Dynamic Feedback as Automated Scaffolding to Support Learners and Teachers in Guided Authentic Scientific Inquiry Settings

Video recording of my dissertation defense (YouTube)


Guided authentic scientific inquiry activities can give students a clear picture of the nature of science and how its fields operate in practice, but such activities are difficult to do well. Too much structure negates the benefit of open-ended activities and student-led investigation, while too little can result in frustration or unproductive floundering. The inclusion of scaffolds for students as well as teachers in such activities is necessary for their successful implementation. Virtual environments can facilitate open-ended inquiry activities by having built-in scaffolds, such as feedback that reacts dynamically to the actions of learners in real time. However, sparse experimental research exists on how formative feedback can best be deployed to students in open-ended immersive environments compared to more constrained tutoring systems or games. Additionally, these tools and curricula must include support for teachers in the design and implementation process if they are to be used in complex classroom settings. Cutting-edge techniques at the forefront of the educational data mining field are being developed for analyzing student actions in such settings, and interest in these techniques is steadily growing. This dissertation documents a pilot implementation of formative feedback tools embedded in the open-ended virtual world of EcoXPT, an experiential curriculum for learning ecosystems science and scientific inquiry. The efficacy of various types of feedback and methods of deployment to both students and teachers are explored, and student outcomes are compared with data from prior baseline EcoXPT implementations. Compared to students in baseline versions of EcoXPT, groups with access to these feedback tools had larger scientific epistemology gains, when controlling for other factors, and made more complete concept maps. Meaningful sequences of logged actions were identified that correlate positively with outcome measures, and overall trends in feature usage between teachers in the sample were described. Student feedback on the utility of the new feedback features is analyzed, and themes from teacher interviews are described to explore how they used the teacher-facing tools as well as how they saw students reacting to the additional tools.

Joseph Reilly's Dissertation1.82 MB