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Technology-Human Integrated Knowledge Education and Research (THINKER)

Sponsor: Clemson University

Laine Mears [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Amy Apon (Co-Principal Investigator)
Deborah Switzer (Co-Principal Investigator)
Mary Kurz (Co-Principal Investigator)
Joshua Summers (Co-Principal Investigator)
Laura Stanley (Former Co-Principal Investigator)


The pervasiveness of new digital technologies in manufacturing is changing the way that data are generated, interpreted and shared over networks of machines, robotics and software systems. This “industrial internet of things” holds great promise for improving the quality and productivity of manufacturing in the United States. However, the ability of human workers to effectively interface with such digital systems is limited, potentially leading to disruptions in cognition that may negatively affect output and job satisfaction. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award prepares master’s and doctoral degree students at Clemson University to advance discoveries at the nexus of humans, technology, work, and health, through the convergence of human factors, robotics, cognitive sciences, artificial intelligence, systems engineering, education, manufacturing and social behavioral sciences. This will be achieved through the design and integration of human digital technologies that enhance humans’ physical and cognitive interaction and abilities in manufacturing environments. The project anticipates training fifty (50) M.S. and Ph.D. students, including twenty-two (22) funded trainees, from electrical engineering, industrial engineering, computer science, manufacturing, systems integration, psychology, and sociology. These students will interface with a parallel program of undergraduate and technical college students in a controlled manufacturing environment to test deployment and integration across multiple academic levels.

This project responds to the critical need to help shape and better prepare the STEM graduate student of tomorrow through an innovated curriculum that focuses on the new digital and smart manufacturing, automation, and associated data systems. The training and research takes a human-centered design approach in the emerging digital manufacturing enterprise (i.e., Industrial Internet of Things), by quantifying physical and human cognition and developing augmented technologies (e.g. augmented reality aids for worker empowerment) to improve worker behaviors and attitudes in the manufacturing enterprise. This project will focus on an automotive industry exemplar (i.e., vehicle assembly operation), employing a factory setting which includes parts manufacture, structural and subassembly operations, robotics, kitting, logistics, and a full-scale vehicle assembly line, together with parallel programs in undergraduate and technical college curricula. The multi-level educational approach is expected to drive improved team communication, generate knowledge on worker behaviors and attitudes, and prepare students for leading implementation of the technologies under study in manufacturing and other industries.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

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The Research University: Center for Renewable Energy Advanced Technological Education Resource Center

Sponsor: Madison Area Technical College

Kenneth Walz [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Kathleen Alfano (Co-Principal Investigator)
Joel Shoemaker (Co-Principal Investigator)
Andrew McMahan (Co-Principal Investigator)


Over the past decade, renewable energy has grown at a much faster pace than many other industry sectors. This growth results from recent technological advances, government policy and regulatory reforms, and tremendous reductions in the cost of solar and wind equipment. As a result, the electricity sector is now engaged in a dramatic shift from energy obtained from fossil fuels to energy obtained from renewable resources. STEM careers in renewable energy provide technicians with well-paying jobs that can support families, that cannot be easily exported, and that benefit the local community. The Resource Center for Renewable Energy Advanced Technological Education (CREATE) aims to support preparation of a new generation of renewable energy educators and skilled technical professionals. The expected outcomes include greater use of renewable energy, an improved power infrastructure, greater resilience of US energy systems, and a larger role for the United States as a global industry leader in renewable energy technology.

CREATE will support two-year institutions to develop, promote, grow, and advance robust academic programs to provide the renewable energy industry with a skilled technical workforce. This goal will be accomplished through six key objectives: 1) provide support, mentoring, and professional development for faculty and prospective NSF principal investigators in renewable energy technology; 2) coordinate and support additional renewable energy industry, business, and academic partnerships; 3) educate the public about renewable energy and renewable energy technician careers; 4) develop, screen, validate, update, and distribute renewable energy teaching materials, curricula, and pedagogical practices; 5) connect and support existing and new ATE project Principal Investigators in renewable energy and related fields; and 6) develop a plan for achieving sustainability and institutionalization of key center functions. Additional plans include serving high school educators to create bridges to higher education. The Center will also reach out to faculty at Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Historically Black Colleges to encourage them to apply to the ATE program. Increasing the number of women in the renewable energy fields will continue to be a focus of CREATE. This project is funded by the Advanced Technological Education program that focuses on the education of technicians for the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation’s economy.

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The Research University: The Agave Platform: An Open Science-As-A-Service Cloud Platform for Reproducible Science

Sponsor: Chapman University

Rion Dooley [email protected] (Principal Investigator)


In today’s data-driven research environment, the ability to easily and reliably access compute, storage, and derived data sources is as much a necessity as the algorithms used to make the actual discoveries. The earth is not shrinking, it is digitizing, and the ability for US researchers to stay competitive in the global research community will increasingly be determined by their ability to reduce the time from theory to discovery. Over the last 5 years, the open source commercial sector has greatly outpaced the academic research world in its growth and adoption of programming languages, infrastructure design, and interface development. Problems that were primarily academic in nature several years ago are now common in the commercial world. Terms like big data, business intelligence, remote visualization, and streaming event processing, have moved from the classroom to the board room. However, academic projects are largely unable to take advantage of many today’s most popular and widely used open source technologies within the context of their campus and shared research infrastructure. The recently completed, NSF funded, Science Gateway Institute planning project revealed just how far behind many communities are. In a survey of over 26,000 NSF-funded PIs, science gateway developers, and leaders in higher education (i.e., CIOs, CTOs, and others), over 85% of respondents said they needed help adapting existing technologies to realize the needs of their gateway. Another 80% said they needed help simply understanding what technologies were available to them. The research community doesn’t just see the gap, they live it. This project seeks to quickly close the capability gap between academic and commercial infrastructure by extending and making robust the Agave Platform, an open, Science-as-a-Service cloud platform for reproducible science. Essentially, this project will allow scientists to focus their energies on their science rather than so much on the computing technologies they use.

This Agave Platform will build upon the success of the existing Agave Developer APIs which currently serve over 20,000 users in the plant biology community. This project includes three well-defined efforts which will synergistically evolve the current technology into a sustainable Science-as-a-Service platform for the national research community. First,it will extend the Agave Developer APIs with additional services and management interfaces to create a cohesive, self-provisioning Agave Platform which will enable Science-as-a-Service to the developer community. Second, the project team will partner with commercial and academic institutions to create a community driven Application Exchange (AX) based on Docker container technology to facilitate application transparency, portability, attribution, and reproducibility. Third, the project will consolidate existing open source contributions from projects already with the Agave ecosystem into Agave ToGo, a collection of reference science gateways in multiple languages and web frameworks. The Agave Platform will democratize access to software and infrastructure across all areas of science and engineering by modernizing the mechanisms with which the research community can utilize and access academic research infrastructure. This will bridge the gap between industrial and academic research infrastructure and allow researchers to use a new generation of open source software and technologies. The AX will enable greater interoperability and accountability in the way computational science results are published and reviewed. Through the matching investment of industrial partners, reproducibility, best practices, and rigorous scientific review will be brought to the mainstream and promoted as a fundamental aspect of the scientific process in an open, sustainable way. Agave ToGo will make custom gateways readily available to end users and developers alike. For end users, it will empower them to focus on domain science rather than computer science. For developers, it will stimulate innovation and increase the opportunity for discovery. When combined with the Agave Platform and Application Exchange, Agave ToGo will enable novice users to create scalable, reproducible, digital labs that span their office, commercial cloud, and national data centers in a matter of minutes.

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Making it Stick! Mobile Apps to Pedagogically Support Retrieval Practices

Sponsor: SUNY College at Brockport

Osman Yasar [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Jose Maliekal (Co-Principal Investigator)
Leigh Little (Co-Principal Investigator)
Peter Veronesi (Co-Principal Investigator)


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students’ motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by employing mobile technology to help up to 530 teachers and more than 9,000 students use proven retrieval experiences to improve STEM learning. The project will design and implement pedagogical and technological retrieval experiences as well as test the hypothesis that these experiences will encourage students to learn, retain, and apply newly acquired scientific knowledge in novel settings. The project will accomplish this goal through the development and use of simple to complex mobile Apps ranging from basic retrieval strategies to interactive problem solving approaches involving interleaved and generative practices. Through an interdisciplinary approach this project will combine STEM content with technology and pedagogy to support more meaningful and in-depth learning. Culturally-oriented, low-threshold technologies along with cognitively effective retrieval practices will be used to increase students’ computational thinking as well as their scientific processing and critical thinking skills associated with careers in the future STEM workforce.

Deductive and inductive reasoning will underpin a mixed-methods research design involving pre-post surveys, rubric-scored annual competitions, classroom observations, reflective journal entries, video recall and face-to-face interviews, activity logs, and classroom artifacts. These measures will capture changes in student and teacher attitudes, beliefs, and classroom instructions brought on by the use of mobile technologies. Data analysis of information from these sources will provide a robust characterization of the validity of research findings inclusive of inter-rater reliability, internal consistency, and testing and retesting of the stability of the study design. Project outcomes will include computational models and patterns common to multiple STEM fields developed through mobile Apps in physics, chemistry, biology, Earth science, and mathematics at different educational levels. A database will be created to maintain and disseminate newly developed mobile Apps. Developed resources and research findings will be shared with Finger Lakes Learning Network of 80 regional school districts as well as STEM practitioners and policymakers elsewhere through conferences and the project?s website.

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Collaborative Research: Detecting, Predicting and Remediating Student Affect and Grit Using Computer Vision

Sponsor: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Beverly Woolf [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Tom Murray (Co-Principal Investigator)


The Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies Program funds efforts that support envisioning the future of learning technologies and advance what we know about how people learn in technology-rich environments. Integration (INT) projects refine and study emerging genres of learning technologies that have already undergone several years of iterative refinement in the context of rigorous research on how people learn with such technologies; INT projects contribute to our understanding of how the prototype tools might generalize to a larger category of learning technologies. This INT project integrates prior work from two well-developed NSF-sponsored projects on (i) advanced computer vision and (ii) affect detection in intelligent tutoring systems. The latter work in particular developed instruments to detect student emotion (interest, confusion, frustration and boredom) and showed that when a computer tutor responded to negative student affect, learning performance improved. The current project will expand this focus beyond emotion to attempt to also detect persistence, self-efficacy, and the trait called ‘grit.’ The project will measure the impact of these constructs on student learning and explore whether the grit trait (a persistent tendency towards sustained initiative and interest) can be improved and whether and how it depends on other recently experienced emotions. The technological innovation enabling this research into the genre of broadly affectively aware instruction is Smartutors, a tool that uses advanced computer vision techniques to view a student’s gaze, hand gestures, head, and face to increase the “bandwidth” for automatically detecting their affect. One goal is to reorient students to more productive attitudes once waning attention is recognized.

This research team brings together a unique blend of leading interdisciplinary researchers in computer vision; adaptive education technology and computer science; mathematics education; learning companions; and meta-cognition, emotion, self-efficacy and motivation. Nine experiments will provide valuable data to extend and validate existing models of grit and emotion. In particular, the team will gather fine-grained data on grit, assess the impact of tutor interventions in real-time, and contribute thereby to a theory of grit. Visual data of student behavior will be integrated with advanced analytics of log data of students’ actions based on the behavior of over 10,000 prior students (e.g., hint requests, topic mastery) to provide individualized guidance and tutor responses in a timely fashion. This will allow the researchers to measure the impact of interventions on student performance and attitude, and it will uncover how grit levels relate to emotion and what impact emotions and grit combined have on overall student initiative. By identifying interventions that are sensitive to individual differences, this research will refine theories of motivation and emotion and will reveal principles about how to respond to student grit and affect, especially when attention and persistence begin to wane. To ensure classroom success, the PIs will evaluate Smartutors with 1,600 students and explore its transferability by testing it in a more difficult mathematics domain with older students.

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Design and Implementation of Immersive Representations of Practice

Sponsor: Kent State University

Karl Kosko [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Richard Ferdig (Co-Principal Investigator)
Cheng-Chang Lu (Co-Principal Investigator)


Various researchers have documented that a large proportion of preservice teachers (PSTs) demonstrate less sophisticated professional knowledge for teaching both fractions and multiplication/division. Use of representations of practice (i.e., video, animation), and accompanying annotation technology, are effective in improving such professional knowledge, but PSTs continue to demonstrate a lack of precision in attending to or noticing particular mathematics in classroom scenarios. Fortunately, a new technology, 360-degree video, has emerged as a means of training novices for professional practice. This project will address the potential positive and negative impacts of using 360-degree video for bridging the gap between theory and practice in mathematics instruction. Specifically, PSTs demonstrate difficulty in synthesizing explicit knowledge learned in the college classroom with tacit professional knowledge situated in professional practice. The initial pilot of the technology resulted in PSTs demonstrating specific attention to the mathematics. The purpose of the project will be to investigate how PSTs’ tacit and explicit professional knowledge are facilitated using immersive video technology and annotations (technologically embedded scaffolds). To do this, the project will examine where and what PSTs attend to when viewing 360-degree videos, both at a single point in the classroom and through incorporating multiple camera-perspectives in the same class. Additionally, the project will examine the role of annotation technology as applied to 360-degree video and the potential for variations in annotation technology. Findings will allow for an improved understanding of how teacher educators may support PSTs’ tacit and explicit knowledge for teaching. The project will make video experiences publicly available and the platform used in the project to create these video experiences for teacher educators to use, create, and share 360-degree video experiences.

The project will examine how representations of practice can facilitate preservice teachers’ professional knowledge for teaching fractions and multiplication/division. The project will: examine the effect of single versus multiple perspective in PSTs’ professional knowledge; examine how PSTs use annotation technology in immersive video experiences, and its effect on PSTs’ professional knowledge for teaching fractions and multiplication/division; and design a platform for teacher educators to create their own 360 video immersive experiences. Using an iterative design study process, the project team will develop and pilot single and multi-perspective 360-degree video experiences in grade 3-5 classrooms including developing a computer program to join multiple 360-degree videos. They will also develop an annotation tool to allow PSTs to annotate the single and multi-perspective 360 video experiences. Using a convergent mixed methods design, the project team will analyze the quantitative data using multiple regressions of pre-post data on mathematical knowledge for teaching and survey data on PSTs reported immersion and presence in viewing the videos to compare single and multi-perspective 360-degree video data. They will also qualitatively analyze heat maps generated from eye tracking, written responses from PSTs’ noticing prompts, and field notes from implementation to examine the effect of single versus multiple perspectives. The team will use similar methods to examine how PSTs use the annotation technology and its effect. The results of the research and the platform will be widely disseminated.

The Discovery Research preK-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

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Digital technology integration and engineering contexts to support elementary students’ systems thinking

Sponsor: University of Virginia Main Campus

Jennifer Maeng [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Amanda Gonczi (Co-Principal Investigator)


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students’ motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Research has indicated limited digital technology use and engineering instruction among elementary teachers. This project addresses two of the seven ITEST guiding questions: student experiences with emerging technologies and instructional and curricular innovations. The Making Engineering Real (ME-REAL) project will develop and implement professional development (PD) to support teachers who work with high populations of underrepresented students in STEM to develop richer, more authentic STEM education through: (a) technology-rich instruction, (b) authentic engineering opportunities, and (c) the development of systems thinking skills. The project will provide guidelines for technology integration within elementary engineering contexts that can inform expectations beyond Virginia. These guidelines will also inform interventions involving secondary teachers to support the development and integration of more comprehensive and increasingly complex technology use within STEM instruction. The project impacts the competencies essential for students to be successful in STEM-related degree programs and careers and is focused on better preparing elementary and secondary science teachers, providing them with valuable instructional tools. Because of this project, students will have more opportunities to engineer within authentic contexts, use relevant technologies in ways that reflect the work of scientists, and think about systems critically.

Prior research indicates teacher beliefs must be elicited and addressed to support changes in instructional practices. However, the question remains as to the extent interventions that incorporate attention to beliefs leads to instructional change. Comparison of ME-REAL teachers’ innovation adoption rates to adoption rates cited in other studies in which the intervention included modeling, practice, planning, and coaching, but not attention to beliefs will allow the determination of the extent attending to beliefs promotes instructional change and innovation adoption, especially in the domain of computer simulations. The goal of ME-REAL is to increase and improve 1) elementary teachers’ instruction and students’ engagement and understanding in the STEM domains of engineering, digital technology, and systems thinking and 2) elementary student science learning among traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM (e.g. rural, Black, Hispanic, low socioeconomic status). Through a delayed-treatment quasi-experimental design, the ME-REAL project will advance the understanding of (1) pedagogies (e.g. digital technology integration) and engineering contexts that effectively support elementary students’ systems thinking, (2) PD that facilitates teachers’ systems thinking, engineering understandings, and digital technology use, and (3) the extent to which attending to teachers’ beliefs during PD promotes instructional change and innovation adoption. Results from this ME-REAL project have implications for designing curricular tools and scaffolds to develop students’ critical thinking about systems in all STEM domains.


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Empowering Informal Educators to Prepare Future Generations in Wireless Radio Communications with Mobile Resources

Sponsor: Concord Consortium

Sherry Hsi [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
HyunJoo Oh (Co-Principal Investigator)


Wireless radio communications, such as Wi-Fi, transmit public and private data from one device to another, including cell phones, computers, medical equipment, satellites, space rockets, and air traffic control. Despite their critical role and prevalence, many people are unfamiliar with radio waves, how they are generated and interact with their surroundings, and why they are the basis of modern communication and navigation. This topic is not only increasingly relevant to the technological lives of today?s youth and public, it is critical to the National Science Foundation?s Industries of the Future activities, particularly in advancing wireless education and workforce development. In this project, STEM professionals from academia, industry and informal education will join forces to design, evaluate, and launch digital apps, a craft-based toolkit, activity guides, and mobile online professional learning, all of which will be easily accessed and flexibly adapted by informal educators to engage youth and the public about radio frequency communications. Experiences will include embodied activities, such as physically linking arms to create and explore longitudinal and transverse waves; mobile experiences, such as augmented reality explorations of Wi-Fi signals or collaborative signal jamming simulations; and technological exploration, such as sending and receiving encrypted messages.

The Concord Consortium, Georgia Tech, and the Children?s Creativity Museum (CCM) with National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE Net) museum partners will create pedagogical activity designs, digital apps, and a mobile online professional learning platform. The project features a rigorous and multipronged research and development approach that builds on prior learning sciences studies to advance a learning design framework for nimble, mobile informal education, while incorporating the best aspects of hands-on learning. This project is testing two related hypotheses: 1) a mobile strategy can be effective for supporting just-in-time informal education of a highly technical, scientific topic, and 2) a mobile suite of resources, including professional learning, can be used to teach informal educators, youth, and the general public about radio frequency communications. Data sources include pre- and post- surveys, interviews, and focus groups with a wide array of educators and learners.

A front-end study will identify gaps in public understanding and perceptions specific to radio frequency communications, and serve as a baseline for components of the summative research. Iterative formative evaluation will incorporate participatory co-design processes with youth and informal educators. These processes will support materials that are age-appropriate and culturally responsive to not only youth, with an emphasis on Latinx youth, but also informal educators and the broader public. Summative evaluation will examine the impact of the mobile suite of resources on informal educators? learning, facilitation confidence and intentions to continue to incorporate the project resources into their practice. The preparation of educators in supporting public understanding of highly technological STEM topics can be an effective way for supporting just-in-time public engagement and interests in related careers. Data from youth and museum visitors will examine changes to interest, science self-efficacy, content knowledge, and STEM-related career interest. If successful, this design approach may influence how mobile resources are designed and organized effectively to impact future informal education on similarly important technology-rich topics. All materials will be released under Creative Commons licenses allowing for widespread sharing and remixing; research and design findings will be published in academic, industry, and practitioner journals.

This project is co-funded by two NSF programs: The Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students’ knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.


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Scaling up an innovative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) learning environment through two partnership models with industry and schools

Sponsor: Northwestern University
Reed Stevens [email protected] (Principal Investigator)


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students’ motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The project will foster and research the broad implementation of an integrated suite of science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and mathematics (STEAM) learning innovations into schools called FUSE Studios. FUSE is a new kind of interest-driven learning experience that engages pre-teens and teens in learning technical, STEM workforce relevant skills and trans-disciplinary skills-often called 21st century skills, such as self-regulation, persistence, leadership, and critical thinking skills. The core activities in FUSE are a set of challenges. Each challenge uses a leveling up model from gaming and is carefully designed to engage participants in different STEAM topics and skill sets. FUSE currently has several dozen challenges areas such as robotics, electronics, biotechnology, graphic design, Android app development, 3D printing and more. Current project research demonstrates that FUSE is sparking and developing student interest in STEAM and information and communications technology (ICT) fields, especially among students who have not previously considered these career directions. The insights generated by this project will aid school leaders and teachers in adopting and organizing experiences for their students that emphasize youth interests, choice, diverse modes of interaction with knowledgeable others, and a wide range of innovative and heterogeneous learning opportunities in STEAM and ICT. Over the course of this project, FUSE Studios will double its current active reach by expanding to 40 new schools, with 160 new FUSE studios, and reach 16,000-21,400 new students, particularly underrepresented, minority students in under-resourced schools.

The project will research two distinct but complementary strategies, for significantly broadening the implementation of FUSE. These two strategies are called the direct district engagement model and the industry partnership model. The research will focus on how these strategies are successful (or not) in leading to sustainable adoption and spread. Each strategy is designed to respond to distinct organizational conditions found in local schools and districts. The proposed project will investigate three distinct but related aspects of spreading a successful intervention: (a) the process of spreading FUSE project through the two strategies noted above, (b) the life cycle of an intervention (getting in, getting rooted, and spread) and, (c) the ways in which the project is adopted and adapted in different settings (nature of modifications and their impact on integrity of the program). The project will use the concept of a “tracer” from biological research as an analytic device to systematically follow how different institutions adopt, adapt and sustain the innovation (i.e., the FUSE model). In brief, the research will follow how FUSE gets rooted and spreads when it is introduced to the different schools and districts. The research will be guided by the Actor theory Network (ACT), which provides a set of empirical heuristics and concepts for tracing how ideas, practices and artifacts move and become progressively stabilized within social contexts. Studying the broad implementation of FUSE Studios will produce generalizable understandings of how innovative educational, workforce-related, technology experiences can be brought into schools in impactful and sustainable ways on a large scale. This research will make valuable contributions to the important and understudied question of how learning innovations are effectively scaled up.

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Fostering Joint Parent/Child Engagement in Preschool Computational Thinking by Leveraging Digital Media, Mobile Technology, and Library Settings in Urban and Rural Communitie

Sponsor: WGBH Educational Foundation

Marisa Wolsky [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Heather Lavigne (Co-Principal Investigator)
Jessica Andrews (Co-Principal Investigator)
Janna Kook (Co-Principal Investigator)


This project will teach foundational computational thinking (CT) concepts to preschoolers by creating a series of mobile apps to guide families through sequenced sets of videos and hands-on activities. To support families at home it would also develop a new library model to build librarians? computational thinking content knowledge and self-efficacy so they can support parents? efforts with their children. Computational thinking is a an increasingly critical skill for learning and success in the workforce. It includes the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and generate solutions and processes that can be communicated and followed by computers or humans. There are few projects that introduce computational thinking to young children. Very little research has been done on the ways that parents can facilitate children?s engagement in CT skills. And developing a model that trains and supports librarians to become virtual coaches of parents as they engage with their children in CT, will leverage and build the expertise of librarians. The project?s target audience includes parents and children living in rural areas where access to CT learning may be very limited. Project partners include the EDC, a major research organization, the American Library Association, and BUILD, a national association that promotes collaborations across library, kindergarten readiness, and public media programming.

The formative research study asks: 1) What supports do parents of preschoolers in rural communities need in order to effectively engage in CT with their children at home? and 2) How can libraries in rural communities support joint CT exploration in family homes? The summative research study asks: 3) how can an intervention that combines media resources, mobile technology, and library supports foster sustained joint parent/child engagement and positive attitudes around CT? Researchers will develop a parent survey, adapting several scales from previously developed instruments that ask parents to report on children?s use of CT-related vocabulary and CT-related attitudes and dispositions. Survey scales will assess librarians? attitudes towards CT, as well as their self-efficacy in supporting parents in CT in a virtual environment. During the formative study, EDC will pilot-test survey scales with 30 parents and 6 librarians in rural MS and KY. Analyses will be primarily qualitative and will be geared toward producing rapid feedback for the development team. Quantitative analyses will be used on parent app use, using both time query and back-end data, exploring factors associated with time spent using apps. The summative study will evaluate how the new media resources and mobile technology, in combination with the library virtual implementation model, support families? joint engagement with CT, and positive attitudes around CT. The researchers will recruit 125 low-income families with 4- to 5-year-old children in rural MS and KY to participate in the study. They will randomly assign families within each library to the ?full? intervention condition, including media resources, mobile technology, and library support delivered through the virtual implementation model, or the ?media and mobile-technology-only? condition. This design will allow researchers to understand more fully the additional benefit of library support for rural families? sustained engagement, and conversely, see the comparative impact of a media- and mobile-technology only intervention, given that some families might not be able to access virtual or physical library support.

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. This project is co-funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students’ knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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