Could Learninformatics Transform Education?

Posted by Science Explored on October 22, 2013

This past October 7-11, STEMscopes’ Dr. Carlos Monroy, Data Scientist with Rice University Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship, was one of twenty-nine selected to participate in the The National Science Foundation’s Ideas Lab workshop titled: Data-Intensive Research to Improve Teaching and Learning. This five-day long workshop aims to foster novel, transformative, multidisciplinary approaches to tackle how best to teach STEM in terms of producing student results.  The NSF took a unique approach by recruiting not only educators but also practitioners from a wide range of disciplines and institutions.

In collaboration with scholars from Brown University, New Mexico State University and ETS, Dr. Monroy’s group proposed a proof of concept named Learninformatics to improve the way in which teachers teach STEM disciplines. Learninformatics takes a similar approach as the one Bioinformatics does in Biology and Biochemistry. With the use of information visualization, computing algorithms, psychometrics and pedagogy principles we aim at mapping learning pathways, that is, the method in which students go from “not knowing” to mastering knowledge on concepts and skills – for informing teachers in the development of effective scaffolding activities and curricular interventions to produce specific results (e.g. scoring advanced on an AP exam or passing the 8th grade STAAR™).  Data mining at this level may eventually reveal that teaching a specific STEM subject with a game, hands-on investigation, or virtual simulation inherently produces better results that other teaching methods.

Dr. Monroy’s team’s proposal aims to pilot Learninformatics via use of STEMscopes across three states:  New Mexico, Texas, and Rhode Island.  This will be timed with the release of STEMscopes:NGSS, which promises to be a hot field of study as the new standards begin to root themselves in schools across the nation.

“What we are proposing is a radical, holistic use of big data for improving learning,” describes Dr. Monroy. “We want to accomplish what bioinformatics has done in advancing the understanding of the human genome and its impact on medicine.”  One of the strengths STEMscopes brings to this project is the degree of involvement teachers have on the curriculum design. If we want to transform education, we have to be creative and involve all stakeholders, from the students that receive it to the parents, teachers, and administrators that deliver it.

The Learniformatics proposal will go through the normal NSF review process with finalists being announced in the spring of 2014.