Our lab just came back from AERA 2011 in New Orleans, LA and after taking a bit of time to mentally unpack all the great presentations and talks I attended I thought now would be a good time to share a few of my thoughts.
AERA is a massive conference (over 13000 people attended last year and this year was at least as big) so catching everything was an impossibility – so if anyone caught any other particularly interesting talks feel free to add them in the comments.
I wanted to highlight one session in that stood out to me – a symposium titled “Designing Technology to Support Collaboration in the Classroom“. The main push of this symposium was looking at the ways in which technology is transforming not only the ways in which students can learn collaboratively but also challenging the traditional ideas of the physical affordances of the classroom. The work of the team at Durham University showed how multi-touch tabletop surfaces could not only aid students in working together in small groups around a single table, but also how by networking them together, the products of the individual groups could be shared towards facilitating whole class discussion and jigsaw type activities.
In the same session Moraveji and Pea presented their work on how different displays can support socially connected learning. Two things stood out to me in this talk – the first was the use of a technology developed by Moraveji named Multimouse which allowed up to 50 inputs (primarily mice but other inputs are possible as well) to work on a single shared screen off a single computer. This can allow an entire class to interact in a shared visual space (either as individuals or collaboratively). I’ve always struggled with how you could have a whole class of students interact in one space simultaneously and Moraveji has found a simple and elegant way to enable this. I saw Moraveji’s technology being employed by another researcher Miguel Nussbaum at The Red Conference recently and it resonated with me because not only were they able to have dozens of students interacting in real-time on a shared computer/screen, but they were able to make sense of each individual students’ work in ways that empowered the teacher to better respond to the individual students and the whole class.
The other aspect of Moravji and Pea’s talk was the description of the different ways that displays can be used in helping student work socially – they broke the interactions into three functional areas: Shared, Complementary, and Auxiliary. I’ll leave it to anyone who wants to read the differences from the conference paper but I wanted to touch on the last one specifically, Auxiliary, and my own work. Moraveji and Pea use the term ‘auxiliary displays’ to “denote displays that listen to existing activity in the classroom, project it in some form, and then allow for users to acquire that data for their own devices.” It is this kind of collection, aggregation, and revisualization of student work that is at the center of much of what we do here OISE – by leveraging the collective product of the whole class from individual and small group work, we can provide a powerful opportunities for whole class discussion, reflection, and sense making towards individual constructivist learning – This information can also be customized for the teacher providing deeper insight on of the state of the class’ knowledge, to help better orchestrate classroom activites to address student needs.
Also as a shameless plug a lot of my lab mates and collaborative partners had some excellent presentations throughout the conference – many of which resonate with the work described above – in particular the presentations on Embedded Phenomena with Tom Moher and Alejandro Gnoli and the rest of their lab at UIC.
One final important note – if you’re going to New Orleans… avoid Bourbon Street (it’s played out and cheesy). Head on over to Frenchman St. (it’s where the locals go for the best music, beer, and food in the city), and in particular check out the Spotted Cat, 3 Muses, and DBA.