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FoilSim software snapshotPublication Information: Software: Focus on Science, T.H.E. Journal, Volume 26, Number 9,
April 1999, pp. 40-41.

Author: Ruth Petersen, Educational Coordinator, Learning Technologies Project,
NASA Glenn Research Center

A free educational supplement from NASA Glenn's Learning Technologies Project offers educators a fun tool for engaging the minds of middle school, junior high, and high school students while conveying the concept of the scientific process. FoilSim, developed originally by Tom Benson, an aerodynamicist at the NASA Glenn Research Center, is an interactive simulation software program that determines the airflow around various shapes of airfoils and a baseball.

With a graphical user interface that looks more like a computer game, the program engages students in problem solving activities that include: Factors That Affect Lift; How Lift Changes; Flow Field Details; the Lift Coefficient; Baseball Speed; Pressure and the Curveball; the Screwball; and Baseball and Altitude. By changing the parameters of each experiment, students can see immediately the effects of their actions, and in doing so appreciate the process of experimenting.

Educators can download the program for free. Other free resources available on the Web site include a Teachers' Resource Manual, additional activities, videoconferencing workshops, and a Beginner's Guide to Aerodynamics.


Publication Information: 1998 R &T, Research & Technology, NASA/TM-1999-208815, p. 8.
Author: Ruth A. Petersen
Lewis Contact: Kathy Zona

Another FoilSim software snapshotFoilSim--Basic Aerodynamics
Software Created

FoilSim is interactive software that simulates the airflow around various shapes of airfoils. The graphical user interface, which looks more like a video game than a learning tool, captures and holds students’ interest. The software is a product of NASA Lewis Research Center's Learning Technologies Project, an educational outreach initiative within the High Performance Computing and Communications Program (HPCC).

This airfoil view panel is a simulated view of a wing being tested in a wind tunnel. As students create new wing shapes by moving slider controls that change parameters, the software calculates their lift. FoilSim also displays plots of pressure or airspeed above and below the airfoil surface. A satisfied user comments, "To be able to change the parameters of the experiment with a click of a button is fantastic, as is the ability to observe the results instantaneously." An additional feature of the program is "Play Ball," where students learn more about aerodynamics through controlling the conditions of a baseball pitch, including altitude, speed of pitch, and spin of pitch.

Interactive lessons that accompany the package prompt students to engage in problem solving and discovery. Teachers are impressed at how well the software and lessons inspire students to explore their intellectual potential. One teacher says, "FoilSim allows student to hypothesize and provides them with immediate, nonthreatening feedback. They [students] really seem to begin to appreciate the process of experimenting rather than just getting the correct answer."

Originally, the code was written for college level engineering students. Adjustment of the code to the high school level resulted in FoilSim, which was created and tested by a diverse team composed of NASA researchers, contractors, educators, and students. Lewis' Learning Technologies Project is part of NASA's agencywide Learning Technologies Project, which is managed by the NASA Ames Research Center.

Find out more about the Learning Technologies Project:
Download FoilSim from the Web:


Publication Information: T.H.E. Journal, Volume 26, Number 4, November 1998, pp. 63-66.
Title: Distance Learning with NASA Glenn Research Center’s Learning Technologies Project

The NASA Glenn Research Center’s Learning Technologies Project (LTP) has responded to requests from local school district technology coordinators to provide content for videoconferencing workshops. Over the past year we have offered three teacher professional development workshops that showcase NASA Glenn developed educational products and NASA educational Internet sites.

In order to determine the direction of our involvement with distance learning, the LTP staff conducted a survey of 500 U.S. schools. We received responses from 72 schools that either currently use distance learning or will be using distance learning in the 98-99 school year. The results of the survey are summarized in the article. In addition, the article provides information on distance learners, distance learning technologies, and the NASA Glenn LTP videoconferencing workshops.

The LTP staff will continue to offer teacher development workshops through videoconferencing during the 98-99 school year. We hope to add workshops on new educational products as they are developed at NASA Glenn.

Author: Ruth Petersen, Coordinator of Educational Programs
Learning Technologies Project
NASA Glenn Research Center
21000 Brookpark Rd.
Cleveland, OH 44135
Phone: 216-977-0718
Fax: 216-977-0919

Ruth Petersen has a masters degree in education and 21 years’ teaching experience, with over 10 years in computer technology education. She has taught in public and private institutions, both at the high school and college levels. Ruth, who is employed by RMS Information Systems, Inc. (a NASA contractor), has been working as a Coordinator of Educational Programs with the NASA Glenn LTP for one year. In addition to coordinating the LTP distance learning program, she has developed training and resource manuals and implemented summer professional development workshops for grades 9-12 teachers.


Distance learning is a "buzz" word heard today by educators and students at all levels of learning. Since its beginning in adult education correspondence classes, distance learning has evolved with technology into "the ability to teach or communicate with large or small groups of people, dispersed across a wide geographical area, through the use of single or multiple telecommunications services."[1] Distance learning describes the transfer of information for educational purposes from one location to another through the use of communication technology. It provides a means by which information can be disseminated to broader audiences and audiences in remote areas.

NASA’s Involvement in Distance Learning

Distance learning has provided a means of achieving NASA’s goals of increased education and community outreach to a large, diverse audience. Acknowledging the potential of distance learning as an aid to meeting NASA’s goals, many projects at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, have become involved in distance learning in a variety of ways. One such project is the NASA Glenn Learning Technologies Project (LTP).

LTP is part of a government-wide initiative known as the High Performance Computing and Communications Program (HPCCP). The Program’s goal is to maintain the United States’ competitiveness and leadership in the global computer technologies market. The NASA Glenn LTP office works to develop new applications and pilot programs for K-12 education. Most technology training is conducted as teacher professional development workshops.

The NASA Glenn LTP staff has been involved in distance learning using the Internet for several years. Student activities and projects, computer instructional manuals, proficiency tests, links to information on educational products developed through the Project, and links to effective, educational sites are available from the LTP Web page at: As the staff in the NASA Glenn LTP office considered broadening our involvement in distance learning, we examined the populations served by distance learning and the instructional technologies used.

Distance Learners

Distance learners include college and university students, K-12 students and teachers, and students from the business sector. At the college and university level, distance learning provides an opportunity for populations who have traditionally been at a disadvantage when pursuing college degrees. Those who work during traditional classroom hours are turning to distance learning to find courses at convenient times and places, often on their home computers in the evenings. This means additional learning opportunities for female single parents who want to stay close to home for various reasons, physically disabled students who cannot easily travel to campus, and those who are geographically distant from schools.[2]

The federal government recognizes the advantages of distance learning in higher education, and the U.S. Department of Education may soon provide additional support to distance learners and schools that offer courses through distance learning. A proposed reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act would remove restrictions for students who take distance learning courses at degree granting institutions. This change would remove a financial aid restriction for students who take distance learning courses from schools that either (1) offer more than 50% of their courses through distance learning or (2) have more than 50% of their student enrollment in distance learning courses. Distance learners would then be eligible to receive financial aid including an annual living allowance of $1,500 for room, $2,500 for board, and the cost of educational equipment for their classes. In addition, the reauthorization would offer additional support to post-secondary schools that offer courses through distance learning by providing a $30 million competitive grant program to fund pilot projects that use distance learning technologies to enhance the delivery of post-secondary education.[3]

Distance learning is of great value to K-12 students and teachers because it provides additional opportunities for learning from outside sources with minimal or no travel involved. School administrators can combine students from different school districts into one class when enrollment numbers or funding are low, or when qualified teachers are not available. Juniors and seniors can take AP (Advanced Placement) classes for college credit without leaving their school buildings. Teachers can use outside speakers for talks to students or for professional development workshops. And students can take field trips electronically without being physically transported to the sites.

The business sector is using distance learning for continuing education, vocational training, and corporate communications. More and more, business managers are finding that distance learning is a cost-effective way to inform and educate their employees.

Instructional Technologies

Distance learning instructional technologies use equipment that ranges from the telephone to highly sophisticated dedicated videoconferencing systems. Instructors at the K-12 or college levels, as well as trainers in the business sector, use a variety of methods: instructional television, E-mail, videoconferences, and the Internet. The Internet can be used for electronic field trips, Web chats, student projects or activities, Web "textbooks," instructional manuals, and desktop video conferences. The technology can be exciting and innovative and can provide highly satisfactory instructional delivery mechanisms.

Although not interactive, instructional television can be a very effective distance learning tool. Web chats are highly interactive and can even provide face-to-face contact with the speaker when linked with desktop videoconferencing. Web-based student projects and activities present an exciting and entertaining way for students to explore their world while working in a structured group setting. Teachers, who often do not have the time to develop or look for Web-based materials, benefit from groups like the NASA Glenn LTP that provide links to effective, educational Web sites.

Instituting a dedicated videoconferencing system requires special equipment and room setup for best results. It also involves additional preparation time to train on the equipment, plan for interactive presentations, and practice to become accustomed to the medium. The systems of the sites involved may not be compatible; a test conducted in advance is recommended. Connections over telephone lines are sometimes unpredictable, but can usually be corrected by simply ending the connection and trying again. The audio difficulties caused by echo feedback can be improved with muted microphones or microphones suspended from the ceiling. Live video and audio capability (broadcast quality) and the two-way interaction between presenter and audience make videoconferencing an innovative, effective means of reaching a target audience.

When using videoconferencing technology, not only must the cost of the equipment and surroundings be considered, but the cost of the conference to the presenter’s organization, as well as to the audience, must be examined. With point-to-point conferences, there are long distance charges, which vary depending on the provider. For multi-point conferences, in addition to the long distance charges, the gateway provider may charge fees of $45 - $108 per hour per site. However, relief in the form of E-rate is available to schools and libraries. To take advantage of the 20 - 90% savings offered by this special education long distance rate, an application must be processed. For answers to questions or to apply for the E-rate, access the following Web site:

Advantages of Distance Learning

Why is distance learning becoming so widespread? Several advantages are listed below:

  • Distance learning offers courses at a time and place convenient for the student.
  • Distance learning removes geographical boundaries—students in remote sites can take advantage of educational opportunities without traveling long distances.
  • Distance learning forces schools to rethink the quality and uniqueness of their offerings.
  • Distance learners can benefit as much from their courses as those who sit in a traditional classroom.
  • Distance learners can take part in structured, worthwhile group work.
  • Distance learning is cost effective; travel costs are saved and new students are attracted.
  • Distance learning offers a larger choice of courses to students, courses that may have been canceled because of low enrollments, inadequate supply of qualified teachers, or insufficient funding.[4]
NASA Glenn LTP and Distance Learning
  • Last summer two things happened that resulted in consideration of videoconferencing as a means of teacher professional development instruction by the NASA Glenn LTP staff. First, NASA upgraded their videoconferencing systems to allow conferences to be scheduled with sites outside NASA. And second, local school districts began researching and purchasing videoconferencing equipment. As they set up their systems and began to prepare for the 1997-98 school year, local administrators began to seek content providers for student and teacher workshops. The NASA Glenn LTP office responded by offering the following teacher professional development workshops:

    • Introduction to Aerodynamics demonstrates how grades 8-12 math and physics teachers can use basic aerodynamics theories incorporated into interactive lessons to enhance classroom instruction. It includes understanding the forces that affect an aircraft. The slides used in the presentation are available for downloading at Beginner’s Guide to Aerodynamics on the LTP Web site. One version of each slide contains a scientific explanation of the contents; the other version shows the slide alone in a different orientation for printing. Tom Benson, NASA aerodynamicist, teaches the workshop.
    • Introduction to FoilSim presents an interactive educational software package developed at NASA Glenn. The workshop teaches grades 8-12 math and physics teachers the basic classroom uses of FoilSim, a simulation that determines the airflow around various shapes of airfoils and baseballs. As students change the parameters of airspeed, altitude, angle of attack, thickness and curvature of the airfoil, and size of the wing area, the software calculates the lift and gives immediate graphical feedback, allowing students to learn the factors that influence lift. Macintosh and MS-Windows 3.x, 95, or NT versions of the package, including airfoil and baseball lessons, is provided at no charge on disk or it can be downloaded from the LTP Web site. Tom Benson, NASA aerodynamicist and creator of FoilSim, teaches the workshop.
    • Using NASA Educational Internet Sites in the Science Classroom shows teachers of grades 3-8 and 9-12 how to use NASA educational Internet sites to enhance their curriculum. The Internet tour of NASA sites leads teachers to a variety of resources to help them: (1) access or develop lesson plans using the Web in a classroom with one computer for the entire class, one computer for a small group of students, or one computer for each student, (2) give demonstrations using the Internet, or (3) guide their students through interactive Web sites. The workshop can be tailored to a certain grade level and scheduled to last from one to two hours. A computer with live access to the Internet is recommended for interactive participation, and teachers should have previous experience with a Web browser. Carol Galica, NASA Glenn LTP Webmaster, teaches the workshop.


Distance Learning Survey

In an effort to determine the direction of its distance learning project, the NASA Glenn LTP staff conducted a survey of 500 U.S. K-12 schools in March 1998. Of the 72 schools that responded, 78% are currently involved in distance learning, 22% have plans to become involved in distance learning, and 28% are part of a distance learning network of schools/organizations. Chart 1 summarizes participation in distance learning by the respondents.

Chart of respondents' participation of Distance Learning: 56% for Professional Development for staff, 29% with post-secondary schools, 48% Classes shared with other schools, 58% electronic field trips, 5% web research projects, 8% meeting and conferences, 4% graduate classes for staff, 1% email communication

Chart 1

The survey also asked for information on the schools’ videoconferencing facilities. Table 1 gives respondents’ specifics on their computer and videoconferencing equipment and setup, as well as on technical difficulties experienced.



Not sure

No response






IBM Compatible—239

99% with Internet Connection

81% with Internet Connection

Videoconferencing Specifics:

ViTS Room Capacity

Preferred Audience Size



Technical Difficulties:

(Approximately 68% of the respondents have a support person on staff to help with technical difficulties.)

Audio—echo feedback from open microphones

Video—freezing of picture and delays in transmission

Hardware malfunctions

Poor line connection

Table 1

The majority of the respondents’ distance learning funding is from grants awarded to the local or state school system. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents have applied for E-rate. Long distance charges range from $.30 - $1.00 per minute. Provider’s gateway fees range from $40 - $150 per hour. And the average expense per videoconference, including workshop cost, line charges, and service, is approximately $19 per hour. Charts 2 and 3 depict the respondents’ willingness to pay professional development (with 51% responding) and student (with 28% responding) content provider fees per workshop.

Pie Chart of respondents' willingness to pay content provider for Prof. development workshops: 49% unsure, 8% $0, 19% $1-$100, 22% $101-$500, 2% $501+

Pie Chart of respondents' willingness to pay content provider for student workshops: 35% unsure, 10% $0, 20% $1-$100, 30% $101-$500, 5% $501+

Chart 2

Chart 3

From these charts we can conclude that 40% to 50% of the respondents are willing to pay a content provider fee up to $500 per workshop.

Respondents suggested that videoconferencing workshops:

  • Should be as interactive as possible.
  • Should include a pre-packet of materials and a list of supplies needed.
  • Should help meet the National content standards.
  • Should allow for free movement of the presenter (with a clip-on microphone).

They asked for K-12 student workshops on the planets, the weather, moon probes, Mars, the space station, the space shuttle, Houston control center, microgravity, and for interviews with astronauts and other NASA personnel. Electronic field trips to NASA facilities and related sites were also requested.

The survey asked for feedback on the professional development workshops offered by NASA Glenn LTP during the 97-98 school year. Of the respondents, 33% were interested in our workshop on Basic Aerodynamics, 32% were interested in our workshop on FoilSim, and 56% were interested in our workshop on NASA Internet sites. Future NASA Glenn LTP distance learning plans include videoconferencing teacher workshops on EngineSim, a simulation package that allows students to interactive design, wind tunnel test, and flight test turbojet and turbofan engines. Forty percent of the respondents were interested in the proposed workshop on EngineSim. The survey results are being used to help shape the NASA Glenn LTP distance learning project.

Distance Learning through Videoconferencing Workshops

A schedule of videoconferencing workshops for the 1998-99 school year is available from the LTP Web site. Web chats with workshop presenters are scheduled upon request. The NASA Glenn LTP videoconferencing workshops can be broadcast to teachers and pre-service teacher groups across the country. We have the capability to connect to most videoconferencing systems, as well as CUSeeMe desktop conferencing technology. To add a videoconference to the schedule, three weeks’ advanced written or E-mailed notice is preferred.

Video conferences are limited to 4 sites. To register for a scheduled video conference, two weeks’ advanced notice is required. A test connection should be scheduled for first-time participating sites. The LTP Web site gives information on the registration process and who to contact for details of fees or charges. Although NASA Glenn does not charge a content provider’s fee at this time, long distance and provider gateway charges may be applied. Participants are asked to complete an evaluation form at the close of each videoconference.


The NASA Glenn LTP is filling a local and national need for content providers for videoconferencing professional development workshops for math and science teachers in grades 3-12. By doing so, the NASA Glenn LTP continues to offer support to math and science educators who work to expand students’ knowledge of, and interest in, math, science, technology, and engineering. Through this medium, the LTP staff introduces and demonstrates NASA Glenn educational products that can be used to tie real-world applications to math and science.

  1. "What is distance learning?" (1998), in Distance Learning Network [database on line] (State College, Pennsylvania - [cited 2 September 1998]), available from
  2. "Who Takes Distance Learning Courses and Why?" (1998), in Distance Education Info [database on line] (Instructional Telecommunications Council, Washington, D.C. - [cited 27 May 1998]), available from
  3. Mello, John P. Jr (1998), "U.S. Looks to Help Distance Ed Students," Inside Technology Training, May 1998, p. 8.
  4. Karsley, Greg (1998), "Distance Education Goes Mainstream," Technology Horizons in Education Journal, 25(10), pp. 22-26.
URL’s mentioned:

NASA Glenn Research Center Learning Technologies Project:

E-rate Hotline:

Product mentioned:

VTel, Austin, Texas, Fax: 512-437-2514,

Additional Publications:
Research and Technology 1996 Publications

Please send any comments to:
Web Related:
Technology Related:
Responsible NASA Official: Theresa.M.Scott (Acting)