Q & A withCarole Beal, Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning
What basic questions does your research seek to answer?
For me, it’s all about personalizing the learning opportunities that will support students and allow them to do their best possible work. Technology gives us so many new ways to accomplish this, and as new technologies are developed, it’s exciting to imagine how they could be used for education. At the same time, I know that education technology research has a history of creating “cool tools” that had no impact because teachers and students weren’t consulted about what they actually needed. So, for me the basic question is, how can we use technology to improve both learning outcomes and also the experience for both students and teachers?
What makes your work interesting?
To me or to others? For me, it’s the range of technologies that might be applicable to learning. I think I am a closet geek! For others, it might be that there is something coming along every day that might help students in the future but it needs people who can translate a technology into something that can actually be used in classrooms and who can assess whether it is actually an improvement over the existing model. Just because something is new and looks cool does not mean it actually works any better than what we already have.
What are you currently working on?
Most of my research time is going into two projects funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. Both projects involve personalized learning through technology but at different scales. One project focuses on helping students with visual impairments (VI) learn to find information in what we call math graphics: maps, line or bar graphs, charts, etc. We are developing training units for an iPad app that will be available through the American Printing House for the Blind. This project involves working one-on-one with students with limited vision because the ways they access information are unique.
The other project also involves math learning but at a much larger scale. In fact, it involves data from hundreds of thousands of Florida students who have used Algebra Nation, an online tutoring program developed by the Lastinger Center for Learning and Study Edge with support from the state of Florida. The idea is that we should be able tailor the experience for each new student by using data about what worked (or didn’t) for previous students with similar characteristics. Yes, every student is unique but with data from half a million prior users, the chances are good that we can find records from students with similar characteristics and learn from their experience.