Education and Computer Science Faculty Awarded NSF Grant to Pilot ‘Microgenetic Learning Analytics’ Research Method

Florence Sullivan
W. Richards Adrion

AMHERST, Mass. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $300,915 over two years to associate professor Florence Sullivan of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s College of Education and W. Richards Adrion, professor emeritus of computer science, to develop and pilot a new research method that combines microgenetic analysis techniques derived from developmental psychology with learning analytic techniques from the field of computer science.

Sullivan and Adrion will use the new method, termed “Microgenetic Learning Analytics,” to engage in research on the development of computational thinking among underrepresented students, particularly girls, as they interact in a robotics learning environment, with the goal of increasing the diversity of individuals who enter the field of computing.

“This new method will allow us to understand on a deeper level the learning issues facing students in robotics and computer science classes and the strategies they develop to solve problems,” said Sullivan. “We’ll gain a greater understanding of how girls see themselves as computer science students or as future computer scientists.

Sullivan explained that the research project involves examining aspects of students’ collaborative interactions including problem solving, reasoning and creativity. “We will videotape students in local classrooms as they work together to solve robotics problems, then transcribe the videos to analyze student talk,” Sullivan said. “We’ll look at how students strategize, what arguments they use to convince one another. Our specific interest in girls in computer science classes is in how they may or may not view their status as girls as contributing to their problem-solving ability as evidenced by their conversations and interactions.”

“This project is part of a broader initiative at UMass Amherst,” Sullivan said, “to develop curricula and pathways to computer science careers for underserved students.”