EXP: Improving Student Help-Giving with Ubiquitous Collaboration Support Technology


PI: Erin Walker
University of Pittsburgh
Award Details

Students benefit from helping their peers: Help-givers improve their knowledge of the domain as a result of trying to explain it to others, and they become more confident in their abilities to solve problems. However, students need guidance to be successful at giving help. This research explores how students give help to their peers as they move between learning activities. It also explores the development of personalized learning technologies to provide students with individualized support that improves their help-giving skills across activities. Traditional personalized learning technologies have been “single-serving,” in that they are built for a particular activity and do not leverage a student’s other experiences with the domain. This single-serving approach misses the opportunity to gain a holistic perspective of a student’s ability and adaptively track a student’s growth in learning. This project will develop a new technology, called Ubiquitous Collaboration Support (UbiCoS), that can adaptively support the same student in giving help across different learning tools. UbiCoS is applied to peer help across three 8th grade mathematics activities. The first is a discussion forum integrated with a digital textbook where students answer questions posed by their classmates. The second is an online Q&A forum where students go to answer questions posted by other students around the world. The third is a teachable agent system where students explain mathematics concepts to a virtual agent. Enhanced understanding of how technology can facilitate help-giving interactions could improve how peer help activities are designed and supported in middle school mathematics classrooms, which would directly impact domain learning, help-giving skills, and motivation. This project explores ways to broaden interest in STEM by fostering help-giving discourse in middle school experiences. The proposal has the potential to directly impact over 300 students engaged in the evaluation and iterative development of UbiCoS and create digital tools that engage learners that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM.

This project designs and incorporates knowledge about the individual student’s pattern of help-giving actions across activities into standard components of personalized collaboration support including automatic interpretation of student interaction, expert and student models, and a support module. UbiCoS will be iteratively developed and evaluated in three phases. The first engages students in workshops to aid in the design of the help-giving support. The second phase conducts design studies to improve understanding of the relationship between the timing and content of adaptive support, student help-giving behaviors, and cognitive and motivational processes. Finally, the third phase consists of a controlled study to evaluate the impact of the support on student outcomes. The results of these user studies will advance understanding of an instructional framework describing the ways adaptive help-giving support should account for cognitive, motivational, and classroom factors as they relate to a student’s prior experiences. This research establishes UbiCoS as a new genre of educational technology that can support collaboration in a holistic manner, across different learning activities.

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