars at night and wondering what it would be like to “be there”?
  • commits to a goal that can be tested: on January 1, 1970, it was rather easy to assess whether or not a man had landed on the moon and returned safely back to earth (conspiracy theories notwithstanding) – in research, our goals are often so vague that it is very difficult to assess whether we’re getting any closer to realizing them…

In our discussions, some argued that the moon landing was “easy”, whereas Technology-Enhanced Learning is complex. I doubt that. Everything look easy afterwards.

Another argument was that the moon program was an easy sell, because of the cold war and the Russian space program. Tht is probably true. We can only hope that the Chinese, or the Indians, or the Brazilians, or… make really great progress in research, so that the EU will want to lavishly fund a program that we can apply for. Yet, it turns out that sustained funding for the space program was not so easy after all. It is true that the cold war provided a good pretext to do the program, and Kennedy did want “the military shield” to get the budget through.

But, “He loved the idea of being adventurers and being explorers“… That, in my kind of humble opinion, is exactly what should drive investment in research.

I hope we have some politicians today that share that love for adventure and exploration. And I hope that there are some researchers who can help them to articulate a vision that is easy to understand, can be tested and speaks to the imagination – maybe you can help?



Leave a Comment
  1. Tom Wason / May 27 2011 4:57 pm


    I agree, the lunar initiative was inspirational. Perhaps it is time for a new initiative in keeping with your eLearning comments:

    Let’s ALL go to the moon–and beyond.

    Send robots, our “bit buddies”, to the moon and Mars. We’ve done it already, but this time make them as autonomous. Let them respond to what we want to see and sample and learn what we find interesting so they can search them out. These are our surrogates. We can send up many small robots like those from MIT’s “insect lab” to gather images and data. Feed that information (images, locations, properties) into databases that can be used to create “real time” virtual experiences in which people can move around the virtual moon. In this way many people can go to the moon and beyond, seeing in wavelengths not visible when useful. The VR platforms can vary from desktop to fully immersive. We can ALL go to the moon.

    Using such data to create views from vantage points that the vehicles never went to is done now. It’s a computational beast, but is done. The technical challenges in the entire endeavor will be great requiring work in real time image generation and some form of intelligence in the remote robots. These efforts will provide results useful elsewhere here on Earth.

    Another space project I have suggested, Space Ball (, also has educational uses.


  2. erikduval / Jun 6 2011 10:06 am

    Nice suggestions, Tom: my focus is on defining a new project on education, even if not connected to going to space, that would trigger substantial new efforts and measurable progress…

  3. Brandon Muramatsu / Jul 25 2011 4:06 am

    Erik, when/where will you be sharing the grand challenges 🙂

    (As an aside I used the Moon analogy on an idea here, but I can’t share it yet — not the least of which because we might not actually work on it.)

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