IALT professor receives funding for AI project on mesocredentials and student learning

IALT professor receives funding for AI project on mesocredentials and student learning

Rob Moore, assistant professor of educational technology and the director of the IDEATE Lab, recently received a Spencer Foundation Small Research Grant to examine learners’ intentions to complete the first MOOC (massive open online courses) in a mesocredential program. This study will be the first comprehensive analysis of learner intentions in mesocredential programs. External support, like that from the Spencer Foundation, is possible because of the technological and cultural strength of the University of Florida’s AI initiative. Research like Moore’s illustrate the creativity with which faculty associated with the Institute for Advanced Learning Technologies (IALT) are addressing tomorrow’s challenges.

Rob Moore is smiling with trees behind him. He is wearing a brown blazer with a blue button up shirt.

Rob Moore, Ph.D. 

A Human-Centered Approach

Using a learner-centered approach that combines learner intent with course outcomes instead of completion rates to evaluate effectiveness, Moore’s study will tell a more complete story of learner engagement and behavior within MOOCs than just end-of-course outcomes. Understanding learner intentions and behavior is the first step in supporting them in reaching their goals — which is important as mesocredential program offerings grow in popularity and stature. 

Moore’s study will dive deeper into how mesocredentials, as an evolution of the MOOC ecosystem, have significant potential to support alternative pathways to academic degrees. This study also builds on the mesocredential concept, which he introduced and defined as MOOC-based achievements that translate into academic credit in a 2022 Distance Education article.

AI at UF

Using a data set that includes hundreds of data points for the more than 35,000 learners enrolled in the MOOC, the HiPerGator supercomputer is allowing Moore to better understand the motivations of learners who enroll in MOOCs.

“With so many data points, we need to leverage techniques such as machine learning to efficiently analyze the data and identify learner behavior patterns,” said Moore.

“For instance, are there specific course behaviors that increase the likelihood of success in the MOOC? And the second challenge is around the ‘success’ rate of MOOCs. My study uses identifiable learner data that allows for the granular analysis of course predictors and outcomes. Understanding a student’s intention to complete a MOOC and if they were successful will allow us to make better learning recommendations — making online education more accessible for everyone.”

The University of Florida is making AI the centerpiece of a major initiative that combines world-class infrastructure, cutting-edge research, and a transformational approach to curriculum development and planning. At the College of Education, IALT faculty are researching, creating and disseminating advanced learning technologies that improve learning outcomes on an international scale.

“As AI tools become useful in studying problems of practice with very large data sets, such as the MOOC dataset in Dr. Moore’s research, assuring those tools are trained on data that truly represent the range of learners and their intentions is paramount,” said Tom Dana, IALT director and associate dean for academic affairs. “The Institute for Advanced Learning Technologies is the home to Dr. Moore’s lab, and we are committed to the transformation of teaching and learning through studying the application of technologies to authentic educational problems. Dr. Moore’s conceptualization of mesocredentials adds a promising dimension to understanding the professional learning intentions and needs of the adult learner, particularly in MOOC environments.”

Partnerships to Transform Education

With its focus on the diverse motivations of adult learners enrolling in MOOCs, Moore’s research is well suited for support from the Spencer Foundation, which has funded education research for over 50 years. The highly competitive Small Research Grant focuses on funding “rigorous, intellectually ambitious and technically sound research that is relevant to the most pressing questions and compelling opportunities in education.” 

Moore, who recently received the Charles M. Reigeluth Emerging Researcher Award, is lauded for his work on digital learning ecologies and for encouraging his fellow educational technology scholars to engage with big data. As a reviewer for this project noted, “Moore is an increasingly visible scholar in educational technology research and has been involved in the movement of more AECT-affiliated scholars into learning analytics and big data projects.”

“As an emerging scholar in the field, winning the Spencer research grant is a huge confidence boost,” said Moore.

“For the reviewers to see the same vision that I have for mesocredentials is humbling and exciting. This award is foundational for my career and will establish key pieces to my evolving research program of study. I am ecstatic that I will be to devote dedicated research time for the next two years doing a deep dive into mesocredentials.”

AI mini-symposium showcases UF College of Education’s commitment to the field

AI mini-symposium showcases UF College of Education’s commitment to the field

The University of Florida College of Education hosted the AI in Education mini-symposium, serving as an opportunity for researchers, educators, administrators and industry representatives to discuss the trends and issues in AI in education. As UF moves to become the nation’s first comprehensive AI university, the College of Education’s Institute for Advanced Learning Technology is positioning itself as a notable partner in AI research and instruction.
Two people are standing and looking intently at information on a large screen on the wall. The one towards the front has their hand out and explains the information to the other.
A symposium participant explains their research

AI is truly in the air!

The response the symposium organizers have received from the community has been truly amazing!” said event organizer Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, an associate professor of educational technology and director of the NeurAL Lab. “What is really important is that the attendees represented so many different stakeholder groups. We had a number of local entrepreneurs join us, NVIDIA representatives, school leaders, people who work with FL policymakers in Tallahassee, and, of course, researchers from all over our state. You could observe emerging partnerships and collaborations during breakout groups and other networking sessions. AI is truly in the air!”

Faculty from the college presented in-progress applications of AI research. Anthony Botelho, assistant professor of educational technology, discussed using natural language processing and machine learning to create a parent-facing literacy screener to help close literacy gaps with at-home reading. Maya Israel, associate professor of educational technology and computer science education, shared outcomes from the first iteration of Camp DIALOGS. This two-week summer camp experience offers middle school students the opportunity to create spoken conversational apps while learning foundational computer science and artificial intelligence principles.

In posters, demo sessions and the course showcase, participants from the College of Education, College of Design Construction and Planning and the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering shared projects and pedagogy that addressed AI education from early childhood through college. Antonenko was optimistic about what was shared during these sessions. “It is very exciting to see the new courses our COE faculty have developed on AI in education over the last year! Wanli Xing and David Therrialut‘s new courses are highly accessible, which is very important. Many people view AI as something that requires advanced data science skills, but the core concepts can be taught without such prerequisite knowledge. On the other hand, we are also offering exciting new courses that tie together AI and research methods— like Jinnie Shin‘s new courses on Computational Psychometrics and Natural Language Processing.

One pervasive idea was present throughout the day— making AI concepts accessible and relevant to learners of all ages and backgrounds. As AI is implemented through the totality of UF’s curriculum, the researchers and innovators at the College of Education are translating research into practice to dramatically improve learning outcomes for Gators and learners everywhere.

UF researcher receives NSF grant to develop curriculum to teach computing hardware fundamentals

UF researcher receives NSF grant to develop curriculum to teach computing hardware fundamentals

Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, an associate professor of educational technology and director of the NeurAL Lab, was recently awarded a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to design gamified curriculum to teach computing hardware fundamentals. 

This collaborative grant, which includes Mary Jo Koroly, research associate professor, and Swarup Bhunia, Semmoto endowed professor, at the University of Florida, along with Tamzidul Hoque, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Kansas, will create modules that provide a system-level perspective of modern electronic systems. Antonenko believes this will address the skill gap in the current electronics industry that is contributing to the current computer chip shortage.

Pasha Antonenko
Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, Ph.D. 

“Chips are used in electronic devices that we use in our everyday life,” said Antonenko. “Like most countries in the world, the United States currently relies on computer chips manufactured in Asia and the recent global supply chain crisis has affected our ability to produce and use the products that use chips.”

There is interest in rebuilding the United States’ capacity to produce chips currently used by vehicles, smartphones and other technologies. In January, Intel announced a commitment to spend $20 billion on a new plant in Ohio, possibly spending $100 billion over the next decade. 

But once those plants are built, knowledgeable engineers, scientists and technicians will be needed to work in industries. And that’s the problem Antonenko and his collaborators plan to solve.

Despite college students using technology every day—and many entering college with an understanding of programming—most lack basic knowledge of computing hardware fundamentals. The emphasis on analytics, software development and artificial intelligence motivates students to avoid hardware-related college courses. According to Antonenko, “this limits the exposure students in these programs have to educational resources and experiences that focus on the hardware aspects of computing.”

But there is a solution to this problem: games that teach hardware fundamentals. The team plans to work with high school teachers to co-develop curriculum that uses a gamified approach to motivate and engage college undergraduate and high school students to stimulate interest in computer hardware. 

The investigators will design and test a new gamified curriculum at UF before introducing them to high school students and teachers at UF Center for Pre-collegiate Education and Training summer institutes. Curriculum for the high school level supports Florida’s Computer Science Education Standards similar to the CSforED—with the goal of recruiting undergraduate students interested in pursuing hardware engineering.

“Computer science and engineering undergraduates as well as high school students will develop more nuanced and well-rounded understanding of computer hardware and its interaction with software, particularly as this relates to the problems our society is experiencing such as cybersecurity,” he said.

Moreover, Antonenko believes that using games that focus on collaboration rather than competition “will further support the participation of all students in our curriculum.” He hopes that this approach will “be relevant and engaging” for “populations historically underrepresented in engineering.”

This NSF Grant brings together expertise from the College of Education, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and Center for Precollegiate Education and Training at UF, and the University of Kansas College of Engineering. Andrea Salgado-Ramirez, a UF Educational Technology doctoral student interested in high school computer science education, will serve as the project’s research assistant. 

Faculty and students at the UF College of Education are positioned to “contribute unique expertise on culturally sustaining education, motivational design of instruction, mixed-method educational research, and development of situational and maintained interest in STEM” via this NSF grant.