UF faculty receive NSF grant to develop a novel, AI-enhanced gaze-driven learning technology

UF faculty receive NSF grant to develop a novel, AI-enhanced gaze-driven learning technology

Multimedia has long been considered a powerful tool in instruction, but University of Florida researchers believe differences in learners’ visual attention and cognition can impact just how effective multimedia environments are in fostering learning outcomes for all.

Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, associate professor of educational technology and director of the Neuroscience Applications for Learning (NeurAL) Lab, and a team of researchers have received $821,412 from the National Science Foundation to design and test a novel, artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled gaze-driven adaptive learning technology that provides individualized multimedia learning support to students in real-time based on differences in their working memory capacity and visual attention patterns.

Working memory capacity provides the attentional control needed to select, organize and integrate information that is gained from multimedia materials such as text, video, audio or graphics. As learners have unique strengths and weaknesses, they too have differences in working memory capacity and the visual attention strategies that can either facilitate or hinder learning.

Pasha Antonenko

Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, Ph.D. 

“We assume that just because we’ve designed a nice PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation all students will effectively and efficiently understand everything, but in fact that’s not what happens because we do have a lot of individual differences that impact the way we learn,” said Antonenko, principal investigator of the project.

To address this gap, Antonenko will work alongside co-principal investigators Jonathan Martin, professor of geology, Kara Dawson, professor of educational technology, and Albert Ritzhaupt, professor of educational technology and computer science education, to develop GeoGaze — a display technology powered by AI that uses eye tracking to change multimedia learning materials in real-time based on students’ gaze behavior and differences in their working memory capacity. Marc Pomplun, principal investigator of the project’s sub-award and professor and chair of computer science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will serve as the project’s eye tracking expert.

Using AI, GeoGaze will analyze and predict effective visual attention strategies for each student and then in real-time adapt the presentation of information to better support their learning.

“It’s a dangerous assumption, but we assume that if we show a person a screen that has some text and has a diagram, that they’re actually going to pay attention to either or both of these information sources,” Antonenko said. “… What we are finding in our eye tracking studies is — no — that’s not the case.”

The project, titled “Collaborative Research: GeoGaze: Gaze-Driven Adaptive Multimedia to Augment Geoscience Learning for Neurodiverse Learners,” will involve two studies, each enlisting 200 UF and Santa Fe College students. Study one will investigate students’ eye movement patterns while viewing a geoscience presentation on sea level rise and examine the different levels of learners’ working memory capacity to identify the best visual attention strategies needed to support their learning. Study two will then leverage these findings to build and optimize the machine learning algorithm and the actual GeoGaze technology with a large sample of postsecondary students viewing geoscience content.

Antonenko shared that the team hopes the AI-powered technology will advance the science of adaptive learning and help educators everywhere to provide students with needed personalized learning support in real-time.

“It’s important to individualize learning so when the time comes for us to actually pay attention to some information on the screen, which we do individually, we want to make sure that every student is supported based on their unique blend of individual differences in attention and cognition,” Antonenko said. “So, to say that students who need more support are in fact supported, and if we can have a technology that helps provide that support — well even better.”

The project is expected to be completed in 2024.

Jonathan Martin

Jonathan Martin, Ph.D. 

Kara Dawson

Kara Dawson, Ph.D. 

Albert Ritzhaupt

Albert Ritzhaupt, Ph.D. 

Marc Pomplun

Marc Pomplun, Ph.D. 

UF College of Education is Number 1 in the Nation

UF College of Education is Number 1 in the Nation

The College of Education at the University of Florida continues its six-year tradition of being a national leader in online graduate education. Again this year, UF is the nation’s top online graduate education degree program according to the 2021 Best Online Programs rankings released by U.S. News & World Report.

UF earned the No. 1 spot nationally out of 296 other colleges of education for online graduate degree programs. The college has earned the top rank four of the last six years (2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021), dipping only one spot in 2018 and 2020. 

Students’ experiences and outcomes are continually being enhanced through faculty embracing the research and best practices identified by scholars associated with the college’s Educational Technology program, Institute for Advanced Learning Technologies, and new Artificial Intelligence in Education initiative.

“This ranking reflects acknowledgement by higher education leaders across the country that we have exceptional students, develop and apply engaging methods of instruction, and employ superb faculty and staff well trained in supporting the needs of students at any stage of their careers,” said Tom Dana, senior associate dean and director of the Institute for Advanced Learning Technologies.

Specialty Area Rankings 

Last year, U.S. News began ranking specialty areas of Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Administration and Supervision, Special Education and Educational/Instructional Media Design, “to help guide prospective students who have particular interest in pursuing a degree or coursework with one of these focuses.”

These specialty area rankings are based on peer assessment of academic reputation. Eligibility requirements include the institution having “received at least five ratings from peer institutions, been ranked in the main online master’s in education rankings, and verified in the peer assessment they offer the specialty or else had this verified by U.S. News.”

The college was recognized as leaders in all of these specialty areas, with the following rankings:

  • No. 2 – Special Education
  • No. 3 – Educational Administration
  • No. 3 – Curriculum and Instruction
  • No. 6 – Instructional Media/Educational Technology

“Our extraordinary faculty collaborate with ever-increasing effectiveness to provide the highest caliber of engaged educational experiences for our online students,” said College of Education Dean Glenn Good. “Faculty are developing and studying learning technology innovations.

“It is natural that their discoveries become incorporated into college-wide exceptional instructional practices. Ultimately, the successes of our online students have elevated the college’s academic reputation, which is recognized by our peers across the nation.”

The college has placed emphasis on a growing demand for online learning for years, as evidenced by continuous strong performance in rankings, and has developed a highly-skilled team of instructional designers, videographers and editors, web and graphic designers, and systems developers. The e-Learning, Technology and Communications team works in partnership with faculty and students to implement best practices and build learning environments that leverage emerging technologies and support learning objectives.

“Our expert faculty have worked closely with our instructional and graphic designers and videographers to continuously refine the online learning experience for our students,” said Jason Arnold, director of e-Learning, Technology and Communications. “We use the most current research and frequent student feedback to always improve so that we may create courses that truly prepare and empower students.” 

According to U.S. News, a master’s degree in education can help further careers in teaching, instructional design and educational administration. Programs are ranked based on five general categories: student engagement (30 percent), student services and technology (20 percent), expert opinion (20 percent), faculty credentials and training (20 percent), and student excellence (10 percent).

“We are proud to have regained the No. 1 ranking,” Good said. “It is a direct reflection of the work our faculty and staff have done to provide our distance learners with an exceptional education.”

Testimonials

Alyson Adams, Ph.D.

Our online programs are not online simply for convenience; we purposefully design online programs for full time educators because we want their workplaces to become the laboratories for their learning. What they learn in their online classes is situated and connected to their daily work. Our students use practitioner research or inquiry to examine their contexts and make meaningful change for their students, teachers, leaders, families, and communities. They develop as educational leaders who disrupt the st atus quo and challenge systemic inequities in their contexts and beyond.

Alyson Adams, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Teaching and Teacher Education

Catherine G. Atria, Ph.D.

UF faculty, comprised of nationally known, experienced and successful school leaders and researchers, are approachable and available with a rich presence in their courses through the use of videoed lectures, robust discussion forums and experiential just-in-time learning activities. Synchronous opportunities exist within courses affording collaborative relationships with peers, instructors, and other content experts. Students are able to easily and quickly contact and connect with instructors via the course management system, video-conferencing, email and telephone. 

Our program utilizes a cohort model with each group of newly accepted students progressing through coursework together. In this way, deep collegial peer relationships are formed transcending the program and continuing long after graduation. 

Coursework in the program is designed using best practices in online instruction and relevant and up-to-date research on school leadership. We successfully bridge the gap between research and practice as students engage in experiential learning opportunities applicable to both their current work environment and future career endeavors.

Catherine G. Atria, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator, Educational Leadership Online M.Ed.

Magdalena Castañeda, Ph.D.

TLSI is a “job-embedded” online graduate program. This means everything students learn is directly related to their practice, no matter what their role is in education. Students make major shifts in their practice that demonstrate their development in the 3 TLSI goals: Teacher Leader, Teacher Researcher and Master Teacher. 

The program helps teachers feel empowered to come out of their comfort zone to become leaders in their school living up to the program name, Teacher Leadership for School Improvement. Becoming leaders entails sliding their classroom doors open and sharing their practice and what they are learning in the TLSI graduate program. This is significant because enrolling in this graduate program benefits not just one teacher and one classroom but their colleagues and all students at their school. There is a mind shift in that it’s not just about my students and my classroom, but all students. 

Magdalena Castañeda, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator, Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI)

Domenic Durante, M.Ed.

The College of Education is the meeting place between educational theory and instructional best practice with both our instructors and supporting instructional design team collaborating on the design of online courses that actively promote and create a community of practice.

Domenic Durante, M.Ed.
Senior Instructional Designer

Zhihui Fang, Ph.D.

Faculty in the Reading and Literacy education program has invested a considerable amount of time in identifying, recruiting, preparing, and graduating highly qualified candidates from the state, nationally, and internationally. Our enrollment is at a historic high. Our students benefit tremendously from a rigorous, flexible curriculum that addresses practical concerns of those “in the trenches” and a dedicated faculty that is knowledgeable, supportive, and accessible.

Zhihui Fang, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator, Reading and Literacy Online M.Ed.

Cliff Haynes, Ph.D.

The online program in Student Personnel in Higher Education focuses on the practical application of the competencies of student affairs educators while incorporating technology into every class. Our graduates have been using technology to build community and to learn and are able to be forward thinking when asked to perform their duties virtually or remotely.

Cliff Haynes, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator, Student Personnel in Higher Education (SPHE) Online M.Ed.

Daneen Johnson

Beyond the classroom, students in our online programs have access to career readiness resources including customized virtual career workshops, individual coaching sessions and career conversations designed to help create opportunities for students to feel empowered in their professional growth now and after graduation. These resources and programs are also infused into the curriculum for some of our online programs.

Daneen Johnson
Assistant Director for Integrated Partnerships – Education
Career Connections Center & College of Education

UF improved one spot to No. 3 in the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs rankings. The Bachelor of Arts in Education Sciences is one of the college’s newer programs designed to establish a foundation of knowledge, to allow graduates to pursue a variety of careers in the field of education. New to the college’s bachelor offering are the Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood and the Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education. Both programs are set to launch in fall 2021. For more information on the college’s distance learning program, visit online.education.ufl.edu.

Contacts

Source: Tom Dana, senior associate dean, UF College of Education, 352-273-4134

Source: Jason Arnold, director of e-learning, UF College of Education, 352-273-4442

Writer: Kevin Coulson, communications manager, UF College of Education, 352-273-4370

Educational technology professor champions improved access and inclusion in STEM

Educational technology professor champions improved access and inclusion in STEM

Education opens the door to endless pathways of opportunity, but equity in education remains among society’s most pressing challenges, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

With a background rooted in special education and a path forged through advocacy-based research, Maya Israel, associate professor of educational technology, has dedicated her career to increasing equity, improving access and expanding inclusion in STEM to foster success for all learners.

“Especially when we’re thinking about students with disabilities, there are some long-standing biases about what kids can and can’t do,” she said. “… There’s this perception that they’re not or can’t be as successful as their peers, and that’s simply not the case.”

Israel, who also serves as the research director of Creative Technology Research Lab (CTRL), a UF lab that investigates how to meaningfully engage all learners in technology-mediated learning, has a robust research agenda with a special focus on K-12 computer science (CS) education, computational thinking and Universal Design for Learning.

“My K-12 teaching background, essentially, makes me think about how we can intervene to help students be successful,” she said. “… I like the analogy of reading: There are some students who pick up reading very quickly and then there are other students who need some more explicit instruction. At the end of the day, they’re all going to be effective readers, but some students need an approach that’s a little bit more targeted.”

Maya Israel, Ph.D. 

Through a variety of interdisciplinary, collaborative research projects, Israel is examining these issues from all directions — identifying existing and persisting barriers, and exploring instructional strategies, learning processes and innovative technologies that can build much needed bridges.

Most recently, Israel and a team of computer science education leaders were awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to cultivate a Research Practice Partnership (RPP) that explores and addresses the barriers to inclusive elementary CS education.

The partnership will include P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, Broward County Public Schools, New York City Public Schools and the San Francisco Unified School District to explore ways to expand inclusion in CS education for students with disabilities.

“We’re at the point where students with disabilities are generally included in computer science education, Israel said, “but, oftentimes, teachers don’t have the pedagogical tools to support them in a way that is accessible, engaging and inclusive.”

Among her latest research endeavors are:

UDL4CS

Universal Design for Learning for Computer Science (UDL4CS): Partnership for Inclusive Elementary Computer Science Education, Funded by the National Science Foundation A Research Practice Partnership, UDL4CS aims to build sustainable partnerships among districts across the country around the shared problem of practice of fostering equitable K-8 CS education and meaningful inclusion of students with disabilities. The team, led by Israel, will examine the current level of inclusion of K-12 students with disabilities and explore the barriers to inclusion that are unique and shared among districts. Based on the findings, the team will create web-based professional development resources to build the capacity of CS educators and equip them with the tools to support all learners. UDL4CS offers a new lens for exploration in cultivating inclusive CS experiences for students with disabilities and those at risk for academic failure with past projects including the NSF funded Teaching All Computational Thinking Through Inclusion and Collaboration (TACTIC), also led by Israel. Learn more about UDL4CS

INFACT

Including Neurodiversity in Foundational and Applied Computational Thinking (INFACT), Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Education and Innovation Research program

Leveraging a consortium of leading researchers and practitioners in computational thinking led by TERC, INFACT seeks to design an inclusive, comprehensive computational thinking program to support a wide range of learners in grades 3-8. Utilizing novel methods, such as eye-tracking and facial recognition, the team is developing responsive technologies for the program to provide adaptive, customized pacing based on students’ individual strengths and struggles as well as embedded supports to aid in student attention, metacognition and social-emotional learning.

Learn more about INFACT

C-COI

Collaborative Computing Observation Instrument (C-COI)  The C-COI was born in response to the need for a more nuanced way to understand the learning processes of K-12 students while they engage in computational thinking and programming activities. Developed through dynamic, multi-year efforts with a diverse team of researchers and collaborators, the C-COI grew from white boards, to spreadsheets, to finally a video analysis instrument that allows researchers to study students’ computational behaviors. This video analysis instrument can help researchers better understand students’ time on tasks, persistence, help seeking and help giving, collaborative problem solving, social behaviors and challenges faced while computing. The C-COI tool was recently made available for use to researchers across the country. Learn more about C-COI

15“Ultimately, what we want to provide kids with the tools to be expert learners on their own and to provide teachers with the tools and the strategies they need to support students,” she said.

Israel recognizes the power in collaboration to build a brighter future where boundless opportunity is possible for all learners. Among her latest collaborative efforts driven by a passion to transform education is the UF College of Education’s newly forming Institute of Advanced Learning Technologies (IALT).

IALT coalesces the power of researchers in educational technology, learning analytics and related fields to find data-driven emerging and advanced technology-based solutions to dramatically improve learning outcomes globally.

Supporting learning technology faculty and student researchers, state of the art labs and teaching facilities, and academic, industry and government partners, the institute will demonstrate the university’s collective power in creating and disseminating advanced learning technologies that improve learning outcomes on an international scale.

“If we can bring together people that have different areas and backgrounds — that’s where the innovation happens,” Israel said.

Look for Maya Israel on an upcoming episode of Unstoppable Minds, a podcast from the University of Florida looking at the challenges and triumphs that come with a life in academia and research: ufl.edu/unstoppableminds

Microsoft Support for Mathematics Innovation

Microsoft Support for Mathematics Innovation

It’s not every day that a UF center has the opportunity to share its work at a Fortune 500 company’s all-staff meeting — but that’s what happened after the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning recently announced the first round of data for its new, adaptive learning tool that prepares students for the challenges of middle grades mathematics.

For nearly two decades, the Lastinger Center has been on the leading edge of educational innovations. Its members have consistently worked to maintain a connection to existing needs for a variety of educators and learners alike, and to forecast educational trends. Long ahead of the spring of 2020, center researchers had identified an increased demand for quality online educational tools, which were accentuated by responses the coronavirus.

To meet this exponentially increasing demand Math Nation, a Lastinger Center innovation, accelerated the development and launch of the new On-Ramp to 6th Grade for teachers and students to use in Florida, Michigan, Mississippi and South Carolina. Then On-Ramp offers quality digital mathematics tools to provide individualized instruction and remediation. Since August, more than 40,000 questions have been completed within the new tool. Earlier this year, Microsoft U.S. provided nearly $1 million to develop the On-Ramp to 6th Grade tool, including its adaptive diagnostic and instructional pathway to ensure that students have anytime access to tailored, research-based instructional support.

“Education must evolve to meet the unique needs of 21-century students,” said Philip E. Poekert, Ph.D., center director. “COVID-19 revealed the need for innovation to better serve all students. This investment from Microsoft U.S. ensures these students will approach 6th grade with confidence and well-prepared the rigor of middle school mathematics.”

The new On-Ramp to 6th Grade platform diagnoses, remediates and accelerates critical K-5 grade mathematics concepts and skills through its adaptive diagnostic assessment. This information is used to create a personalized learning path for each student. Student data are provided to teachers in real time so that they can quickly identify topics on which to remediate at both the individual and classroom levels. Students are empowered to select instruction that fits their learning style, pace and language so there no barriers to access.

“When students receive the early, personalized support they need to succeed in middle school mathematics, the opportunities are endless,” said Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft U.S. “We’re incredibly encouraged to see so many students using the On-Ramp to 6th Grade platform to help build their math muscles at a time when access to high-quality digital learning tools has never been more important.”

Beyond The On-Ramp to 6th Grade, Poekert hopes “to live up to the inspirational challenge initiated by Allen and Delores when they founded the center… and the tremendous passion and dedication that our associates bring each day as they grow the center.” With a focus on the future and proven ability to leverage domain expertise the team at the Lastinger Center will continue working toward a world where every child and educator, regardless of circumstances, experiences high-quality learning every day.

On Ramp 6th Grade Screenshots

Educational technology professor awarded NSF grant to foster inclusive computer science education

Educational technology professor awarded NSF grant to foster inclusive computer science education

Maya Israel, associate professor of educational technology, and a team of computer science (CS) education leaders were awarded $299,624 from the National Science Foundation to cultivate a Research Practice Partnership (RPP) that explores and addresses the barriers to inclusive elementary CS education.

As the principal investigator, Israel will partner with CS education leaders from P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, Broward County Public Schools, New York City Public Schools and the San Francisco Unified School District to explore ways to expand inclusion in CS education for students with disabilities.

The project, titled “Universal Design for Learning for Computer Science (UDL4CS): Partnership for Inclusive Elementary Computer Science Education,” aims to build sustainable partnerships among districts around the shared problem of practice of fostering equitable PK-8 CS education and meaningful inclusion of students with disabilities.

Maya Israel, Ph.D. 

Maya Israel, associate professor of educational technology, and a team of computer science (CS) education leaders were awarded $299,624 from the National Science Foundation to cultivate a Research Practice Partnership (RPP) that explores and addresses the barriers to inclusive elementary CS education.

As the principal investigator, Israel will partner with CS education leaders from P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, Broward County Public Schools, New York City Public Schools and the San Francisco Unified School District to explore ways to expand inclusion in CS education for students with disabilities.

The project, titled “Universal Design for Learning for Computer Science (UDL4CS): Partnership for Inclusive Elementary Computer Science Education,” aims to build sustainable partnerships among districts around the shared problem of practice of fostering equitable PK-8 CS education and meaningful inclusion of students with disabilities.

Team led by higher education professor receives NSF grant to improve access and success in Information Technology programs

Team led by higher education professor receives NSF grant to improve access and success in Information Technology programs

The University of Florida Institute of Higher Education (IHE) has been awarded $600,000 from the National Science Foundation to enhance access and success among underrepresented students in community college Information Technology (IT) programs.

The project, titled “iConnect: Improving Access and Success for Underserved Students in Information Technology Programs Through Education-Industry Connections,” was designed in response to the lack of diversity and equity in community college IT programs as well as local workforce shortages in the IT industry.

Led by principal investigator Dr. Justin Ortagus, director of IHE and assistant professor of higher education administration and policy, the project is a research-practice partnership with Indian River State College (IRSC), a Florida College system institution, that will partner with IHE to develop and implement interventions designed to improve access and student outcomes for historically underrepresented students in IT programs.

iConnect will identify and address current barriers to IT enrollment, redesign gateway online IT courses to optimize student success, and connect with local IT employers to integrate recommended industry skills into IT curricula.

“The iConnect project sits at the intersection of so many important issues and allows IHE to partner with one of our nation’s top community colleges to ensure more students gain access and experience success in high-demand IT fields,” said Ortagus.

Co-principal investigators at UF include Drs. Lindsay Lynch , clinical assistant professor of higher education administration and policy and Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, associate professor of educational technology. Co-principal investigators at IRSC include Dr. Kendall St. Hilaire, assistant dean of IRSC Virtual Campus, and Clifford Kemp, master instructor of computer IT.

The iConnect project will aim to improve outcomes related to the number of underrepresented students who are enrolling in IT programs, student success in gateway online IT courses, and student persistence in IT programs. All outcomes are designed to lead to an expanded, more diverse IT industry pipeline in the surrounding area.

“IRSC is excited to partner with UF IHE on the iConnect project,” said St. Hilaire. “Through the creative work of faculty, instructional designers and workforce leaders, IRSC students will benefit greatly from project activities and learn more about high-quality career opportunities in IT.”

The project is expected to be completed in 2023.

Justin Ortagus, Ph.D.