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.
Jeremi London is a postdoctoral research associate at Arizona State University.
How did you get started in cyberlearning?
My background is in Industrial Engineering. Because of my engineering experience, it is natural for me to think about things in terms of systems– inputs and outputs, transformations, and how things work together. I have always been interested in how online learning resources, a part of cyberlearning, fit into the traditional education model. This question led me to my internships at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the Division for Undergraduate Education (DUE) and learning about cyberlearning projects.
What have your 3 summers internships at the NSF been focused on?
My initial summer at NSF was the first time I heard the term “Cyberlearning”. Since I was already interested in systems-level issues, thinking about its integration and structure (i.e. cyberlearning) within undergraduate STEM education was a natural fit. As part of my first project, I did a portfolio analysis of what one program in that particular division (DUE) had funded over the last 10 years, including the types of projects funded across STEM disciplines, and what those projects enabled in terms of cyberlearning. A goal of the study was to suggest future funding directions for this research area. (For each of my internship projects, I publish the findings for the benefit of the broader STEM education and cyberlearning community.)
My second summer, I built upon the foundational work of my first internship by studying projects that had compelling results to identify elements of exemplary cyberlearning resources. I examined how they were designed, scaled up, and being sustained. For this project, it was important to understand what makes something last.
As part of my current project, I am focusing on a particular form of learning system within cyberlearning called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course). My main interest is with undergraduate engineering education and the role of MOOCs in it. Program officers at NSF have expressed interest in funding research around this area; so I am helping to initiate investigation by developing a research agenda around the role of MOOCs in engineering education. In my work, I find that many people –across STEM disciplines and beyond– are asking some of the same big questions. These points of convergence excite me because they speak to a great opportunity to advance the research in this field in targeted and strategic ways. (If you are doing this kind of work, please let me know so we can connect and talk!)
What other areas of cyberlearning are you interested in?
Apart from cyberlearning in undergraduate STEM education, I am particularly interested in two other topics. The field of educational psychology and cognitive psychology are well-established and have provided tremendous insights on what enables and inhibits learning. But now there are numerous opportunities to instrument learning environments in innovative ways. As a result, I am always fascinated by the possibility for cyberlearning research to link technology, education, and brain science to enhance our fundamental understanding of how people learn. Another topic I would like to investigate is the progress of the Cyberlearning field in terms of its ability to address systemic issues within education. Such issues might include: the severe lack of awareness among K-12 students in the myriad of STEM careers; gaps in student preparedness (in content and study skills) before beginning undergraduate studies; and the shortcomings of traditional higher education in mitigating some of the biggest challenges of being a nontraditional student.
What should the cyberlearning community be doing?
As someone relatively new to this field, I find inspiration in being involved with developing something that may be helpful for others coming into this community. As a community, I believe we should build some sort of infrastructure (whether it be a center, a database, or a hub) to help people wrap their minds around what encompasses cyberlearning, what the big questions are, and what tools of technology are currently available or being researched. I’d like to see us create and implement coordinated infrastructure for the dissemination of this information and material.
Finally, I have seen a huge cyberlearning and STEM emphasis being placed on the K-12 levels, but I don’t hear as much talk about cyberlearning at the undergraduate level (and none at all for graduate school). In my opinion, there are huge untapped communities of learners at these levels and tremendous opportunities for research. By having multiple foci in cyberlearning, we could further open the field to offer opportunities for both formal and informal education. I think there is a great deal of potential for growth in offering informal education to people who are curious about different topics, who may want to brush up on their technical skills for a job change, or may want to better their understanding in a particular field. Thus, one goal we should have as a community is to be able to use our technologies to serve more learners– from “K to grey”. The community has a vast amount of knowledge, understanding, and competency in developing ideas and programs to use in educational sectors of all kinds, but we have difficulty in getting that to the end user. As a community, we could do better in these areas.