Posts tagged ‘social studies’

From Guided Exploration to Possible Adoption: Patterns of Pre-Service Social Studies Teacher Engagement with Programming and Non-Programming Based Learning Technology Tools

In October, Bahare Naimipour presented our paper ”From Guided Exploration to Possible Adoption: Patterns of Pre-Service Social Studies Teacher Engagement with Programming and Non-Programming Based Learning Technology Tools” (Naimipour, Guzdial, Shreiner, and Spencer, 2021) at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) 2021 conference. (Draft of the paper is available here. Full paywall version available here.) This paper is the first one about our work with social studies teachers since we received NSF funding. It was also a report on our last face-to-face participatory design session (in March 2020) before the pandemic lockdown. And most importantly, it was our first session with our data visualization tool DV4L in the mix.

I have blogged about our participatory design sessions before (see Bahare’s FIE paper from last Fall). Basically, we set up a group of social studies teachers in pairs, then ask them to try out various visualization tools with activity sheets that we have created to scaffold their process. The goal is to get everyone to make a visualization successfully in less than 10 minutes, and leave time to explore or try one (or both) other tools. There is time for the pairs to persuade each other to (a) come try the cool tool they found or (b) avoid this tool because it’s too hard or not useful. The tools in this set were Vega-Lite (a declarative programming tool which our teachers have found complex but useful in the past), CODAP (a drag-and-drop visualization tool designed for middle and high school students), and our DV4L (a purpose-built visualization tool that makes code visible but not required).

The teachers saw value in having students build visualization themselves (e.g., “I think making your own data visualization allows for a deeper connection and understanding of the data.”) As we hoped, they teased out what they liked and disliked about the tools. Most of the teachers preferred DV4L over the other two tools, because of its simplicity. Critically, they felt that they were engaging with the inquiry and not the tool: “(With DV4L) I found myself asking questions connected to the data itself, rather than asking questions in order to figure out how to work the visual.”

That teachers found DV4L easier than Vega-Lite isn’t really surprising. We were pleased that teachers weren’t disappointed with DV4L’s more limited visualization capabilities. What was really surprising was that our teachers preferred DV4L to CODAP, and this has happened in successive in-service teacher participatory design sessions during the pandemic. CODAP is drag-and-drop, creates high-quality visualizations, and was designed explicitly for middle and high school students. A teacher in one of our in-service design sessions explained to me why she preferred DV4L to CODAP. “CODAP is really powerful, but it would take me at least three hours to get my students comfortable with it. Is it worth it?” Just how much visualization is any social studies teacher going to use? Again, too much focus on the tool gets in the way of the social studies inquiry.

Now you might be asking, “But Mark, do the students learn history with DV4L? And do they see and learn about computing?” Great questions — we’re not there yet. Here’s one of our big questions, after running several more participatory design sessions with teachers since the lockdown: Why aren’t teachers adopting DV4L in their classrooms? They tell us that they really like it. But nobody’s adopted yet. How do we go from “ooh, great tool!” to “and here’s my lesson plan, and we’ll use it next week”? That’s an active area of research for all of us right now.

April 19, 2021 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Social Studies Teachers using Programming for Data Visualization: An FIE 2020 Paper Preview

The Frontiers in Education (FIE) 2020 conference starts Wednesday October 21 in Uppsala, Sweden — see program here. My student Bahare Naimipour will be presenting our paper “Engaging Pre-Service Teachers in Front-End Design: Developing Technology for a Social Studies Classroom” (see preprint here) by Bahare, me, and Tammy Shreiner. This work came long before the NSF work that we just got funded for (see blog post here), but it’s in the same line of research.

The paper is about two of our participatory design sessions with pre-service social studies teachers in Tammy’s class on data literacy. In both of these sessions, we asked teachers to program in JavaScript or Vega-Lite to build a visualization, and in the second one, we also introduce CODAP, a visualization tool explicitly designed for middle and high school students. The paper is less about the technology and more about what the teachers told us about what they thought about tools for visualization in their class.

Social studies teachers are such an interesting group to study. They’re not particularly interested in STEM, data, or computers. They want to teach social studies. Very few of our participants had ever seen any code. (One told us, “This looks a lot like setting up my MySpace page in middle school!”)They’re only interested if we can help them teach what they want to teach. It’s a hard audience to engage, in all the right ways.

I’m going to highlight just two lessons we learned here:

First: The results from the two participatory design sessions were remarkably different. Participatory design isn’t a “okay, we did that — check off the box” methodology. Each group of participants can be remarkably different. There’s no generalization here. Each session is useful, but I don’t know how many sessions we’d have to do to get anywhere near saturation. That’s okay — we learned design lessons from each session.

Second: There is no one answer to how teachers think about programming. I have heard from many people that teachers find programming hard (see this CACM Blog post about that discussion), and I’ve hypothesized that to be true in this blog (see this post). So, now I’ve been in the room as social studies teachers have their first programming experiences and interviewing them afterwards, and….it’s complicated.

Teachers tell us often in our sessions that programming is overwhelming, but several teachers also told us that CODAP (explicitly designed for their use, and not a programming tool) was overwhelming. The question is whether it’s worth the complexity — and for whom. We get contradictory responses from the teachers, which we report in this paper. One told us that she wanted a simpler tool for herself and JavaScript for her students: “I don’t mind keeping life simple for me, but I wanted to challenge my students and give them useful, new skills.” Another teacher told us the opposite: “I would like Java[script] because it would let me do more to the visualization. Vega-lite would be better for students because it seems far more simple.”

We couldn’t fit in all the great stories and insights from these two participatory design sessions. Like the teacher who wants JavaScript in her class because, “That’s similar to what they use in math and science, right? I don’t want history to be the ‘dumbed-down’ programming.” I found that surprising, and wondered what the teachers would think of a block-based language. Another teacher told us that she wants to use programming in her history class, “Because maybe that would make history ‘cool.’” One of the tensions I found most interesting in these sessions was between the desire to know the tools and be comfortable in front of the class, and the desire to push their students to learn more. Some teachers told us that they preferred CODAP to any programming tool because they would be embarrassed to get a syntax error in front of their kids, which they realized would always be possible when programming. Other teachers told us that they were more concerned with going beyond basic tools — (paraphrasing one comment we received), “My students will already know Excel and Google Sheets. I want them to do more in my class.”

Our work is ramping up now. We had another PD session with pre-service teachers in March, just before pandemic lockdown, which was our first one with our data visualization tool in the mix. We’ve just held our first workshop in August for in-service (practicing) teachers. We’ve got more workshops planned over the next year. You’ll likely be hearing more from these studies in future posts.

October 19, 2020 at 7:00 am 4 comments


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