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Where did the kids go? Exploring Interaction at a Science Museum Exhibit

A post by Naomi Thompson

Hello! My name is Naomi Thompson and I’m entering my 3rd year in the Indiana University Learning Sciences program. Dr. Kylie Peppler is my advisor. I’m interested in intersections between art/making/play and STEM, especially in informal spaces. Lately, I’ve become increasingly interested in museums, such as science centers, as really interesting places for these intersections to thrive. Science centers and museums especially can provide many opportunities to redefine what comprises STEM, and provide young children with powerful hands-on experiences. Museum exhibits for children are generally designed to provide whole-body, interactive learning experiences. Observing these interactions can provide meaningful insight into how children engage and learn across various kinds of settings.

Where did the kids go? Exploring Interaction at a Science Museum Exhibit

A Child Playing with Water Works at Wonderlab, photo by Chris Higgins

For a graduate seminar titled Knowing, Designing, and Learning with Dr. Sean Duncan, I got a chance to spend a few hours observing The WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology in Bloomington, IN. It’s a popular space where children and their families often spend considerable amounts of time playing with and learning about a wide array of scientific concepts. I found myself hovering around the Water Works water table, fascinated by the children’s play with water and toys there. This exhibit is part of various clusters of activities through the museum meant to uncover “how things work.”  It entailed a large, cylindrical container that was partially raised above the surface of the shallow pool in the table, I called this the vortex. Water inside was constantly spinning in a downward spiral, sucking along anything small that was placed inside, and sending the objects back out into the general pool. The majority of the visitors playing were small children, mostly younger than 5 years old. As young children often do when they learn about something new and exciting, they tended to repeat their actions, picking up brightly colored plastic balls and dropping them into a water vortex over and over, fascinated by the results each time. Alternatively, the children could toddle to the far end of the table, which was full of pipes, fountains, and faucets, and send the balls down a ramp that allowed them to be shot into the air by a strong fountain. The balls would then roll down a guide wire and plop back into the water vortex. These children seemed to be having so much fun, I wish I had gotten up to play with them. I was curious to see what might happen as this activity evolved over time.

During my second day of observation, just about all the brightly colored plastic balls had gotten stuck at the top of the fountain, unable to roll down the wire into the water vortex. One boy with brown hair, a little older than some of the others, sent the last ball up, apparently to see if it could jog the others loose. He watched to see what would happen, and when this ball got stuck as well, he played with other parts of Water Works briefly before walking away. By this time, very few children were left at the table – only three slightly older children compared to the usual six to eight young ones – and parents had noticed that all the balls were stuck. Some parents around tried using sticks and toys to knock them down, and briefly saved a few that promptly got stuck again. Finally, a parent went to get a staff member who used a broom to knock them all down. Moments later, almost without my noticing, there were six young children playing at the table again with the colored balls circulating nicely along their paths.

It was really interesting to witness what changed with children’s interactions, when a breakdown in the exhibit occurred. Whether it was a temporary flaw, or it was purposely created to occasionally “break,” there are interesting implications here for what engages young children, and what learning opportunities exist when things break. When do children try to fix the problem, and when do they decide to move on to something else? It would be really interesting to study these moments of accidental and on purpose “breaking,” and look into how different children in different settings respond to these setbacks. Is there something about informal settings that lets kids feel like they can try a new activity if something isn’t working for them? Or since the stakes are lower, do they feel more able to work through problems if they want? What roles do adults play in these situations? I’d be interested to hear ideas and suggestions from others about this line of thought!

Brief Reflection about Using a Text Mining Approach in a Design-Based Research

A post by Alejandro Andrade

After having the opportunity to explore the use of a text mining approach to analyze information in a design-based research project about using video to support pre-service teachers’ ability to notice (Van Es & Sherin, 2002), I have three major ideas to share. First, these data-mining techniques are flexible and powerful tools, and yet one should be aware of several of their limitations. For instance, the stemmed words in a text document are but proxies of participants’ conceptual engagement, but these might be a rather distal than proximal type of evidence. The bag-of-words approach, the one used in my analysis, overlooks a great deal of information that might have been relevant to help tease apart more nuanced hypotheses. Nonetheless, the approach, however distal it might have been, did provide relevant evidence given the context of the present study, for instance, the relationships between the learning theories and the student analytics, and these latter and the experts’ analytics.

Brief Reflection about Using a Text Mining Approach in a Design-Based Research

Brief Reflection about Using a Text Mining Approach in a Design-Based Research

Second, while the bag-of-words is one text mining approach, it is not the only computerized technique available. Indeed, other more powerful tools can supplement or replace such an approach. For instance, some computerized linguistic analyses exist that can provide measures of coherence and cohesion in text documents. One of such techniques is the Coh-Metrix (Graesser, McNamara, Louwerse, & Cai, 2004), a free online tool that provides more than a hundred different indices with text characteristics. Among others, Coh-Metrix provides information about text easability, referential cohesion, content word overlap, connective incidence, passivity, causal verbs and causal particles, intentional particles, temporal cohesion, etc. With this tool one can supplement the findings about differences and similarities between the students’ and experts’ analytics, for instance.

Third, I believe that the incorporation of computational techniques to the researcher’s toolkit is bound to gain traction in the learning sciences. In particular, as researchers adopt design-based research methodologies (Cobb, Confrey, Disessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003; W. Sandoval, 2014; W. A. Sandoval & Bell, 2004) that demand a sequence of test and refine iterations, they might consider having tools in their belts that can allow swift and reliable understanding of their results. Unlike other slow qualitative coding-scheme-based approaches that require inter-rater reliability, content analytic tools such as the bag-of-words are much faster and consistent. Also, these quantitative tools are useful with only a small group of students or with larger samples of various hundreds or even several thousands of participants. This doesn’t mean that traditional coding schemes are not good, or that we should stop caring about them. On the contrary, I believe that both approaches can work in tandem, where computational techniques provide a first glance at the data for a quick and dirty pass of analysis that can inform the research team on how to adapt and refine the design, and then, when resources allow, researchers can go deep into the data and examine the nuances of student learning interactions.

References

Cobb, P., Confrey, J., Disessa, A., Lehrer, R., & Schauble, L. (2003). Design experiments in educational research. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 9.

Graesser, A. C., McNamara, D. S., Louwerse, M. M., & Cai, Z. (2004). Coh-Metrix: Analysis of text on cohesion and language. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36(2), 193-202.

Sandoval, W. (2014). Conjecture mapping: an approach to systematic educational design research. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 18-36.

Sandoval, W. A., & Bell, P. (2004). Design-based research methods for studying learning in context: Introduction. Educational Psychologist, 39(4), 199-201.

Van Es, E. A., & Sherin, M. G. (2002). Learning to Notice: Scaffolding New Teachers’ Interpretations of Classroom Interactions. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 10(4), 571-596.

Brief Reflection about Using a Text Mining Approach in a Design-Based Research

A post by Alejandro Andrade

After having the opportunity to explore the use of a text mining approach to analyze information in a design-based research project about using video to support pre-service teachers’ ability to notice (Van Es & Sherin, 2002), I have three major ideas to share. First, these data-mining techniques are flexible and powerful tools, and yet one should be aware of several of their limitations. For instance, the stemmed words in a text document are but proxies of participants’ conceptual engagement, but these might be a rather distal than proximal type of evidence. The bag-of-words approach, the one used in my analysis, overlooks a great deal of information that might have been relevant to help tease apart more nuanced hypotheses. Nonetheless, the approach, however distal it might have been, did provide relevant evidence given the context of the present study, for instance, the relationships between the learning theories and the student analytics, and these latter and the experts’ analytics.

Brief Reflection about Using a Text Mining Approach in a Design-Based Research

Brief Reflection about Using a Text Mining Approach in a Design-Based Research

Second, while the bag-of-words is one text mining approach, it is not the only computerized technique available. Indeed, other more powerful tools can supplement or replace such an approach. For instance, some computerized linguistic analyses exist that can provide measures of coherence and cohesion in text documents. One of such techniques is the Coh-Metrix (Graesser, McNamara, Louwerse, & Cai, 2004), a free online tool that provides more than a hundred different indices with text characteristics. Among others, Coh-Metrix provides information about text easability, referential cohesion, content word overlap, connective incidence, passivity, causal verbs and causal particles, intentional particles, temporal cohesion, etc. With this tool one can supplement the findings about differences and similarities between the students’ and experts’ analytics, for instance.

Third, I believe that the incorporation of computational techniques to the researcher’s toolkit is bound to gain traction in the learning sciences. In particular, as researchers adopt design-based research methodologies (Cobb, Confrey, Disessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003; W. Sandoval, 2014; W. A. Sandoval & Bell, 2004) that demand a sequence of test and refine iterations, they might consider having tools in their belts that can allow swift and reliable understanding of their results. Unlike other slow qualitative coding-scheme-based approaches that require inter-rater reliability, content analytic tools such as the bag-of-words are much faster and consistent. Also, these quantitative tools are useful with only a small group of students or with larger samples of various hundreds or even several thousands of participants. This doesn’t mean that traditional coding schemes are not good, or that we should stop caring about them. On the contrary, I believe that both approaches can work in tandem, where computational techniques provide a first glance at the data for a quick and dirty pass of analysis that can inform the research team on how to adapt and refine the design, and then, when resources allow, researchers can go deep into the data and examine the nuances of student learning interactions.

References

Cobb, P., Confrey, J., Disessa, A., Lehrer, R., & Schauble, L. (2003). Design experiments in educational research. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 9.

Graesser, A. C., McNamara, D. S., Louwerse, M. M., & Cai, Z. (2004). Coh-Metrix: Analysis of text on cohesion and language. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36(2), 193-202.

Sandoval, W. (2014). Conjecture mapping: an approach to systematic educational design research. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 18-36.

Sandoval, W. A., & Bell, P. (2004). Design-based research methods for studying learning in context: Introduction. Educational Psychologist, 39(4), 199-201.

Van Es, E. A., & Sherin, M. G. (2002). Learning to Notice: Scaffolding New Teachers’ Interpretations of Classroom Interactions. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 10(4), 571-596.

Santander Photo Exhibition, 2 years on

It’s been two years since the #Picbod class took flight opened the first Santander Photo Festival. I have had chance to reflect on this collaboration recently and think about how learning communities are extremely powerful and can truly build friendships. I still speak to Charo often about possible collaborations and projects, albeit it is very difficult to get traction on them when we both work full time. Nevertheless, I have still submitted my part for this year’s festival and look forward to playing a bigger part next year.

Iterating organizing structures

Here’s another stab at trying to nail down the competencies and topics leaders in the open community need to have and an organizing structure for Teach Like Mozilla. I’ve worked in the initial suggestions from the community, and made quite a few new changes as I was sorting and organizing content from across Mozilla Learning – seeing those resources just made me realize how complicated sorting mechanisms can be. Iterating organizing structures After thinking that “Facilitating” encompasses a series of skills and behaviors that are embedded in many of the other competencies, I changed the second strand to include facilitating as an overarching concept. I also slotted “developing leadership” under participation because I feel like mentorship and personal/professional development among collaborators is part of participating with an open ethos. Then I swapped "playtesting" as an overarching competency and replaced in with "prototyping" of which I feel "playtesting" plays a part. We can discuss all this and more in this week’s Open Web Leadership Call! Or leave comments, contact me on twitter or start a discussion in Discourse, whatever your preference, I’d love to hear what you think ;)

Open Web Leadership

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about an organizing structure for future (and current) Teach Like Mozilla content and curriculum. This stream of curriculum is aimed at helping leaders gain the competencies and skills needed for teaching, organizing and sustaining learning for the web. We’ve been short-handing this work “Open Fluency” after I wrote a post about the initial thinking.

Last week, in our biweekly community call, we talked about the vision for our call. In brief, we want to:

“Work together to define leadership competencies and skills, as well as provide ideas and support to our various research initiatives.”

We decided to change the naming of this work to “Open Web Leadership”, with a caveat that we might find a better name sometime in the future. We discussed leadership in the Mozilla context and took some notes on what we view as “leadership” in our community. We talked about the types of leadership we’ve seen within the community, noted that we’ve seen all sorts, and, in particular, had a lengthy conversation about people confusing management with leadership.

We decided that as leaders in the Mozilla Community, we want to be collaborative, effective, supported, compassionate for people’s real life situations. We want to inspire inquiry and exploration and ensure that our community can make independent decisions and take ownership. We want to be welcoming and encouraging, and we are especially interested in making sure that as leaders, we encourage new leaders to come forward, grow and participate.

I believe it was Greg who wrote in the call etherpad:

“Open Web Leaders engage in collaborative design while serving as a resource to others as we create supportive learning spaces that merge multiple networks, communities, and goals.”

Next, we discussed what people need to feel ownership and agency here in the Mozilla community. People expressed some love for the type of group work we’re doing with Open Web Leadership, pointing out that working groups who make decisions together fuels their own participation. It was pointed out that the chaos of the Mozilla universe should be a forcing function for creating on-boarding materials for getting involved, and that a good leader:

“Makes sure everyone “owns” the project”

There’s a lot in that statement. Giving ownership and agency to your fellow community members requires open and honest communication, not one time but constantly. No matter how much we SAY it, our actions (or lack of action) color how people view the work (as well as each other).

After talking about leadership, we added the progressive “ing” form to the verbs we’re using to designate each Open Web Leadership strand. I think this was a good approach as to me it signifies that understanding, modeling and uniting to TeachTheWeb are ongoing and participatory practices. Or, said another way, lifelong learning FTW! Our current strands are:

  • Understanding Participatory Learning (what you need to know)
  • Modeling Processes and Content (how you wield what you know)
  • Uniting Locally and Globally (why you wield what you know)

We established a need for short, one line descriptors on each strand, and decided that the competency “Open Thinking” is actually a part of “Open Practices”. We’ll refine and further develop this in future calls!

As always, you’re invited to participate. There are tons of thought provoking Github issues you can dive into (coding skills NOT required), and your feedback, advice, ideas and criticisms are all welcome.

Online communities making a big impact on creative practice

So, I went with Jonathan Worth to Lincoln University on Monday to speak to academic staff and students about open and connected photography courses.

Something that budding creative practitioners have to tackle is getting work seen above all others. Now in photography, in an age which is image rich, standing out and having an audience for your work can be extremely challenging. I have a unique perspective of both being a student of an open photography class and also recreating one. But what I wanted to highlight particularly to the students in the room was that their work could get noticed and using appropriate online networks their careers could really benefit.

I often wonder whether I really can speak as an average joe considering my most successful project was about an established photographer (George Rodger) whom played a significant role in the history of photojournalism. However, just yards from reaching the university, I had received a voice message from the BBC who wanted to talk to me about another project I had done- about Coventry and UK cinemas.

Now, this project is not going to feature in BJP, but it is important to local history and despite Coventry having a rich cultural history in cinema, there is not much of it online. Being one of few to discuss this topic in an online space meant that I had to be credible in what I was sharing.

I asked how the BBC found my work and they said that it was through Google search. One of the things that I claimed to be extremely important about digtiising archives was that they were findable. This is exactly the same for your work; because everything you do online is archived. I can’t remember who, but in a #dmlcommons discussion it was said that the blog is like an external brain; somewhere that you can put your thoughts, categorise them and archive- but these thoughts are only a search or a couple of clicks away (neat right?).

These thoughts, findings and conclusions are not just available to you (unless you want them to) but also to others, letting them into your work. This should be seen as a huge asset to creative practitioners, educators and students.

Resiliency Factors in Online Learning

The role of resiliency in learning technology is pertinent. What factors would influence resiliency in online learning?

Resiliency is defined as the means to overcome or bounce back from stress or trauma. Because of various dynamics the human response can range from intense drama to persistent stress or mild depression.  In this context, we are looking at resiliency dynamics in the perseverance or accomplishment in a successful online learning experience. 

In looking at the characteristics for resiliency, Southwick indicates ten resilience factors that can be considered coping strategies when confronted with stress. Realistic optimism, facing fear, moral compass, religion and spirituality, social support, resilient role models, physical fitness, brain fitness, cognitive and emotional flexibility and meaning and purpose. Of these, social support and meaning and support are appropriate to the role of learning technology. 

When we think of social support in online learning, discussion boards are perhaps the most prevalent form of social support. What types of support are beneficial in an online learning experience to assist with satisfaction and completion of a course? Social support has been defined as “the exchange of verbal and nonverbal messages conveying emotion, information, or referral, to help reduce one’s uncertainty or stress” (Walther & Boyd, 2002, p. 154)

In a study of nursing students (Munich), participants reported that four supports: informational, instrumental, emotional, and affirmational, were essential for them to complete their online course. Social support is thereby nuanced. Beyond the role the educator plays in providing support, feedback, assessment, encouragement, the interplay between participants is also vital for developing relationships that can support resiliency in online learning. In this study, the informal discussion forum provided the most affirmative and and emotional support among the students.  These informal channels can be a way to develop a community of support and assist in resiliency when a student experiences stressor that impact their learning experience.  

Southwick, Steven M.; Charney, Dennis S. (2012-07-23). Resilience (p. 1). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Citation: Munich, K. (2014). Social support for online learning: Perspectives of nursing students. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, 29(2), 1-12. Available online at: http://ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/891/1565