CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the many 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.
Rajiv Ramnath is a professor in the Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University.
How did you get started in cyberlearning?
My background is in computer science and engineering. From working in industry, I found it was common practice that when recruiting graduate students, candidates with the most experience outside the classroom were the ones most wanted––not necessarily students with the highest academic achievement. To me, this seemed like a misalignment of our academic programs with real-world needs. I wanted to figure out how to make software engineering programs that are targeted towards developing real capabilities within the students rather than teaching the content in an abstract way. So, in 2008, I started using a “flipped” classroom model, where the lectures were presented over the internet, and activities took place in class. Here is where my journey in cyberlearning began. As I became involved with other cyberlearning projects, I came to recognize that a cyberlearning infrastructure is necessary.
What are you currently working on?
In addition to my own cyberlearning project (described earlier) I provide computing capabilities and app building to research groups involved in cyberlearning. I am working on two projects right now. One is a cyberlearning geography project, funded by NSF, called GeoGame. Students learn about the Green Revolution by engaging in this web-based game. The idea is place-based and similar to that of Farmville, where students manage pieces of land and are presented with both opportunities and obstacles. They have to make successful farming decisions in the face of events such as pest attacks and bad weather, in order to continue on in the game. This is mainly for first-year undergraduate students in an introductory geography course. I am also working with faculty members on physics applications and mobile learning––that enables learning that is not confined to a classroom, but that can take place anywhere. We want students to learn vector arithmetic and physics concepts through web-based apps. All of these apps are for blended learning classrooms, where some learning takes place outside of the classroom, over cyberinfrastructure, while others take place inside.
What are you struggling with right now?
Building cyberlearning applications really takes a long time. We are not able to do the tight cycles of quick experimentation, feedback, and improvement that we need to do in order to make these applications effective. In general, the process is very expensive. I hope that at some point I am able to help develop the software infrastructure so that more experimentation and feedback is able to take place, and easy testing at scale becomes possible as well. Furthermore, measuring efficacy is always difficult. The learning signals are hidden in noise, so I think we need to improve in our methodologies of research. There is a lot to be learned from people in education––who use greater rigor in their education research in order to pull the signals out through assessment.
What do you think the CL community should be doing?
The more the cyberlearning community can do to foster collaboration, the better. It is so important to connect people who have complementary skills and promote collaboration. Also, if there is a way to provide an inventory of already-built cyber-infrastructure to leverage, as opposed to people building things from scratch, it would benefit everyone. It would also be great if the community could provide tutorials, advice as well as actual capabilities around the experimental research process and methodologies of education research. This would help us do scientifically valid work. In addition, I would like to see a push for outcome-based learning at the college-level. I hope to see policy that would drive more of this.
I think it is also worth mentioning that we should be finding a way to nationally recognize and reward exceptional teachers at the college level. For example, there are Golden Apple Programs, and so on, at the primary school level, but we really don’t have anything like this within the college system. It would be really rewarding to see this type of appreciation and distinguishment at the higher education level.