DIP: Developing Frameworks, Tools and Social Practices to Support Effective Instructor use of Online Social Learning Networks in Blended Learning Models

PI: Nichole Pinkard, Denise Nacu
DePaul University
Award Details

In this Cyberlearning: Transforming Education DIP (Development and Implementation) project, the PIs focus on understanding the kinds of tools and help for teachers that will support them as they integrate use of learning technologies into their classroom practices. There are a variety of challenges in creating and managing “blended learning” environments where students are learning in the classroom and also using tools and resources online and communicating with distant collaborators online. The PIs posit seven critical research and development needs in learning how to design such environments and help teachers learn to practice in these environments: better understanding of the types of interactions that are uniquely afforded by networked technologies and the ways those interactions contribute to learning; shared datasets that document and link face-to-face and online instructions in ways that enable analysis of learning outcomes; design principles for online learning tools to be integrated into such learning ecosystems; flexible instructional tools for teachers and data that help teachers to adjust classroom orchestration and allow them to realign online interaction structures; sharable frameworks for analyzing the affects of online learning tools; appropriate collaboration tools; and professional development facilities. The PIs in this project take a design research approach to the design of these technologies and approaches and to investigating the ins and outs of socio-technical systems that best support blended learning — the types and patterns of online interactions that create opportunities for learning, what leads to learning outcomes, how and which data to capture to analyze learning, the kinds of analyses that are needed to inform understanding of interactions within online social learning networks, and ways of supporting practitioners in effectively using the affordances of the socio-technical system to create learning ecosystems that promote digital literacy and learning of 21st century skills along with disciplinary learning. This research is being carried out in the context of the robust ecology of the Digital Youth Network (DYN), an already-existing infrastructure for connecting youth to each other in after-school contexts that includes a variety of tools for digital inquiry and expression.

While many teachers understand the utiity of technology in their personal lives, the norms of classroom instruction make it difficult for the majority of teachers to make effective use of networked technologies in their classrooms. However, it is essential to make sure that our educational systems integrate digital and technological learning experiences into daily learning activities to ensure that all youth become technologically literate and learn the skills they need for engaging in the 21st century workforce. This project focuses on designing “blended learning” environments and helping teachers take on and learn to productively use digital technologies in their classrooms to help students learn disciplinary content, disciplinary skills, and the many communication, collaboration, and inquiry skills so important to their futures. As well, investigation focuses on how to use the data collected while learners are engaging in learning activities online to help teachers visualize the capabilities and understanding of individual students so as to be able to give appropriate attention to every student’s needs. It is expected that analysis of the data collected, along with future analysis by other researchers, will contribute novel forms of online analytic tools to document the relationship between interactions and outcomes related to digital literacy, including evidence of skills and understandings and also other important capacities such as developing interest, spreading knowledge, engaging in creative practices, taking on independent learning, and expanding ideas for future careers.

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