I was recently introduced to CIRCL – The Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning. CIRCL is an organization that seeks to increase collaboration among researchers and practitioners who are developing and implementing cyberlearning projects. These projects include those approved through the National Science Foundation (NSF), Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies Program (NSF 14-526) and other cyberlearning-themed projects funded by other NSF programs. The Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies programs seek to understand the processes involved in learning with technology. The program focuses on cyberlearning projects in order to better design more effective learning experiences with future learning technologies. For the purpose of this summary, cyberlearning applies to the learning experiences that can occur only through the use of learning technologies.
A visit to circlcenter.org can be overwhelming at first – there is so much to look at. Two areas of the website were particularly helpful as I started learning about the cyberlearning community. As a high school teacher who needed more background information about cyberlearning, I found it easiest to start with the perspectives tab. One of my favorite perspectives is the one given by Chad Lane – the Director of Learning Sciences Research at the USC Institute of Creative Technologies. Lane calls for increased collaboration within the cyberlearning community in order to foster active engagement and curiosity in students. Citing people like James Heckman, Lane suggests focusing on noncognitive skills like grit, coping, and stress reduction in pre-K programs as a way to develop healthy children. Another perspective that I enjoyed reading is Janet Kolodner’s. Kolodner seeks to infuse the Cyberlearning program with knowledge derived from the learning sciences field. Kolodner, like Lane, hopes to give all children the opportunity to be a productive and active members of society; one way to do this is by developing integrative curriculum units that incorporate the research that has been done by individuals in the field – working together is better than working alone. Additionally, Kolodner identifies the need for learning technologies to be appropriate for unique disciplines and populations – one tool will not work for all situations or learners. This idea really resonated with me as someone who is constantly adapting curriculum to fit the needs of my students. I teach four sections of the same class and even at the same school with students in the same grade level, I constantly need to make adjustments to make lessons work well. Finally, Kolodner identifies the need to integrate reflection into the curriculum since metacognition and sense-making is an integral part of the learning process. Both of these cyberlearning experts see collaboration as key in imagining and designing a better future.
Once I gained some knowledge about cyberlearning and the cyberlearning community, I turned to exploring the projects tab of circlcenter.org . I used the “tag map” [circlcenter.org/projects/tag-map/] to find projects in fields that interest me — narrowing my areas of interests is always a challenge! In the end, I selected computational thinking, personalized learning, and professional development as areas to start with. After reading project summaries, I clicked through to projects of interest to get the full description. Next, I went outside of circlcenter.org and searched for the project’s virtual home(s) to learn more.
One project I researched is the Cyberlearning Integration and Deployment (INDP) project: Coding for All: Interest-Driven Trajectories to Computational Fluency [http://circlcenter.org/indp-collaborative-research-coding-for-all/]. This project brings together leading thinkers in the field of learning technologies: Mitchel Resnick, Natalie Rusk, MIT; Mizuko Ito, University of California-Irvine; and Urs Gasser, Harvard University. I wanted to learn more, so I clicked to see the award details after each researcher’s name which lead me to their NSF grant – not much new information there other than the funding expiration date: April 30, 2017. My next steps were to take a look at each of the individual researcher’s sites and labs, which of course sent me down a rabbit hole. I bookmarked each researcher/lab and set a reminder in my calendar to return later to see if there are any new developments in their research or projects.
Other projects that I looked at lead me to interesting articles that explained the project, for example: Researchers explore future of ‘postdigital’ textbook [https://asunews.asu.edu/20141120-postdigital-textbook-grant]. All of the cyberlearning projects that I looked at included the following elements: technology, community, and the facilitation of learning opportunities that might not be available without technology. In this way, all of these projects open up a whole new world for learners. Having said that, some projects listed on the site are what I would consider reports in that they inform us that funding is being provided for travel to conferences or workshops, or for the hosting of conferences, etc. These projects were less helpful to me as an educator, but they gave me a better understanding of the large scope of this community.
In the end, I found circlcenter.org to be a great place to start learning about cyberlearning. I was introduced to people and projects that I otherwise would not have found on my own, I plan to return periodically for updates. I look forward to seeing how this site will continue to evolve as it draws more cyberlearning experts and practitioners.