By Judi Fusco
The Cyberlearning report will be going to school! I teach Ed.D. students at Pepperdine University, many of whom are K12 practitioners. When I next teach my class on learning theories, I will share the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. Because technology use is so common in K16 classrooms, I like to think with my students about how learning theories can help them use technology in deep ways to support learning. I don’t want technology just to be a substitute for pencil and paper. I love concrete examples and this report shows many new ways technology, grounded in learning theories, can augment or help the learning process. Here's a little background.
What is Cyberlearning?
“Cyberlearning research is the study of how new technologies, informed by what we know about how people learn, can be used to advance learning in ways that were never before possible.” (from the report p. 6)
So why do we have this report and who created it?
Cyberlearning is a funding area of the National Science Foundation. This program has funded about 270 projects since 2011. From all of these projects, 22 researchers came together to write about exciting new directions and themes found in these 270 projects.
What else should I know about Cyberlearning?
As we're starting, there's one more thing I’d like to discuss before diving in to the report -- something that teachers who read early versions of the report asked. They wondered if cyberlearning researchers were trying to replace teachers with technology. My answer is a resounding NO! Please know that cyberlearning projects are NOT trying to replace teachers, or other human beings. Often, they are trying to give information to improve the understanding a teacher can have about a situation or support students learning a difficult concept. Technology should not replace a teacher during the learning process. But usually, in classrooms, there’s only one teacher and a lot of students. Many projects are trying to support the teacher and give the teacher more eyes and ears to see what is occurring in parts of the classroom where they can’t be. A teacher may be able to do many things at once, but no teacher can support all of their students at all times.
As an example, let's think about a virtual learning environment for science inquiry (see INQ-ITS in the report). In the virtual learning environment, students do their work and get instant feedback from the system about how they are doing. The teacher also gets a report from the system that tells how each student is doing. From the report, a teacher can learn who needs what kind of help. Some students would not need help and some would; this kind of information could help a teacher more efficiently target the students who need help. It could also help relieve the teacher of some of the mountain of grading they have as the system is monitoring the work in real time and summarizing it. The virtual environment would support and augment the teacher so that the teacher could have a good understanding of how to help students very quickly (nearly real time) and without creating more work for the teacher.
Right now, in a physical science lab, a teacher has to grade lab projects to understand how students are doing and can’t give feedback to all until the grading is done. If a middle school teacher has 5 labs of 30 students, the time to get all the grading done is significant. If students were in a virtual environment, a teacher could be alerted how each student was doing before the class period was over. If a student was having problems the teacher could give a quick intervention and help students correct their misconceptions.
Despite how helpful a system is, no system should or could replace the teacher. A teacher is irreplaceable and knows so much about how to help each student. Teachers bring the human touch to the student and so many students desperately need a caring adult in their life. In addition, students are not just empty heads to be filled with one-size-fits-all knowledge. Students come with their own interests and desires and a teacher can help inspire a student. We need to be really smart as we think about the future and make sure that technology is used in ways to support a human teacher in the classroom. Ultimately, we want students to be able to work with other people and having a human teacher will help to ensure human interaction. Of course we want technology to help us and we want students to understand technology -- how to use it, and how to make it -- but human interaction should come first and be placed as a priority. (In addition, in my opinion, a virtual environment shouldn't replace all laboratory experiences as there are so many things to learn in a physical lab, too. )
Many cyberlearning researchers are trying to envision new technology products and activities that might improve learning. Cyberlearning research is typically exploratory, and as it is designing for the future, it is essential to have practitioners involved in the process. We need the wisdom of practice with all that is learned from working with diverse students with needs, interests, and experiences to create more inclusive designs in cyberlearning. Many projects do involve practitioners, but hearing from even more will improve the project, and give the projects new life and directions. We need to hear what makes sense to practitioners. Some of the best (in my opinion) cyberlearning research adds new thinking about equity, affect and emotion, and learning with the whole body (embodied learning research). We need researchers and practitioners working together to make sure cyberlearning research is useful for a wide variety of students.
I’m going to end this blog post with a hope that you’ll go download the report now and that you’ll come back to think more about it with me. I’d love to hear about how you think technology can help or hinder learning and what you think of the report. I’ll plan to post a few more blog posts about the report and some of what I am planning for my class. I’ve talked about the opening section here. Read up to page 11 and then come back for more. I’ll continue to discuss the report in several future blog posts.
P.S. If you’re teaching graduate students, please comment and let me know if you would take the report to your class, and how you’d use it. I'd love to hear more.
By Judi Fusco
Cyberlearning 2017 was an inspiring event in April. You can see a storify (a record of the tweets during the meeting) that documents many of the topics and technologies presented. In this post, I'm going to share a little about the 4 keynotes and give you the links so you can watch them.
The four keynotes kicked off with a future thinking one about virtual reality (VR) by Jeremy Bailenson. The VR discussed in this keynote isn't ready for the classroom yet, but we'll have new technologies soon that will be classroom ready. The keynote by Jeremy Bailenson describes his work and helps us think about what we need to investigate to understand about learning and VR. Cyberlearning researchers and teachers need to be thinking and planning now for the future. (We'll do a post soon about VR that is in the classroom.)
The second keynote by Mary Helen Immordino Yang focused on the link between emotions and learning and what we know from neuroscience. Most of the good teachers I know intuitively understand how important the emotional connection is in the learning process, but the keynote talk helps us understand reasons why emotion and cognition are so intertwined and has helped me think. I will share more in another post.
The third keynote talk by Eileen Scanlon was on the challenges of creating and sustaining a meaningful program of research. Eileen does research on Citizen Science; you can learn more about it in a CIRCL Primer on Citizen Science.
The final keynote, given by Karthik Ramani, discussed computational fabrication as a way to engage students and help them learn. He is also creating new technologies and interfaces to technologies. He describes his work and lab. His students showed off cardboard robots! In the photo on the right, one of the CIRCL Educators checks out the robots.
I highly recommend watching each of the four keynote videos at some point. Each keynote is one-half hour and if you watch, leave a comment and tell us what you think and if you see any implications for your practice. You can read reflections on the meeting by Jeremy Roschelle, one of the co-chairs of the conference.
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.