MITili brings together grantees to discuss research progress

Duyen Nguyen

Recipients of MITili’s learning effectiveness research grants convened at a recent luncheon with MITili Director John Gabrieli, Deputy Director Parag Pathak, and members of MIT Open Learning to share the latest on their work.

After two rounds of grant-making, MITili is now funding nine projects. Initial grant recipients presented on their research outcomes, while researchers from the second cohort of MITili-funded projects shared their progress. 

Cognitive science and education – Esther Duflo

From the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Prof. Esther Duflo, who recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics, found that math games improved children’s readiness for school mathematics learning. Prof. Duflo’s team developed and tested three types of games—nonsymbolic, symbolic, and a combination of the two—in India, where students face a difficult mathematics curriculum. Following two years of iterative piloting in government-supported classrooms, the team plans to scale out the interventions to public schools, where the games will be designed to be playable without teacher input.

Dialogic co-reading interaction analyses for improving child-parent conversational turn-taking – Cynthia Breazeal, Hae Won Park, Huili Chen, Sharifa Alghowinem

Prof. Cynthia Breazeal, Dr. Hae Won Park, and their team at the MIT Media Lab collected and analyzed data on child-parent conversational turn-taking while reading together. Measuring verbal and non-verbal cues, such as head and body movement synchrony, the researchers found that parenting style had the most notable effect on how well the co-reading activity went, while child behavior had no observable effect. Prof. Breazeal and her team plan to use their findings to determine when to intervene with a social robot to facilitate child-parent dialogue, which studies have shown to be critical to language development in children.

Adaptive learning: Varying task difficulty through shape adaptation for learning of motor skills – Stefanie Mueller

Prof. Stefanie Mueller and her CSAIL team have developed three adaptive prototypes to assist in the learning of motor skills: an adaptive basketball hoop, a bicycle with adaptive training wheels, and an inflatable arm band for learning a golf swing. The team found that, for learning to shoot free throws, the adaptive basketball hoop resulted in much higher learning gains than a standard one. In the next stage of their study, the team plans to use AR games to teach prototyping skills for young students. 

“Cellverse”: Cellular biology through virtual reality – Prof. Eric Klopfer

Led by Professor Eric Klopfer and Dr. Meredith Thompson, the MIT Education Arcade project explores how and when to use VR in learning experiences. The team developed Cellverse, a game in which players explore a virtual cell and learn concepts of cellular biology, such as cell processes and the structure, size and shape of cells. Working with the Somerville public school district and the Greater Lawrence Technical Society in MA, the team has conducted a quasi-experimental study with 190 students and plans to complete a randomized control trial with 200 students by 2020. Students who’ve tested the game report that it makes the concepts hands-on.

The impact of infusing interaction and visualization into introductory physics subjects – Kyle Keane

Dr. Kyle Keane and his team have been studying whether interactive and visual tools improve learning outcomes in introductory physics. This fall the team narrowed the scope of their study, splitting participants into two groups, who receive either static or interactive visualizations to accompany physics problems, and aligning pre- and post-testing to the course learning objectives. With 312 students enrolled in the introductory physics course and consenting to be part of the study so far, Keane expects to have about 150 students complete the course and to detect a statistically significant difference of 5% or higher in the post-test. The team hopes that the integrations for interactive visualizations and new problem types will be used to develop new problems and more flexible grading schemes.

Converting zombies into learners: Improving MOOC learner retention – Chris Caplice

To improve MOOC learner retention, Prof. Chris Caplice and Dr. Inma Borrella from the Center for Logistics and Transportation developed tools to identify at-risk learners and reduce the dropout rate. Borrella shared that the team has developed both student interventions, such as motivational emails and exam preparation materials, and course design interventions, redesigning the course structure to gradually increase in difficulty level and modifying the most challenging lessons, to improve learner retention. Although most of the existing literature focuses on student interventions, Borrella reported that the student interventions had no effect on dropout, whereas the course design interventions showed a reduced dropout rate.

Enhancing learning via ‘novelty insertion’ – Pawan Sinha

Matt Groth, a researcher on Prof. Pawan Sinha’s team, reported on the team’s research into whether MITx modules with “novelty insertion”—or the insertion of short novelty clips—increased learner engagement and improved learning. Based on research in neuroscience revealing compelling novelty-department modulation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system, the team hopes to investigate how plasticity changes over time. With 12 subjects in the first experiment, the results were found to be insignificant, but Groth reports that, moving forward, the team hopes that more participants may show more of an effect.

Understanding the impact of integration policies in NYC public schools – Josh Angrist

From Prof. Josh Angrist’s team, which is studying the effects of admissions policies on measures of diversity, students’ access to quality schools, and disadvantaged students’ academic achievement, PhD candidate Clemence Idoux discussed the implications of recent  integration models undertaken by Brooklyn’s District 15 and Manhattan’s District 3 to increase diversity in NYC public middle schools. District 15 eliminated traditional screening criteria, reserving 52% of seats for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, while District 3 continued to screen students but reserved 25% of seats for students from low-income families. The team plans to study the impact of these admissions policy reforms to answer key research questions: Do these implementations affect diversity in middle schools? Does increasing diversity improve the test scores of disadvantaged students?

Evaluating the effectiveness of real-time biofeedback to monitor and improve ability to sustain attention – Pattie Maes

Prof. Pattie Maes shared the results of initial experiments using AttentivU glasses to measure whether biofeedback improves attention. As an affordable, convenient, and easy to use tool that measures attention through EEG and EOG eye movements and gives users real-time biofeedback, the AttentiveU glasses show promise for ADHD treatment. To date, the team has tested the impact of biofeedback on attention retention in 100 neurotypical adults. The group that received biofeedback improved slightly, but performed significantly better than the control group in content testing. Prof. Maes and her team plan to perform experiments with middle and high school children, using the device for 8 weeks’ time, to determine whether biofeedback helps maintain attention and improve scores, and whether extensive use of a device like the AttentiveU glasses will improve the natural ability to be attentive.

A lively Q&A followed the presentations. The researchers asked each other questions, offered feedback, and pointed to potential resources.