By Vic Sutton
[Note: See Bonnie Bracey Sutton’s report. -Editor]
There is reportedly a wealth of research being conducted unto cyberlearning, but there are no clear views about how to translate research results into action in the community context, in particular for schools or informal education.
This emerged from the recent Cyberlearning Summit held in Madison, Wisconsin, on 9-10 June 2014, which brought together some 200 participants — mostly academics, plus some educators, industry representatives and grant makers — to highlight “advances in the design of technology-mediated learning environments, how people learn with technology, and how to use cyberlearning technologies to effectively shed light on learning.”
There was no discussion about quite what cyberlearning is, but it appears to be a fancy name for on-line learning.
The meeting was organized by the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and featured a number of eminently qualified speakers.
Yasmin Kafai, from the University of Pennsylvania, reminded participants of the remark by the late Steve Jobs that “everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”
But Kafai also criticized the most frequently referenced definition of computational thinking — by Jeanette Wing — on the grounds that Wing sees this as an individual activity. Rather, argued Kafai — since we live in an interconnected world — we need to see programming as participation.
Joe Polman, from the University of Colorado, Boulder, spoke about “citizen science journalism,” which involves young people in researching and crafting news stories for publication in a rigorously edited publication, SciJourn. He suggested that the challenges of this approach were:
- to design data that was accessible to the public, and
- to design social uses of on-line networks so that they can be used as agents of change.
A number of speakers referred to the potential of gaming as an educational tool. Nicole Pinchard, from DePaul University, described an approach that combines social learning design patterns, on-line STEM learning activities, on-line mentors and learning analytics to help students improve their Chicago neighborhood.
Kurt Kiefer, Assistant State Superintendent at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, added that “games are one route to personalized instruction.”
Pratim Sengupta, from Vanderbilt University, asked, “How do we integrate computation as a scientific practice in elementary and middle school classrooms?”
Carolyn Rose, from Carnegie Mellon University, suggested that students were often a key resource for one another. Teachers were their guides, and technology was just a catalyst in these interactions.
The conference then turned to a discussion about how to “partner for impact” — in other words, how to turn research results into action.
Joyce Malyn-Smith, from the Education Development Center, pointed out that real breakthroughs only happen with a diversity of approaches. Moreover, she observed, if you are looking for commercial partnerships you need to get important findings to entrepreneurs while they are still developing their products.
Many speakers referred to the challenge of making research more useful for school and out of school education. As Natalie Harr — a long-time early childhood educator — put it: “There is a clash of cultures between pre-K12 educators and the cyberlearning community. We need to translate research into practice.”
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