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Colloquium - Suthers

Guiding Reflective Learning Interactions with Representational Toolkits
Daniel Suthers
University of Pittsburgh

Any structured representational tool, such as a spreadsheet, outliner, or grapher, exhibits representational bias, capturing certain abstractions and uncovering certain patterns at the cost of others. When well chosen, representational tools function as cognitive tools that lead users into knowledge-building interactions.

This function extends into the social realm as well. User-constructed representations become part of the shared context for knowledge-building discourse, where distinctions and relationships that are made salient guide this discourse in certain directions. However, in educational applications, interventions by mentors (whether human or machine) are sometimes needed as well. For example, we may design tools that make certain aspects of a problem more explicit, yet learners may fail to notice these aspects or know how to act on them in an appropriate way.

Fortunately there is a double-synergy: inspection of learner-constructed representations can provide a mentor with valuable information about what kind of guidance is needed. In short, representational tools serve as semantic mediators of various kinds of learning interactions, and hence their representational bias should be designed with these functions in mind.

I will illustrate these design ideas in the context of "Belvedere," our software for constructing and reflecting on "evidence maps" (node-arc graphs of evidential relations between empirical observations and theoretical claims). Belvedere is a networked system that supports distance as well as proximal collaboration and provides guidance in the form of a coaching agent. In this presentation, I will describe Belvedere's architecture, provide a demonstration, and discuss ongoing investigations into how the design of representational tools and associated coaching agents can influence learners' knowledge-building discourse. A follow-up presentation to take place in ICS will motivate the design of Belvedere with examples from a series of informal studies in the context of a science education application.

Refreshments will be served immediately before the talk at 3:30pm.
Suthers is a candidate for an Institute of Cognitive Science faculty position.

Department of Computer Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
May 5, 2012 (14:13)