Bruce’s early research was in formal logic and linguistics. He then applied those frameworks in artificial intelligence, especially computer natural language understanding. Some time later he turned to technology-enhanced learning, for example, Quill, for teaching reading and writing, and helped implement that in village schools in Alaska. His three trips there were significant for education in Alaska and as a model for education reform in diverse settings. It also led to his book, Electronic Quills, which showed a generation of educators ways to apply computers in education and to evaluate their effectiveness.
He then began to broaden his work to include literacy, math and science education, and especially to promote democratic, or progressive education. This drew inspiration from the work of progressive educators and philosophers such as John Dewey and Jane Addams, as well as international work not so well known in the US, such as that of Célestin Freinet in France, Misiones Pedagogicas in Spain, and the Turkish Village Institutes.
Much of Bruce’s work has been in marginalized communities. For example, one project worked with with teenagers in twenty low-income, minority neighborhoods. It helped them use new digital technologies to address problems they identified in their own communities. In one African-American community, middle-and high school aged youth created online maps showing oral histories they had done with older community members.
His direct work with community members is complemented by many books and articles, curricula, software, and learning environments in which learners collaborate on both the ends and means of their learning. The research includes the study of technology-enhanced learning, inquiry-based learning, teacher learning, and collaborative community-based projects.
Bruce retired from the University of Illinois in 2010, but continues to teach, write, and work with community-based projects. His work has led him to collaborate on extended projects in Ireland (as a Fulbright Distinguished Chair), China, Australia, Haiti, Turkey, France, Germany, Romania, Finland, Sweden, Cyprus, and many other places.