Vision for science and mathematics education, but what role for technology?

The RS are  calling for views for the ‘Vision for science and mathematics education 5-19’ project and yet there is little mention of a role for technology and technology enhanced learning expertise is not abundant on the advisory panel. Why I wonder? We clearly need to communicate the value of TEL for science and maths much more effectively.

For example, last year in response to the Education White Paper colleagues and I concluded that we know that well-designed technologies can be used to good learning effect through:

  • the creation and use of microworlds and simulations e.g. simquest, RoomQuake;
  • dynamic computational modelling to support software that adapts itself to the learner. This is effective for well-defined subject knowledge domains (including professional practice), and procedural and thinking skills e.g. Cognitive Tutors, for maths
  • participatory and personal toolkits to support inquiry-based learning e.g. participate, nquire;
  • games and game development, if carefully designed can motivate learners, including those who are currently marginalised or underperforming, e.g. UrbanScience, ZombieDivision;
  • versatile representational spaces to help people to see things differently and tackle the  unlearnable representations that can characterises ‘unlearnable’ material e.g. Migen.

Squares in a round world: has research about technology and learning passed its sell by date?

I really enjoyed my trip to see the David Shrigley Brain Activity exhibition at the Hayward. And was amused by the endearing hand drawn animation about new friends in which a square enters a round world and … well I won’t spoil it for you. But it made me wonder if researchers run the risk of being squares in a round world. This was prompted by the comment I mentioned in my last post that asked if technological pace was “making traditional research models and institutions look a little archaic?”So has research passed its sell by date in this fast-moving technological space and do we need to re-fashion ourselves out of our squareness, or help squareness to be better appreciated? What do us squares have to offer? Four sorts of research come readily to mind and I am sure there are more.

First, there is basic research about how people learn and about the nature of learning itself that can be applied to education in a digital world, both in terms of how to develop technologies and in terms of how to use technologies for learning, both informally and formally. This research does not go out of date but gets better and better, for example John Bransford and others work on the nature of transfer is mature and well grounded, it is rigorous and has developed over several decades. Perhaps one the reasons that research like this is timelessly useful is that it has a focus upon an ever-present issue: the nature of learning, rather than a changing space: the nature of a particular technology, category of technologies, or indeed particular practices. It is also the case that all those who are doing this research and all those who want to use this research share a common need: to understand more about how people learn. However, there is perhaps a need to better communicate this research in a way that makes it accessible and relevant to technologies as they change.

Second, there is research conducted by those who want to see how the learning and/or teaching process might be better supported through the use of technology. This research can also maintain its value, for example, if it has a focus upon the interactions that are important for teaching and learning and the manner in which different technologies do or don’t support that, rather than how to use a particular technology. Good example here are example Diana Laurillard’s classic work in her book Re-thinking University Teaching and the community of researchers who consider the nature of Instructional Design.

Thirdly, is the work done by those within research labs both in universities and companies that involves developing a technology and using it with learners and teachers, usually in small numbers, to see if it helps them to learn or teach so that learners learn more, or feel more motivated, or collaborate with others in a more supportive manner, or in answer to many other varieties of question. It is harder to see from the usual outputs from this category of research how it can be easily applied within practice, either informal or formal. One of the main reasons for this is that such research is about generating new technologies that are not yet in classroom and may not ever make it outside of the research lab. I have seen hundreds of such research projects very few of which see the light of real application. Sometimes they are only ever intended as a proof of concept to motivate some further research activity, but sometimes they are fit for purpose, but it is not the role of the research lab to take them into a development phase. There is a huge gap here between research and practice that means that many valuable research projects never get tested outside of small scale studies, but that is the subject worthy of more space than I have here.

Fourth, and finally for now, there is research that has a focus upon a particular technology, Video, Integrated Learning Systems, or Learning Platforms, for example. The currency of this research is more limited to the particular technology in question and therefore much more likely to go out of date. Although it has to be said that such research can also provide more generalisable findings: such as that about Integrated Learning Systems, which highlighted the impact of a learner’s context upon the efficacy or not of the technology, in this instance Integrated Learning System.

Research may be square, but most of it is not archaic. Squareness is good, but its beauty is currently only appreciated by a small community and that community needs to find better ways to get the word out to the wider world. At the same time that wider world has something valuable to contribute in the form of innovative practice and communities of people who use technologies in innovative ways and record their experiences in blogs, tweets and forums. Us research squares could do well to pay more attention to what this research in action has to contribute.

What’s Research got to do with it? TEL research and emerging technology, part 2

Well I said I would follow-up and continue the discussion about what research can say that can help those developing and using emerging technologies. Coincidentally (or not) I was pointed to a blog post yesterday about the pace of change of technologies  and in particular to the comments. I noticed that one of the comments made the very point that:

“…can we afford to wait for thorough research on some of these issues? If we do wait 3 years for some further research to be done won’t it already be chronically out of date? The technological landscape evolves at a thrilling pace, is it making traditional research models and institutions look a little archaic?”

So clearly there is a need for us researcher folk to better communicate what research has to say that is relevant. I’ll try to pick up on some key things that research can tell us over the next few posts. Sometimes the research that has something to say has been done very recently, sometimes it is specific to a new technology, but actually much of the time there are some basic research findings about how people learn, sometimes from way back that are still very relevant to what technology can do to support learning. These research findings have the advantage of having been tried, tested and developed over many years. Sometime new technologies allow us to benefit from this fundamental research in ways that were not previously possible.

For example, research has demonstrated that learning an additional langauge is assisted by being able to experience the new language and its culture. Technology offers access to authentic linguistic and cultural content, through for example, online newspapers, video, and other digital media in the target language. These may be created for native speakers, but they may also come with enhanced  language input, such as access to simplification, explanations, multimedia, subtitles for video.

Effective feedback is important for learning and technology can help – it can offer swift, timely and constructive feedback for students and teachers across all education sectors through interactive tasks that can be automatically marked. It can also support humans to provide feedback to learners using text, sound, images and  without needing to be in the same physical place as the learner.

Thinking about and understanding more about what we want people to be able to do in order to learn and then thinking about how particular technologies can help us to achieve this can be just as valuable, if not more valuable, than looking at the specific things that a particular technology can do.

What’s Research got to do with it? TEL research and emerging technology

I was delighted yesterday evening to watch Jean Dujardin accept his Bafta award for best actor in the pure joy film ‘The Artist‘. I was particularly struck by his finishing touch with the endearingly gloomy Buster Keaton face. The wisdom of the past being recognized so beautifully in this gesture and indeed in the almost silent movie that blends the appeal of old technology with the wonder of the new. Is there a parallel to be drawn with TEL research much of which languishes without seeing the light of the non-journal publication day. Has it passed its prime as the world has moved on? What can research, that often takes a long time to bear fruit, say that is meaningful for technological innovations that move so quickly that some applications leap from the lab to the pocket with no time for proper evaluations of how they might or might not support learning? Actually, it can say a lot, but perhaps, unlike Michel Hazanavicius, we have not yet found quite the right way to get the message across… to be continued

Still off my trolley? Reflections on technology to refresh the parts other forms of learning cannot reach

After a few days of contemplation I remain convinced about the potential of Augmented Reality to support learning,  particularly when combined with a range of other technologies through mobile phones, and embedded devices, for example.

Our own research has demonstrated that AR has the potential to promote learning and to motivate children to engage with learning activities. There is evidence that specific skills can be improved, that learners are motivated and challenged through  interactive problem solving activities and that AR can offer many opportunities for collaboration. Previous research projects, some of them quite old now, have also shown the potential of AR to enhance the presentation of knowledge across a range of real-world settings and the creation of engaging ways of interacting with simulations: demonstrating the broad potential of this technology across a spectrum of learning activities. See for example, Ambient Wood, Savannah, Environmental Detectives and there are more general lessons to be learned from studies with Ubiquitous. Augmented.Reality User Interfaces.

It is clear that to be effective, developers of AR for learning will  need a rich skill set in order to create applications that offer the necessary learner control, challenging interactivity and experience coherence. As previously noted this seems like a perfect task for participatory design with young people being an integral part of designing their own current and future technology rich learning experiences.

Off my Trolley or Technology to refresh the parts other learning cannot reach?

Lady on a TrainI am normally sluggish in the morning at first and then after a while my body and mind warms up and by the time I get on the train I am fit for a flurry of activity. I notice that many people are busily occupied in the morning in contrast to our sleepy souls on the evening trip back home. I suspect that my little burst of energy is something of an irritation to some of my work colleagues as my emails come flooding in as a large ungainly lump. This morning I was mid sentence when something caught my eye on the drinks trolley – it was a set of adverts appearing on a small video screen at the back of the cart. Adverts designed to entice people to buy the coffee that will burst open their day, and can be enjoyed any way, the water fresh from the spring to give them a zing or, rather less suitably for this hour, the Californian Merlot that costs a bit more dough. This distraction set me thinking and I mused to the rhythm of my neighbour’s mp3 player. I wondered if I had a trolley to entice people to engage with a particular brand of technology to support their learning what would my little adverts say and depict? I can’t promise to offer a definitive decision in a single blog post and reserve the right to come back this distraction again.

So, what would I want my trolley to advertise?… First, I think I would go for something where technology ‘refreshes the parts other forms of learning cannot reach’. There has been a proliferation of powerful and sophisticated digital technologies that are embedded in the environment; and built into small personal devices, televisions and personal computers. These technologies enable the augmentation of our environment through accessing physically tagged data, which can be retrieved and viewed from multiple perspectives. This puts a whole new meaning to the idea of ‘letting your fingers do the walking

The digital augmentation of reality (AR) can enable people to see the world around them differently, to share their own perceptions and to view the perceptions of others through stored information. AR has been shown to have the potential to support learning, engage learners and has been predicted to gain widespread usage within the next 2-5 years (2011 Horizon Report). Augmentation is not restricted to the visual layering of representations on a physical reality, it also manifests itself as audio augmentation. watch movie

Neither is it restricted to the physical reality of a person’s context: popular locations based applications, such as foursquare, situate and integrate location and social media.

There have been few evaluations of the impact of AR technologies on learning, and yet the speed of its development for mobile phones has resulted in its migration from the research lab to teenager’s pockets – people are ‘just doing it’. As researchers, we don’t have a clear understanding of the impact of AR upon learning, attitude or behaviour change. We can only look and learn as this technology and our relationship to it evolves. It is a fascinating space where the boundaries between producers and consumers blur and the essence of participatory design is wonderfully and ‘curiously strong’. This might just be everyone’s very own personal ‘greatest show on earth’. greates show on earth