Friday, November 30, 2012

Knowledge Integration Maps (KIM)

Knowledge Integration Map (KIM)
Knowledge Integration Map (KIM) is a discipline-specific form of concept map. Concept maps are a form of node-link diagram for organizing and representing connections between ideas as a semantic network. KIMs consist of concepts and labeled arrows. Different from traditional concept maps, KIMs divide the drawing area into discipline-specific areas, for example in biology into genotype/phenotype. 

Knowledge Integration Maps (KIMs) have been developed at the University of California, Berkeley by Beat A. Schwendimann in the research group of Marcia Linn.

You can learn more about Knowledge Integration Maps in this Wikipedia article.

More about the research on Knowledge Integration Maps in my dissertation (available for free here).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Causes for the persistent denial of evolution

Why are many people resistant to accept the theory of evolution despite the overwhelming evidence? The blog post below from NothingInBiology discusses three studies that explore why some people reject science over religious views.

Read more here:

Unfortunately, the article doesn't have any concrete suggestions how to better promote scientific understanding and acceptance among religious people.

Building "A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer"

Neil Stephenson's book "The Diamond Age" presents a fascinating piece of educational technology called "A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" (See diagram below).

The primer is an interactive book that can answer a learner's questions (spoken in natural language), teach through allegories that incorporate elements of the learner's environment, and presents contextual just-in-time information.

The primer includes sensors that monitor the learner's actions and provide feedback. The learner is in a cognitive apprenticeship with the book: The primer models a certain skill (through allegorical fairy tale characters) which the learner then imitates in real life.

The primer follows a learning progression with increasingly more complex tasks. The educational goals of the primer are humanist: To support the learner to become a strong and independently thinking person.

A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer Diagram [Click to Enlarge]
Currently, educational technology has early examples of adaptive tutoring systems. However, an artificial (pseudo-) intelligence that can mentor a learner in real-life complex problems is still far away.

For example, the IBM Watson computer can understand natural spoken language and give simple answers. Educational toy company LeapFrog developed the LeapPad - a tablet computer for children that resembles the "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" - except for the goal of subversive critical thinking.

Another example, the teaching software for the One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) wis directly inspired by the "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer". It is even named "Nell" (after the main protagonist in the novel). posted an example of how children in a remote Ethiopian village use Nell. Nell uses an evolving, personalized narrative to help kids learn to learn without beating them over the head with standardized lessons and traditional teaching methods:
Miles from the nearest school, a young Ethiopian girl named Rahel turns on her new tablet computer. The solar powered machine speaks to her: "Hello! Would you like to hear a story?"
She nods and listens to a story about a princess. Later, when the girl has learned a little more, she will tell the machine that the princess is named "Rahel" like she is and that she likes to wear blue--but for now the green book draws pictures of the unnamed Princess for her and asks her to trace shapes on the screen. "R is for Run. Can you trace the R?" As she traces the R, it comes to life and gallops across the screen. "Run starts with R. Roger the R runs across the Red Rug. Roger has a dog named Rover." Rover barks: "Ruff! Ruff!" The Princess asks, "Can you find something Red?" and Rahel uses the camera to photograph a berry on a nearby bush. "Good work! I see a little red here. Can you find something big and red?"
As Rahel grows, the book asks her to trace not just letters, but whole words. The book's responses are written on the screen as it speaks them, and eventually she doesn't need to leave the sound on all the time. Soon Rahel can write complete sentences in her special book, and sometimes the Princess will respond to them. New stories teach her about music (she unlocks a dungeon door by playing certain tunes) and programming with blocks (Princess Rahel helps a not very-bright turtle to draw different shapes).
Rahel writes her own stories about the Princess, which she shares with her friends. The book tells her that she is very good at music, and her lessons begin to encourage her to invent silly songs about what she's learning. An older Rahel learns that the block language she used to talk with the turtle is also used to write all the software running inside her special book. Rahel uses the blocks to write a new sort of rhythm game. Her younger brother has just received his own green book, and Rahel writes him a story which uses her rhythm game to help him learn to count.

The video by CGP Grey outlines a vision for a individualized learning tool called "Digital Aristotle":

Monday, November 26, 2012

Envisioning the future of learning

Ericsson released a new video that highlights descriptions of the future of learning by educational thinkers and enterpreneurs. The video critiques the current industrial-age conveyor-belt model of schooling and standardized  testing. Innovations discussed in the video focus on technology-enhanced, adaptive, and mobile learning approaches.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Why education research should matter to educational practice

Geek Manifesto (by Mark Henderson)
Science journalist Mark Henderson's book "The Geek Manifesto - Why science matters" illustrates the importance of science for all aspects of society.

Chapter 7 refers to the connection between science and education. Here is a quick summary of the main points:
-Currently, schools do not pay enough attention to findings from science (e.g. brain research, cognitive science, or education research). Additionally, schools don't apply scientific methods themselves by systematically implementing promising changes in quasi-experimental setups.
Some positive examples:
-brain research suggested that teenagers brains (different from younger children or adults) work better later in the morning [Most schools still operate on the industrial-age model that treats early rising as a virtue]. A UK school who pushed the first lessons for teenagers back by an hour documented great improvement in attendance and test performance (The principal also noted that other factors might have contributed to these improvements).
-Research suggests that the ability for delayed reward and self-control (findings from the famous marshmallow experiments) are major predictors of success in life (along with IQ and socio-economic background). Role-playing exercises, martial arts, or yoga could help students learn accept delayed gratification.
-Research suggests that boys and girls learn differently, especially around puberty. Education could use these findings to create different tasks for boys and girls.

Henderson suggests that education research, similar to medical research, should implement exhaustive randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Currently, school reforms are often policy-driven (or driven by for-profit companies who are pushing their educational products) instead of evidence-driven. School reforms could use RCTs by gradually rolling out new initiatives in randomly chosen schools. Only after results from these first schools show positive effects will an initiative be implemented system-wide. Later adopters can serve as a control group for study.
In the medical profession, many doctors are also researchers. As practitioner-researchers they are in the best position to evaluate new methods or suggest new ideas based on their experience. It is not necessary that all teachers become action researchers, but that they are familiar with research methodologies, interested in participating in studies, and receptive to using findings of research in their practice. Teachers should be expected to keep up with recent developments and discuss them with their peers. Schools could set up "journal clubs" in which current scientific findings relevant to education can be discussed. Teachers need accessible academic literature to keep them informed of current findings.

School science often focuses on the product of science ("facts") but not on how these findings came to be (the process of science). Understanding the nature of science should become an central focus of the science curriculum to foster students' approaching problems in a scientific way, appreciate scientific findings in the media and being able to critically evaluate them (e.g. "correlation does not equal causation"). As Carl Sagan said in Demon-Haunted World: "If we teach only the findings and products of science - no matter how useful and inspiring they may be - without communicating its critical method, how can the average person possibly distinguish science from pseudoscience?". Science education should give students the mental tools to distinguish science (e.g. theory of evolution) from non-scientific views (e.g. intelligente design and creationism). Learning about philosophy of science requires teachers who have strong disciplinary knowledge and received appropriate training in philosophy of science.
Learning science requires time. K-12 education should extend the amount of time students learn about science. Additionally, students need early career advice to see the relevance of science for future jobs. School science should have strong connections to current scientific research, e.g. through field trips to laboratories, inviting scientists as guest speakers, connect to scientists as mentors for science projects, participate in citizen science projects.

Imagining the ideal teacher

What would the characteristics of an "ideal" teacher be? As it is the nature of "ideals", they don't exist, but they can serve as inspirations and guidelines.

I imagine the ideal teacher to be involved in three different domains (see diagram above):
-Educator: Naturally, the first domain of a teacher is education.The ideal teacher has the knowledge and skills to create an inspiring and safe environment that facilitates learning. The ideal teacher knows and cares about the backgrounds of learners. Classroom and organizational management skills allow the ideal teacher to create a well structured learning environment in which student behaviour leads to positive and negative consequences. The ideal teacher has a clear understanding of educational goals and the curriculum.
-Practitioner: A master in an apprenticeship situation is a practitioner of his/her field. For example a master carpenter, master musician, or master athlete is an active member in a community of practitioners and can demonstrate desirable skills in practice. Teachers on the other hand often do not practice their own fields. The ideal teacher would practice his/her field, for example a history teacher would conduct historical research and publish on it, a language teacher would publish novels or poems, a science teacher would be involved in current scientific research projects, etc. The ideal teacher would use his/her mastery knowledge and skills to guide students towards increasing expertise and demonstrate the practical use of knowledge in a profession. Students can respect a person who is able to put theory into practice and demonstrate mastery in his/her field.
-Researcher: Currently, there is only a limited exchange between educational research and educational practice. Teachers have unique insights and understanding of current learning environments. The ideal teacher would act as an action researcher conducting research on how to improve the learning environment for his/her students and participate in larger educational research projects. The ideal teacher would be actively involved in the educational research community be publishing in journals and  presenting at conferences.

Even an ideal teacher would not be able to be an educator, practitioner, and researcher without institutional support  Teachers need adequate time, salaries, and financial support. The medical professions can serve as model for such teacher-practitioner-researchers. Medical doctors are expected and required to stay up-to-date with current research in their fields. Many doctors conduct research and are active members in research communities. Similarly, teachers should be given the opportunity to be researchers and practitioners, and such outstanding efforts should be adequately recognized. The ideal teacher is an artisan and a professional who skillfully designs learning environments. Overly restrictive top-down settings (such as standardized tests and standarized curricula) are a hindrance to the professional freedom of teachers.

To get ideal teachers, the whole system requires reform: Only highly qualified students would be selected into a teacher-training program. The teacher training program is comprehensive and prepares pre-service teachers to act as researchers and educators. Job conditions for in-service teachers are comparable to medical doctors. Junior in-service teacher receive systematic mentoring by more senior teachers and are part of supportive teacher communities (both offline and online). Schools recognize teachers' achievements as educators, researchers, and practitioners. Schools give teachers the time and support needed to succeed in all three areas.

"Ideal" teacher as described above already exist, but they are much too few in numbers. The goal is to change conditions to get more teachers to approximate the ideal teacher.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Job searching strategies for science education researchers

Below are the slides of a short presentation I gave at the Institute for Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education (IISME) on the topic of how science education researchers can find jobs after graduation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Understanding where new genes come from

New mutation in DNA
[Image source:]
Researchers from the University of California, Davis, und Uppsala University observed for the first time how new genes emerge.

In their model, a mutated copy of an existing gene first gains a weak function next to its primary function. If conditions change, the secondary function might become increasingly more important.

The researchers tested their model in the bacterium Salmonella and observed changes for over 3.000 generations.

The new model aims to explain how new functional genes emerge (given that cells have mechanisms in place to constantly remove mutations).

Read more here: Evolution of new genes captured

Imagining the classroom of 2030

How will the classroom (or learning in general) of 2030 look like? This pannel discussion (comprised mostly of online-learning entrepreneurs) discusses some emerging trends.