By Judi Fusco
Our last post discussed embodied learning and Cyberlearning. Cyberlearning is many different things; on the CIRCL site, we have an overview of Cyberlearning. In this post, we’ll look at another example: a new Cyberlearning project developing technology that may be able to help support teachers and the collaborative learning process.
It can be difficult to understand what is happening during collaborative work in a classroom when there are multiple groups of students and just one teacher. In a previous post we discussed how it’s hard for an administrator to walk into a classroom and figure out what is happening when students are collaborating because it’s hard to walk up to a group and understand instantly what they are doing. It’s also hard for teachers because they can’t be in all of the groups at the same time. Of course, teachers wish they could be a fly on the wall in each group so that they could ensure that each group is staying on-task and learning, but that’s impossible. Or is it?
At the end of that previous post, I asked if cyberlearning researchers could help create tools to better understand collaboration. When I did that, I was kind of setting myself up to introduce you to a Cyberlearning researcher, Cynthia D’Angelo. She has a project that may lead to the creation of a new Cyberlearning tool to address the problem that it is impossible for a teacher to be in more than one place at a time. Watch this 2-minute video about Speech-Based Learning Analytics for Collaboration (SBLAC) and see what you think.
Cynthia’s research is still in early stages, but all the practitioners I’ve told about it find it interesting and want it for their classroom. Here’s a little more about the project:
In this project, work is being done to determine if technology that examines certain aspects of speech -- such as amount of overlapping speech or prosodic features (like pitch or energy) -- can give real-time insights about a group’s collaborative activities. If this could happen, and SBLAC went into classrooms, then teachers could get instant information about certain things occurring in group collaboration even when they weren’t present in that group.
The proposed technology would require a “box” of some sort to sit with each group to analyze the speech features of the group in real time. One research question in the project is, “Are non-content based speech features (such as amount of overlapping speech or vocal pitch) reliable indicators for predicting how well a group is collaborating?” Initial results suggest this is promising. (Note, this technology doesn’t analyze the content of the speech from the students, just features of the speech. Hopefully, this helps to preserve student privacy.)
It’s important to support groups during collaboration because sometimes groups aren’t effective or an individual student gets left behind. This work, while it is still in early stages, could potentially help teachers identify groups having problems during collaboration. A teacher would no longer have to guess how a group was working when s/he wasn’t present and could target the groups having difficulties to help them improve.
If you want to learn more about the project, watch Cynthia’s 3-minute video shared at the NSF 2016 Video showcase: Advancing STEM Learning for All. Or you can read the NSF award abstract. Stay tuned, as we’ll have more about this project from two teachers who are working with Cynthia on SBLAC this summer.
SBLAC really requires teachers and researchers to work together on this hard problem about collaboration as it tries to create new tools to help in the classroom. What do you think of the idea? What do you think is hard or important about collaboration? What kind of feedback would you want on the groups in your classroom. Could SBLAC help administrators understand collaboration? Going forward, we’ll talk more about collaboration and collaborative learning, so feel free to leave questions or comments about collaboration, too.