The Ottmar Project

The E-TRIALS Testbed: From Here to There

Much like shared scientific instruments such as The Hubble Space Telescope, the E-TRIALS Testbed was made to help researchers run experiments. Our infrastructure has allowed Dr. Erin Ottmar of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to carry out From Here to There, an IES Efficacy Grant. The E-TRIALS Testbed runs on ASSISTments, one of the most proven educational interventions. Online learning platforms record millions of data points and capture students’ learning in a way that is incomparable to earlier educational contexts. By broadening our collective view of the potential of these technologies to advance our understanding of what works in education, transforming these types of environments into shared scientific instruments will translate to systemic changes in policy and practice. E-TRIALS, an EdTech Research Instrument to Advance Learning Science, seeks to do just that.

From Here to There

The primary aim of this project is to test the efficacy of a theoretically and empirically grounded, integrated classroom technology intervention (From Here to There; FH2T), which aligns attention, gesture, and physicality. This technology system aligns student gestures, actions, and mathematics procedures naturally, by making instructional gestures a primary mechanism by which mathematical transformations are achieved, naturally guiding student attention to appropriate aspects of mathematical situations.

The fundamental perspective guiding this work is that solving algebra problems is fundamentally a rewarding and playful challenge, and that the role of ‘gamifications’ implemented in an application should be to provide access to the playful challenges of algebra. Rather than asking users to simplify an expression or to solve an equation, users are asked to transform the expression to a state that matches a goal. Each problem starts with an equation or expression and states an end goal state: the student's’ goal is to transform the expression from the starting form (here) to the ending state (there) (Figure 1). In order to achieve their goal, students perform a series of dynamic interactions, including decomposing numbers (8=5+3 or 11-3), combining terms, applying operations to both sides of an equation, and rearranging terms through commutative, associative, and distributive properties. For example, one might have the goal of turning 9-2x+5=4 into 5+9=4+2x. One could accomplish this by moving the ‘- 2x’ term to the right of the equation (inverting its sign as needed), and then touching the 5 and dragging it to the left of the 9.

Figure 1

An algebraic expression or equation is presented in the middle of the screen. The user's goal is to transform the initial state to match the goal state presented in the bottom right corner. The program keeps track of the number of steps taken on the bottom left; the number changes color when the user exceeds the maximum number of steps.