Maximizing education using technology

I went to my first ever educational technology talk yesterday and got a general sense of what it means to conduct research in the field. I was really proud that I was familiar with most, if not all, the information that was introduced as background information. I guess following education blogs and taking courses on education actually paid off 🙂 The talk was given by Eleanor O’Rourke, who studies the use of educational systems to maximize learning online and in the classroom.

Brain points

Carol Dweck is known for her research on how in the long run students who have a growth mindset tend to outperform students who have a fixed mindset. It is possible to teach children to have a growth mindset by praising them for hard work rather than correct answers. The problem with many math games and online activities, however, is that the reward system (points, badges, etc.) only praises students for getting correct answers and not the process.

O’Rourke partnered with two different math games and implemented her own reward system using “brain points.” Students were awarded brain points for new ideas, starting over, math effort, and working hard. Her research found that students who played a game that awarded brain points rather than level points were significantly more likely to persist through hard levels.

Instructional scaffolding

The emergence of cognitive tutors has revolutionized the way that online learning works. Students are given randomly generated problems based on their answers to previous questions. The only thing missing is the explanation that accompanies those answers.

To solve this problem, O’Rourke created an adaptive algorithm that creates individualized scaffolding for students. Her algorithm creates a model for subtraction and goes through each decision a person makes when solving a subtraction problem (e.g. if the bottom digit is greater than the top digit, then you need to borrow). Using this model, not only can different math problems be generated automatically, but explanations can also be generated that walk through correct solutions.

Overall, I really enjoyed learning about O’Rourke’s research in educational technology. In recent years, the number of educational technology start-ups has increased dramatically. It’s interesting to see if research can reveal patterns regarding how educational technology can best be used to improve education.

P.S. Another thing I really enjoyed about this talk was hearing the questions from the audience. The questions were really insightful and gave me ideas on how to think critically about ed tech research.


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