Associate Professor and CoDirector of Learning Sciences Grad. Program
About Me (Bio)
Dr. Neil Heffernan graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College in History and Computer Science. Neil taught mathematics to eighth grade students in Baltimore City as part of Teach for America, a program that selectively recruits top candidates to teach in inner-city schools. Neil then decided to do something easier and get a PhD in building intelligent tutoring systems. Neil enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Science Department to do multi-disciplinary research in cognitive science and computer science to create educational software that leads to higher student achievement. For his dissertation, Neil built the first intelligent tutoring system that incorporated a model of tutorial dialog. This system was shown to lead to higher student learning, by getting students to think more deeply about problems. It is based upon detailed studies of students, which produced basic cognitive science research results on the nature of human thinking and learning. This technology was patented and licensed to Carnegie Learning Inc. which has sold tutors to 1,000+ high schools across the US. Neil is now a tenured professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he is focused on creating "cognitive models", computer simulations of student thinking and learning, which are then used to design educational materials, practices and technologies. Neil and his colleagues are working in close collaboration with the Worcester Public Schools, teams of teachers and WPI graduate students to create the next generation of intelligent tutoring systems. Neil’s current system, called ASSISTments is used by 6,000+ middle school student as part of their normal math class. He has gotten awards from the Worcester school system and the Massachusetts of School Committees for his work helping schools. Neil has written over 40 strictly peer-reviewed publications. Neil is one of the most successful grant writers at WPI. Since coming to WPI, Neil has received over a dozen grants (3 from NSF including the prestigious CAREER award, 3 from the US Dept of Education, as well as grants from the Office of Naval Research, the US Army, the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center and the Spencer Foundation) worth over 9 million dollars. Recently, Neil’s work was cited in the National Educational Technology Plan. Neil started the learning sciences and technologies program and has seen to grow to include three more faculty members and now have a PhD program that he is the executive director of.