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.
Victor Lee is an Assistant Professor in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University.
How did you get started in cyberlearning?
Cyberlearning sparked my interest when I was doing my graduate training in Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. I found I had an interest in design and focusing on what could be possible in new learning spaces. I got very excited about some bold new things that are being done by researchers in schools, museums, and libraries. Right now, there are so many current and future cyberlearning projects that seem not too many years off, and with this sea change in what is possible, it’s hard to resist the opportunity to rethink how we use technology to support learning or what new things we can learn about learning.
What should the cyberlearning community be doing in order to better support learning?
There are a lot of things the community is doing right so far, although one thing we could do more of is find ways to better support teachers so they have the time and creative space to develop radically new curriculum and learning experiences. Part of this could involve envisioning the future of professional learning communities so some of the most exciting ideas that are emerging from the ground up can get shared. Some of it might involve building models of really healthy research and practice partnerships so that meaningful collaboration and co-design between teachers and researchers can take place.
Probably another thing to do is think more about issues of access and equity. Sometimes the people who have the most voice in the current discussions about technology in education don’t consider that they have already very specialized access to things that other people and places lack. They may have a cutting edge smartphone that can run the coolest apps and stream the most content because of reliable high speed access and blocks of free time when they can tinker with new online tools, but that just isn’t the reality for everyone else in the country. We need to strike a balance between envisioning upcoming learning technologies and considering what learning communities can do right now. I like to believe that we as a field can find ways to enhance learning that are at a relatively low cost to schools and communities and that can involve learners in personally meaningful, deeper, technology embedded learning that can then be shared within the community. An example of this is my team’s use of wearable activity trackers and heart rate monitors with students to help them test changes in heart rates during different activities and make comparisons. Wearable devices are becoming more readily available and more affordable and several can operate on their own and with even an older computer, but can be powerful in that they turn individual bodily experiences into quantitative data that students can relate to and use in personally meaningful investigations.
Cyberlearning tends to focus on the STEM disciplines. Do you experience any pushback with your work?
My work is sometimes hard to fit nicely into the existing STEM-related categories because we often treat STEM as fitting into individual silos. In my NSF CAREER project, we are using sensors and activity trackers with students so they can collect and analyze data about themselves. We want to help students become reflective about what generated the data, how their bodies work, and how things they do changes the kinds of data they get. So really, we can say it should fit in math, science, or statistics, etc, but sometimes people don’t really know where to slot us into the curriculum. We also touch on other areas, like health or fitness, which aren’t always as privileged as other subjects in the school day.
Another bit of pushback we see is around concerns related to privacy. This is increasingly becoming a challenge with new educational technologies that generate and rely on learner data. As a society, we get very concerned about who handles data involving minors and that raises hard challenges for us when we want minors to be able to look at, share, learn from their own data. We as a community need to tread carefully, but I am hopeful that folks involved in Cyberlearning will get in front of the issue and help lay out clearly the costs and benefits of, say, having a class of kids obtain and look at their own class data for a learning activity.
What does the future of cyberlearning look like for the work you are doing?
Much of my work lately has been around working with kids to help them get and inspect quantifiable data. But I see my corner of cyberlearning as becoming something much broader––broader in the sense that what we do or need to learn about with data can be much more than just collecting numbers. Powerful visualizations can come from non-numerical data––for example, bundling pictures into a video, or slowing down or speeding up video to see it in a new way. The ability for anyone to play with the temporal dynamics of video is already there; imagine what one could inspect and learn about related to acceleration or friction! Instead of looking at different lunar phases in a textbook, imagine how much more meaningful the pictures could be if a class collected the pictures and could play them back at different timescales like a movie. Andee Rubin has been involved in this kind of research and development for more than 25 years, and I think there’s great potential to be harnessed with her ideas. So, basically, I’d like to see us play with ideas that seem familiar – like what counts as data or what we can do with moving images – and come up with some interesting spins on them.
I would also like to see lifelong learning become more prominent in cyberlearning. Learning is a lifetime process, so one thing we could do is think more about how and when adults learn with the new technologies. So many of the “toys” are geared towards kids, but there are so many opportunities for us to learn and use new things throughout our lives. For example, the process of a parent building a robot with their child at home or when they visit a museum could be a great opportunity for us to look at what adults could get out of this potential learning experience as well.