CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.
Claudia Mazziotti received her PhD in 2017 from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, working with Nikol Rummel on the development of a tutoring platform and the role of collaborative learning for productive failure.
How did you get interested in technology and learning?
As an undergraduate, I majored in educational science and Italian literature studies and linguistics. I decided to continue on to get my masters degree for educational science, and went to one of my former professors to ask if he could supervise me on a research-related topic that wasn’t related to education technology. While discussing it, he pointed me to Nikol Rummel who was working on a topic I thought was even more interesting! I had taken a class from Nikol, but I wasn’t thinking about educational technology for my masters degree until I got in touch with her.
For my masters thesis, I worked with Nikole Rummel as my supervisor and collaborated with Erin Walker now at Arizona State University and with Ryan Baker at the University of Pennsylvania to adapt and translate into German a cognitive tutor developed by Erin that helps middle and high school students learn algebra. Erin had translated the tutor into Spanish, and while she was piloting the tutor with students in South America, she observed the students there interacting differently with the cognitive tutor than expected. The tutor was made for individual use, and English-speaking students used it that way––but the South American students ran around in classes and helped each other face to face. My Master thesis similarly found a difference between cultures: English-speaking students tried to “game” the tutor, but German students did not. Against the series of previous research about gaming the system, this was a surprising result. German students’ lower experience with technology to some extent explains the low off-task behavior. These differences in the use of technology underline the need to carefully pilot test technology when implementing it for a variety of target groups. That was the first time I worked with educational technologies, and I was super excited about how much fun the kids had and how motivated they were when working with the system.
For my PhD, I continued to work with Nikol, and as one part of my PhD, we collaborated on a project called iTalk2Learn. In the iTalk2Learn-project we developed and evaluated an intelligent tutoring platform that supports math learning through adaptively switching between exploratory learning activities and structured learning activities. I really enjoyed working on the project, collaborating with different partners from academia and industry, finally bringing technology into practice, and examining how students learned from it.
You were recently in the U.S. on a Gateway Fellowship. What did you do with your time here?
At the end of my PhD, I applied for a Gateway Fellowship to work with Jeremy Roschelle with a vision of bringing educational technology to practice in the domain of mathematics and science, leveraging collaborative learning, and with an eye toward the best way to implement and scale the vision. Just before I came to SRI in November 2017, Jeremy moved to Digital Promise, which is not far from SRI. So I was still able to collaborate with him, and also with others at SRI and at U.C. Berkeley. With Jeremy and Barbara Means, I worked on a book chapter about implementation and scaling up of inquiry environments. At SRI, I joined some research group meetings with Kevin McElhaney, Christopher Harris, and Satabdi Basu on STEM learning and computational thinking, as a critical friend. I also visited Berkeley to talk with people in Marcia Linn’s WISE group, including Yannis Dimitriadis from the University of Valladolid in Spain, a visiting fellow in the WISE group.
I also interviewed experts about how to implement educational technology, and conducted a literature review of how to combine collaborative learning with more open ended exploratory learning and a teacher dashboard, because I think a dashboard could work as an incentive for teachers to actually make use of technology. In my interviews, I heard a variety of different perspectives around implementing and scaling up. For example, one researcher was very particular about the importance of teacher development, teacher concerns, and mindsets that teachers would need to make educational technology work in the classroom––like, they often need to be early adopters, willing to take risks, and not deterred if they try technology once and it doesn’t work. Another person I interviewed was very strong about technical infrastructure; for example, if the wifi doesn’t work, then nothing works! And I tend to agree. So you always have to have a Plan B for addressing the worst case (i.e., no functioning wifi). Another researcher stressed the importance of understanding the whole system and integrating multiple perspectives. Others emphasize creating a joint vision between the researchers, teachers, and even the parents and students. From my German perspective, joint vision and agreement across all those levels is very American! That’s a part where I’m struggling with view on translating my newly acquired knowledge to the “German situation”.
Can you say more about what you’re struggling with now?
What is most striking for me in the U.S. is the emphasis on getting everyone in school community involved to get things to happen. It involves convincing people to be involved and coordinating to create a joint vision. How can I transfer and adapt this approach to integrating educational technology in German schools?
Also, I don’t see as much technology used in the classroom in Germany as I do in the U.S.
It still seems that the German kids have more technology (like cell phones) at home and in their lives than inside of school. In other words, German schools are to some extent “behind”, although there have been initiatives to bring technologies into school. However, to me it seems as these activities dropped like a hot stone, as there is no unified vision. I understand that there a lot of things that make it hard to come to such a vision.
The low technology use in German schools is not only my personal observation or opinion. For instance, the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS 2013) and other comparative studies showed a very low use of technology in German schools. It is not that there are no computers in schools. Often in schools we have the concept of a computer room in which about 25-30 old-fashioned computers wait for the kids. Of course, there are also some initiatives to bring more state-of-the- art computers such as iPads or tablets into school. However, it still seems as it’s often more about the technology and less about how to make them pedagogically useful. To make the technology pedagogically useful and to have in sense of Puentedura’s SAMR-model, an added value from its use requires a lot of “forces” to come together and be integrated. A starting point in this regard is to offer professional teacher development. Such PD would not only need to help teachers become proficient users, but also increase teachers’ self-efficacy, which is in line with the 2013 ICILS study as a decisive factor for technology use. Also “becoming teachers” (i.e., Master of Education students) should have university courses that help them prepare future digital lessons in their respective subjects. So far only some universities offer these kind of courses.
To make the kind of change in Germany that I learned about in the U.S., a big team with different kinds of expertise and a lot of money would be needed. The interdisciplinary team would need to become a driving force. It would also be ideal to have political players join my vision of integrating technology into school because I think it would to require a top-down and bottom-up approach. Meeting with many stakeholders would probably be ideal. It would be helpful to have parents and other stakeholders supportive of your efforts, for example. It’s hard to identify all of the stakeholders and get them on the same page beforehand. This is going to be a long, but in the end, hopefully rewarding process.
What will be your focus when you return to Germany?
I’ll continue working with Nikol Rummel for awhile. We’re currently looking at different funding opportunities to help bring educational research into practice. I have a vision for German schools, but the hard part is where to start.
My main goal is to have students in German schools working across different lessons with technology where it fits the learning goal. Intelligent tutoring systems are efficient for some procedural skills, freeing teachers to spend time on other needs or with other students to provide more individualized support––or giving them time plan the next lesson. I’m interested not only in systems that support procedural skills, but also technology that supports sensemaking skills and conceptual knowledge, such as inquiry environments like WISE or the aforementioned iTalk2Learn platform.
For a first implementation and scaling up strategy, I need to identify school networks that have some experience with technology. The big question is what kind of technology would I like to introduce: something developed in the US that has demonstrated some effectiveness, or would it be wise to build something from scratch with a German target group in mind? What I learned from Jeremy and Barbara in writing this book chapter is that you need to plan for implementation very early in the development process. Maybe I could think about taking some components from an existing system, build in features that are customized to my target group, pilot it with schools, and do a formative and summative evaluation. Since my past experience is more with mathematics education in grades 4-6 in Germany, focusing on fractions, I would start there, since I know the domain.
What do you think the cyberlearning community should be doing?
In the U.S., I’d like to see the work take place in a broader variety of contexts and internationally. I’m thinking about how Erin adapted the tutor for Spanish speakers in South America, for example, and observed how they interacted differently with the tutor than English speaking students did.
More generally, I’d like to see a stronger focus on mutual transfer between educational research and educational practice, addressing specifically the needs of teachers. That’s not just a U.S. need; it’s a global problem.