Posts Tagged ‘educational technology’

Teaching Computational Thinking to Third-Graders

From the Paideia School Newsletter, March 2009:

Computational Thinking is a new way of solving problems that derives from computer science. It involves approaching problems in a systematic, step-by-step manner, and building up solutions to complex problems from smaller pieces. Nowadays, computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists. Many educators argue that it should be part of every child’s education along with reading, writing and arithmetic.

Assisted by Georgia Tech computer science professor Dr. Ashwin Ram, a group of students in Kelly and Tony’s 3rd grade class at The Paideia School explored computational thinking over a four-week affinities session. The students built familiar computer games, including Etch-A-Sketch, Pong, and Tennis, and shared them with each other on a web site. They built the games not only from scratch but in Scratch, a new tool from MIT that is designed to enable young children design and build interactive computer programs.

In teams of two, the students played with algorithmic concepts including scripts, conditionals, and loops. They customized the look-and-feel of their games, built game characters called sprites, designed behaviors for their sprites, and added sounds for extra effect. They decided how their games would respond to the player and how to keep score. They tested, revised, tested again, revised again.

And when they were done, they shared their games for their classmates and anyone else to enjoy. They received some nice comments! You can try out their games yourself at

Says Ashwin: “I received a wonderful set of thank you cards from my affinities group. What a nice surprise. One of the children wrote, “Those weeks were the best weeks of my life.” Wow. It was a great experience. The kids got a lot out of it — they learned something new, grappled with a new way of thinking about problems, and had fun at the same time. I know some of them will want to continue doing this, at least until they find their next passion! And I had a blast as well. Thank you, Kelly and Tony, for giving me this opportunity.”

Ashwin and Preetha Ram are the proud parents of three Paideia students, Naveen (3rd grade), Maya (6th grade), and Nikhil (12th grade). Ashwin can be reached by email (ashwin AT, Twitter (@ashwinram), and LinkedIn ( Scratch is freely available at

A Cognitive Model of Problem-Based Learning and its Application to Educational Software Design

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a constructivist pedagogy in which students learn in small groups by working on real-world problems. Despite its many benefits, however, this pedagogy is still not widely used in K-16 classrooms, especially with large numbers of students. Traditional human-facilitated PBL places intense demands on faculty to facilitate problem-solving sessions with small groups of students; on the other hand, most educational technologies do not provide PBL’s collaborative problem-solving experience.

We propose a cognitive model of the problem-based learning process. We present a software environment called CaseBook that allows instructors to author and share problems and provides students with a pedagogically-sound PBL experience based on the cognitive model. CaseBook has been used in high school and undergraduatefrom two studies in actual classrooms.

Read the paper:

A Cognitive Model of Problem-Based Learning and its Application to Educational Software Design

by Ashwin Ram, Preetha Ram, Jennifer Holzmann, Chris Sprague

International Conference on e-Learning (eLearn-07), Lisbon, Portugal, July 2007. Also presented at Eleventh International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (INTERACT-07), Panel on Human-Centric e-Learning, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 2007.

CaseBook: A Problem-Based Learning Online Environment For High School Microbiology

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an educational approach that allows students to improve problem solving and critical thinking skills while learning science. However, PBL requires significant teacher time and expertise to develop problems and facilitate small-group problem-solving sessions. With advances in technology, PBL can be used in today’s classrooms in an effective and scalable manner.

CaseBook is an interactive computer system that allows for easy integration of PBL into the K-16 curriculum. Through a simple web-based interface, teachers enter and edit their case materials. As students work through cases, CaseBook guides them through a 3-stage process in which they analyze, learn and reflect. Students may work independently, or a small group of students may work together and share a Team Notebook, which is used to record facts, ideas, and issues about the case as they progress. Students assess their progress through self and group reflection and through teacher feedback.

We report on the use of CaseBook for a microbiology case in a high school classroom. The results suggest that CaseBook is effective for both advanced and remedial students. As the technological capacity of students and classrooms increase, it is only appropriate to use this technology to implement novel methods of teaching that will provide students the skills they need post- graduation.

Read the paper:

CaseBook: A Problem-Based Learning Online Environment For High School Microbiology

by JL Holzman, G Louizi, SC Fowler, E Lindsey, JJ Harrigan, P Ram, A Ram

12th American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Conference for Undergraduate Educators, Atlanta, GA, May 2006

From Student Learner to Professional Learner: Training for Lifelong Learning through Online PBL

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a constructivist pedagogy in which students learn science and develop critical thinking skills by solving real-world problems in small groups. Studies have shown that PBL students are more motivated and become better learners. However, this pedagogy places additional demands on faculty. It takes time and expertise to develop suitable problems, to coach students, and to facilitate problem-solving sessions.

We are developing interactive computer systems incorporating the PBL approach which (1) help teachers design, enter, and share problems, and (2) support students and guide them through the PBL inquiry process and (3) assist teachers to continue their professional development by improving their domain knowledge. System development is guided by K-16 educators and tested in classrooms. Our goal is to enable educators to adopt this pedagogy in K-16 classrooms with minimal overhead and to assist them to effortlessly learn new technologies and new material.

Read the paper:

From Student Learner to Professional Learner: Training for Lifelong Learning through Online PBL

by Preetha Ram, Ashwin Ram, Chris Sprague

International Conference on Problem-Based Learning (PBL-05), Lahti, Finland, June 2005

Cognitive Media and Hypermedia Learning Environment Design: A GOMS Model Analysis

In our research, we have been developing a design framework for educational multimedia, based on the cognitive aspects of the users of that information. Design based on “cognitive media” appeals to the particular cognitive aspects of learners, whereas design based on types of “physical media” appeals to particular sensory modalities. This framework informed the design of AlgoNet, a computer science educational hypermedia system that used cognitive media as its basic building blocks.

In this paper, we describe a model of student usage and learning with AlgoNet. This model, using the GOMS methodology, provided a useful description of the procedural knowledge required to interact with the AlgoNet system. In addition, our implemented simulations provided estimates of learning and execution times for several instances of the model. Together, the parameters in the simulations and their resulting estimates help clarify the impact of system design, and hence our design framework, on students’ browsing and learning strategies.

Read the paper:

Cognitive Media and Hypermedia Learning Environment Design: A GOMS Model Analysis

by Terry Shikano, Mimi Recker, Ashwin Ram

International Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Education, 9(1):1-17.

The Role of Student Tasks in Accessing Cognitive Media Types

We believe that identifying media by their cognitive roles (e.g., definition, explanation, pseudo-code, visualization) can improve comprehension and usability in hypermedia systems designed for learning. We refer to media links organized around their cognitive role as cognitive media types (Recker, Ram, Shikano, Li, & Stasko, 1995). Our hypothesis is that the goals that students bring to the learning task will affect how they will use the hypermedia support system (Ram & Leake, 1995).

We explored student use of a hypermedia system based on cognitive media types where students performed different orienting tasks: undirected, browsing in order to answer specific questions, problem-solving, and problem-solving with prompted self-explanations. We found significant differences in use behavior between problem-solving and browsing students, though no learning differences.

Read the paper:

The Role of Student Tasks in Accessing Cognitive Media Types

by Mike Byrne, Mark Guzdial, Preetha Ram, Rich Catrambone, Ashwin Ram, John Stasko, Gordon Shippey, Florian Albrecht

Second International Conference on the Learning Sciences (ICLS-96), Evanson, IL, July 1996

Exploring Interface Options in Multimedia Educational Environments

Multimedia technology presents several options to the developers of computer-based learning environments. For instance, it is common to organize information by its physical characteristics. However, organizize information based on how users understand the material might improve comprehension. This theory of cognitive media – media organized by cognitive characteristics – was examined in studies using the AlgoNet system, a multimedia learning environment (Recker, Ram, Shikano, Li, & Stasko, 1995). To explore several interface options, AlgoNet2, a second version of AlgoNet, was created with the same domain information, but several new interface concepts. Students in an introductory programming class used AlgoNet2 to solve a problem involving graph theory. Students’ performance and comments suggest that many students lack effective learning strategies and those that do employ effective learning strategies are unaware of them.

Read the paper:

Exploring Interface Options in Multimedia Educational Environments

by Gordon Shippey, Ashwin Ram, Florian Albrecht, Janis Roberts, Mark Guzdial, Rich Catrambone, Mike Byrne, John Stasko

Second International Conference on the Learning Sciences (ICLS-96), Evanson, IL, July 1996

Evaluating the Structural Organization of a Hypermedia Learning Environment using GOMS Model Analysis

Network-accessible hypermedia environments offer the potential for radically changing the nature of education by providing students with self-paced access to digital repositories of course information. However, much research is still required to identify ways to best organize, present, and index multimedia information to facilitate use and learning by students. We have been developing a theory of design for educational multimedia, which is based on cognitive aspects of the users of that information. Design based on “cognitive media types” appeals to the particular cognitive aspects of learners. In contrast, design based on physical media types appeals to particular symbol systems or sensory modalities.

To evaluate our theory of cognitive media types, we have taken a 3-pronged approach: design, empirical evaluation, and analysis of student models. In this paper, we focus on the third component of our approach: a model of student usage and learning with cognitive media. This model, based on the GOMS methodology, helps us better understand the usability of our system, and how it may support and hinder student learning. Furthermore, our user model provides feedback on our theory of cognitive media, and offers suggestions for the design of effective hypermedia learning environments.

Evaluating the Structural Organization of a Hypermedia Learning Environment using GOMS Model Analysis

by Terry Shikano, Mimi Recker, Ashwin Ram

World Conference on Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Boston, MA, June 1996

Structuring On-The-Job Troubleshooting Performance to Aid Learning

This paper describes a methodology for aiding the learning of troubleshooting tasks in the course of an engineer’s work. The approach supports learning in the context of actual, on-the-job troubleshooting and, in addition, supports performance of the troubleshooting task in tandem. This approach has been implemented in a computer tool called WALTS (Workspace for Aiding and Learning Troubleshooting).

This method aids learning by helping the learner structure his or her task into the conceptual components necessary for troubleshooting, giving advice about how to proceed, suggesting candidate hypotheses and solutions, and automatically retrieving cognitively relevant media. WALTS includes three major components: a structured dynamic workspace for representing knowledge about the troubleshooting process and the device being diagnosed; an intelligent agent that facilitates the troubleshooting process by offering advice; and an intelligent media retrieval tool that automatically presents candidate hypotheses and solutions, relevant cases, and various other media. WALTS creates resources for future learning and aiding of troubleshooting by storing completed troubleshooting instances in a self-populating database of troubleshooting cases.

The methodology described in this paper is partly based on research in problem-based learning, learning by doing, case-based reasoning, intelligent tutoring systems, and the transition from novice to expert. The tool is currently implemented in the domain of remote computer troubleshooting.

Read the paper:

Structuring On-The-Job Troubleshooting Performance to Aid Learning

by Brian Minsk, Hari Balakrishnan, Ashwin Ram

World Conference on Engineering Education, Minneapolis, MN, October 1995

Cognitive Media Types for Multimedia Information Access

Multimedia repositories, libraries, and databases offer the potential for providing students with access to a wide variety of interconnected information resources. However, in order to realize this potential, multimedia systems should provide access to information and activities that support effective knowledge construction and learning by students. This article proposes a theoretical framework for organizing information and activities in educational hypermedia systems. We show that such systems should not be characterized primarily in terms of the kinds of physical media types that can be accessed; instead, the important aspect is the content that can be represented within a physical media, rather than the physical media itself.

We propose a theory of “cognitive media types”based on the inferential and learning processes of human users. The theory highlights specific media characteristics that facilitate specific problem solving actions, which in turn are enabled by specific kinds of physical media. We present an implemented computer system, called AlgoNet, that supports hypermedia information access and constructive learning activities for self-paced learning in computer and engineering disciplines. Extensive empirical evaluations with undergraduate students suggest that self-paced interactive learning environments, coupled with multimedia information access and constructive activities organized into cognitive media types, can support and help students develop deep intuitions about important concepts in a given domain.

Read the paper:

Cognitive Media Types for Multimedia Information Access

by Mimi Recker, Ashwin Ram, Terry Shikano, George Li, John Stasko

Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 4(2/3):185-210, 1995. Earlier version presented at the.Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), San Franciso, 1995.