CSCL 2011 – Great talks and Dim Sum from across the Pacific

CSCL 2011 – Great talks and Dim Sum from across the Pacific

Sorry this one took a bit – between the jet lag and all of us here trying to get three (!!!) projects off the ground and running for the end of September things have been a little hectic over here as of late.

As many of you know, and many of you managed to attend, last month was the biennial conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) – and a small band of us headed over the pond to Hong Kong to showcase what we’ve been up to for the past twelve months and have a unique chance to be in the room with some of the best minds in our field and see what they’ve been up to and to share ideas (and the occasional beer).

Here are some of my own experiences at the conference:

It didn’t take long after landing to get into the thick of things as I started the conference off with a workshop on orchestration (How to integrate CSCL in classroom life: Orchestration) chaired by Miguel Nussbaum, Pierre Dillenbourg, Frank Fischer, Chee-Kit Looi, and Jeremy Roschelle.

The workshop centered around whether or not orchestration was the right term for the complex conditions that a teacher must respond to within a live classroom setting and whether or not orchestration, as a metaphor for this, was the right way of looking at it – especially within the context of the role of the teacher as the “conductor” of the class. It was argued that in real-life the conductor does very little during the live show (they wave their hands around to subtly adjust the pace of the performers, but the orchestra is so finely tuned at that point that there should be very little variance), but they are imperative during the rehearsals and preparation – and how adequate does this describe what the teacher actually does (or does something else describe it better?).

Presenting at CSCL 2011

My personal feeling on this is that the metaphor overall works quite well, so long as we don’tpress it’s interpretation too rigidly (avoiding what Baudrillard would call the vanishing point) – it not so much the reality of what the conductor does within the live performance but how we perceive his or her actions in framing our understanding of classroom orchestration. The complex dynamics of a live classroom setting resembles an orchestra (Koller et al. 2011 might offer), as different “players” must coordinate their parts within the enactment – and it is the job of the conductor (teacher) to ensure that these individual pieces come together to create a unified sound (learning goals). In an inquiry-focused curriculum this becomes increasingly important as the outcomes are often unknown and the learning only takes shape through the constant evolution of an emergent script.

The notion of orchestration seems particularly poignant in technology supported learning environments, where students must engage in various contexts (individual/small group/whole class, in class/at home/in the field) and the teacher must have a clear understanding of how the learning is progressing (think of this as having an “ear” for the learning). Technology can play a critical role in giving the teacher insight into the evolving state of knowledge within the class, in order to better adapt activities to the needs of individual students or the whole class. Whether or not we love the metaphor of orchestration, the workshop explored an important question of what information and tools (“instruments”?) we should give to students and teachers, to help capture and represent the knowledge in relevant ways. This question is one that serves as a focus for many of the designs currently underway in our lab.

The workshop also touched on the issue of focus within the construct of orchestration, noting that there are actually two intersecting, and sometimes competing, threads in the development of technology mediated learning spaces: The Learning Sciences aspect of the innovation, and “design” or HCI aspect of the innovations. ENCORE lab also comes up against this tension, as we often find ourselves designing with exciting new technologies, but without a theoretical perspective about learning to drive the design and development, we could end up distracted by the design or HCI side of the innovation. There is a need to find the balance between these two (given the finite resources we all are faced with), which was one takeaway from the workshop that really stuck with me as I move forward into designing my own dissertation environment and materials.

CSCL 2011 Michelle LuiFollowing the workshop, many of us from ENCORE were quite busy. Michelle Lui presented a nice narrative about the evolution of our smart classroom designs, including the aggregation of student data for sense making and teacher orchestration. Cheryl Madeira did an excellent job summarizing her recent work (especially given the last minute scheduling change!) on how technology supported reflection and peer exchange can support teacher professional development. Naxin Zhao and Hedieh Najafi presented their work on how scripted collaboration facilitated knowledge communities in science classrooms. Jim Slotta and Tom Moher (via a cool video production) presented our new work with Embedded Phenomena in a great symposium on embedding CSLC in Classrooms (see link at the bottom). Finally, I had a great opportunity to demo the new SAIL Smart Space (S3) technology framework, using the “Helioroom” materials developed in conjunction with Tom Moher and his group at the University of Illinois, Chicago) – as mentioned by Rebecca Cober in a recent post (link).

We also managed to find a bit of time for fun too, which mostly centered around cool places to eat (when you’re in conference rooms all day, you tend to just want to relax afterwards!) – but two stuck out me in particular. The first was a great dinner at the Pearl on the Peak – a restaurant that sit on the top of Victoria Peak, in Hong Kong, and provided an amazing view of the city. The other was a lunch at a place called Julie’s Kitchen which was literally just a room in someone’s house where we were treated to a 10 course vegetarian meal, which was one of the most memorable I’ve had in years! I did miss out on another truly great experience where a bunch of the crew went to go see wild monkeys in a nearby park… all I can say is that apparently they learned that you never look the monkeys right in the eyes, but I’ll let one of them tell you that tale

CSCL 2011 Team

AERA 2010 Looking Back on Louisiana

AERA 2010 Looking Back on Louisiana

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.

AERA 2010 SymposiumIn 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.

The Spotted Cat NoLa

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 Cat3 Muses, and DBA.