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March 2015

Welcome to the first quarterly SLRC Bulletin for 2015, we hope you enjoy it.

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npj – Science of Learning

npj – Science of Learning

Congratulations to Professor Pankaj Sah on his appointment as Editor-in-Chief of the recently launched Nature journal npj – Science of Learning. Professor Jason Mattingley and Professor John Hattie are Associate Editors. To find out more about this exciting new free to access on-line journal visit the website.

Launch of the Learning Interaction Classroom

Join us at for the SLRC Learning Interaction Classroom at the University of Melbourne at 10.30am on Tuesday 10 March – click here to register.

The Learning Interaction Classroom is a unique, cutting edge facility located in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne. Physically structured like a conventional classroom, this complex facility offers researchers the opportunity to engage in fine-grained analyses of classroom interactions at an unprecedented level of detail.

Lessons given in the classroom may be recorded by up to sixteen high definition video cameras and thirty-two audio channels. Video data, computer or tablet screen capture and high quality audio files are all synchronised at the time of capture, allowing for comprehensive recording of all aspects of classroom practice and efficient retrieval and viewing of different angles and different elements of the recorded learning interactions.

Professor David Clarke and his team have developed an international reputation for expertise in classroom research and, particularly, for research employing video, and have established and manage the Science of Learning Research Classroom, bringing to life the vision of a minimally intrusive complex system for studying learning in an authentic classroom setting.

The Social Unit of Learning: Social Interaction in the Learning of Mathematics and Science

Professors David Clarke (the University of Melbourne) and Russell Tytler (Deakin University) are using the Learning Interaction Classroom to reveal how student social interactions with each other, and with the teacher mediate their engagement in problem solving tasks in mathematics and science and shape consequent learning.

In this exciting new project, a junior secondary class, complete with teacher comes into the classroom for a ‘regular’ lesson. Students undertake carefully structured mathematics and science tasks individually, in pairs and in groups of four. All aspects of the classroom situation can be controlled and monitored in the new facility.

“Both the instructional and learning aspects of these episodes require focused investigation in settings in which rigorous control and monitoring are possible with respect to the many constituent social elements,” Professor Clarke explained.

“The Learning Interaction Classroom provides us with the capacity to control and document the instructional stimulus and to analyse students learning response at a level of detail not previously possible in authentic classroom settings.”

The lessons, designed by the research team, involve problem-solving activities in mathematics and science. They are delivered by the students’ actual mathematics/science teacher from the partner school, recreating existing social relationships so central to our understanding of the social nature of learning.  The lessons recorded with high definition video and audio in the Science of Learning Research Classroom, allows researchers to conduct detailed analyses of the social interactions through which classroom learning is facilitated and effected.

Of particular interest in this project is the meaning and significance accorded by students to explanations provided by their peers and the learning entailments of this attribution. 

This research gives us insights into the role that social interactions play in amplifying the learning capabilities of individuals. This is one of the most fundamental questions in contemporary education. In addition, particular investigations will address questions such as the optimal use of representations in the teaching and learning of mathematics and science, the effectiveness of instructional prototypes such as “the worked example” or the “experimental demonstration” and the relative effectiveness of different social arrangements in facilitating student learning in classrooms.

Researcher Profile: Helen Harper

Helen was born in Kilmarnock, Scotland - the site of publication of the first collection of work by poet Robbie Burns. At the tender age of three she boarded a boat for the kinder climes of Brisbane, where she grew up in the Queensland capital and completed an honours degree in French at The University of Queensland.

After several years teaching English and French at Bond University, Helen enrolled in a PhD at The University of Queensland studying anthropological linguistics; undertaking a considerable amount of field work in the Aboriginal community of Injinoo, at the top of Cape York Peninsula.

Helen moved to the Territory in 1995 after accepting a position at Batchelor College. At that point she realised she needed to learn a lot more about language and literacy education in the Northern Territory. Helen completed a primary teaching diploma, and spent the next few years working on various literacy-related research projects and learning about literacy instruction from some of the best teachers in the Territory. She joined the team at Menzies CCDE in 2011.

About her current research, Helen said: “I’m interested in the interactions that happen in classrooms – what teachers say to students and how students respond – and whether this has any impact on students’ learning.”

Getting Indigenous children to attend bush schools in the Northern Territory – and to prosper academically – is both an urgent task and a political hot potato.

“Thinking about education is multifaceted. There are issues about getting kids to school in the first place,” she said.

“This relates to what is happening at the kids’ homes, their health, hearing, and their family dynamics; but we shouldn’t ignore what happens when the kids actually get to school, and assume that then it is all easy.

“It’s problematic because teachers aren’t always well-equipped to do this difficult and challenging job.”

Helen describes her work in the SLRC as one piece of the puzzle.

“Our work at the pointy end looks at real classroom situations with some of the most disadvantaged kids: Aboriginal children from remote communities,” she said.

“Working with remote kids in a boarding school context in Darwin, means we can reduce the travel, time and cost involved.

“We plan by the end of next year to develop a pilot training package for teachers that gives them some guidance on how they can structure conversations with kids in an effective way.

“We’ll try and identify what makes a really good classroom interaction for the teaching of science to Aboriginal children.”

A word from the SLRC Teacher in Residence – Ms Tennille Seary

Measuring Learning Workshop

Over the course of the year the SLRC is conducting workshops focused around the Centre’s three research themes of Measuring, Understanding and Promoting learning.  These events provide Chief Investigators, Researchers and SLRC affiliates with the opportunity to present, discuss and further unpack the projects currently being undertaken by the Science of Learning Centre.

The recent Measuring Learning workshop, held at ACER in Melbourne, provided attendees with the opportunity to share information on current projects and discuss how measurement occurs, what constitutes good measurement of learning and the importance of this.  The workshop group also addressed the challenges the Centre has in the effective measurement of learning and possible interventions to alleviate these.

The several projects presented highlighted the benefits of the Centre’s interdisciplinary structure, which enables the collection of a wider array of data about learners in various learning environments.  Through the use of a range of technology, including but not limited to digital resources (Intelligent Learning Environments (ILEs), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)) and neurological and physiological monitoring equipment (fMRI, EEG and biometric wristbands) researchers are gaining a clearer picture of how feedback, engagement, confusion and pedagogical practice are impacting on learners and what interventions in these areas may be most effective.

One of the challenges of this increase in data collection lies with its interpretation, an issue the Centre is combatting thanks to the expert skills being applied through Data Mining, which enables the extraction of patterns, clusters and the detection of deviations in large-scale data sets.

Ms Tennille Seary is on secondment from Brisbane State High School

Australian Psychological Society Awards

Congratulations to Professor John Hattie who was the recipient of the Distinguished Contribution to Psychological Education Award and Dr Jason Lodge who received the Early Career Teaching Award from the Australian Psychological Society.

Professor John Hattie

Dr Jason Lodge

Events in 2015:

ACER Excellence in Professional Practice Conference: Improving assessments of student learning, 21-23 May 2015, Novotel, Brighton Beach, Sydney – this is co-located with the SLRC researcher conference, and a number of SLRC researchers will be presenting research posters.

ACER Research Conference 2015 – Learning assessments: Designing the future, 16-18 August, Crown, Southbank, Melbourne – a number of SLRC researchers will be presenting at this conference.

SLRC Seminars:

he SLRC Seminar Series, in Melbourne and Brisbane, are continuing in 2015.

See the SLRC website for more details.

Science of Learning two-day Professional Development Workshop:

  • The University of Queensland – June 30-July 1.
  • The University of Melbourne – in the June-July holidays, date to be confirmed.

More details to come soon.