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SRI and the Evaluation of the Educational Software Components of Tomorrow Project (ESCOT)


Client and Funder: SRI International and the National Science Foundation

Situation

Educational software for math and science activities usually serves its purpose in one setting but rarely suits students and teachers in other settings.

Solution

DesignWorlds helped assess the effectiveness of the nationally distributed development teams collaborated via the web to develop web-based learning modules that proved useful in mathematics education.

The Educational Software Components of Tomorrow (ESCOT) project investigated ways in which software innovations can improve K-12 mathematics and science education. The research focused on the use of web-based learning-technology development tools and exemplary applications.

The ESCOT participants set out to understand how geographically distributed teams could collaborate in using a shared library of reusable software components over the Web. The researchers wanted to see if a national testbed of such teams could compose interactive activities by combining graphs, tables, simulations, algebra systems, notebooks and other tools using software such as SimCalcTM, Geometer's Sketchpad®, AgentSheets™ and MathWorlds™. Accordingly, the collaboration teams included educational technology developers, researchers from the learning sciences, teachers, authors, web facilitators, and students.

To be successful, the research results needed to be scalable from a small project to a nationwide system for enhanced science and mathematics education. Scalability has been a problem in the past because software developed by one group could not be reused by others.

In the ESCOT project, testbed members successfully designed and developed a series of interactive mathematics problems based on various software components. The problems were published on a bi-weekly basis on The Math Forum’s web site and used in the classroom by teachers and students nationwide.

Why DesignWorlds?

Selected by the ESCOT Principal Investigators and working under subcontract to SRI International, DesignWorlds played a key role on the evaluation team for this innovative project. The ESCOT investigators chose DesignWorlds for its unique experience in advanced learning-technology R&D, development of award-winning commercial educational technology products and research projects (particularly in K-12 mathematics and science), and our focus on designing and supporting distributed online collaborative learning communities. More specifically, DesignWorlds’ background in participatory-design “action research” and experience in creating collaborative enterprises were all crucial to assessing the outcomes of the ESCOT collaboration.

What did DesignWorlds do?

In consultations with the principal investigators, DesignWorlds assisted in the design, implementation, and documentation of testbed activities to support a community of software component developers. When research results became available, DesignWorlds helped bring those results to middle school mathematics curriculum reform projects all around the U.S. DesignWorlds created formative evaluation instruments for the growing developer community and documented communications among the testbed partners. The ESCOT project was a success by every measure. It proved the feasibility of developing a highly effective, nationally distributed collaboration in a short time. In just two years, 34 organizations got involved, supporting 19 teachers, 18 graduate students and several middle school and high school students. A total of 46 Java applets were developed, delivered and tested on time, enabling The Math Forum web site to publish a full year of bi-weekly interactive “Problems of the Week.”. The project is now going forward in a number of other R&D efforts: Higher education collaborations are being developed through the NSF-funded TRAILS project, interactive math learning applications are being developed for handheld PDAs, and other groups are pursuing component software approaches for developing web-based interactive science applications.

ESCOT’s success demonstrates the power and potential cost-effectiveness of a component software approach to collaborative design of interactive web-based learning environments. The project shows that a nationally distributed, diverse group of participant can develop a common framework and set of components that can be integrated into effective interactive learning activities, and that coordinated use of the web can improve student’s ability to learn mathematics.

For more information on ESCOT, please visit www.escot.org.

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