Achievement & Assessment Institute receives new learning maps grant

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The Achievement and Assessment Institute (AAI) at the University of Kansas has received a $212,000 award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a prototype web interface that would allow students, parents, teachers and researchers to understand the relationships among mathematics topics by exploring the KU-developed Dynamic Learning Maps™ (DLM®) tool for mathematics taught in middle- and high-school grades.

The agreement extends through June 2015 and supports a cross-disciplinary team that includes the design and data-visualization expertise of Richard Branham, internationally acclaimed professor of interaction design; the math-education expertise of Angela Broaddus, AAI research associate and the learning-map expertise of Neal Kingston, professor of educational psychology and research. Kingston also serves as the project’s principal investigator.

AAI is one of six national awardees working to employ learning maps within innovative solutions for improving teaching and learning.

“Use of learning maps holds promise for enabling personalized education in ways that can dramatically improve student learning. Without user-facing spatial visualization tools, a learning map is unnavigable – it’s like attempting to read a geographic map without opening it up,” said AAI Director Kingston, who directs the DLM Alternate Assessment Consortium. “We are very excited to share the learning map with a broader audience. Since its inception, we have held the view that it has terrific potential as an educational planning tool. This partnership will support us in exploring ways to provide access to what has thus far been only available as a research tool.”

“The Institute’s excellent reputation continues to grow,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, “both in this country and elsewhere. Educators and policymakers need tools that guide classroom instruction and student learning in meaningful ways. AAI is creating rich support systems that will help educators meet the needs of 21st-century learners.”

Initially developed by AAI’s Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation to support the Dynamic Learning Maps™ Alternate Assessment Program, the learning map resource provides a research-based, graphical illustration of thousands of language acquisition and mathematics concepts and skills learned from birth through high school. The network display also shows the many connections between concepts and skills that promote rich understanding. Access to the map through an interface specifically designed for teachers, parents and students can effectively bridge the gap between research and practice, allowing a wider audience of practitioners and families to apply lessons learned in educational research to practical learning issues in classrooms and homes.

AAI will lead a team of experts in mathematics education, interaction design and data visualization to develop an intuitive interface for navigating and viewing the learning map. The map's refined detail will support educators in identifying critical prerequisites for topics they teach; it also will help educators diagnose the sources of students’ errors and misconceptions.

Educators, parents and students from several states will play integral roles in the process of designing an intuitive interface that meets their needs. One of their first opportunities to participate will be in focus groups, during which members of the research team will meet with small groups of teachers, parents and students to gather information about how they would be interested in using the map.

Branham said AAI’s chief design principle is to maintain focus on the intended users’ needs and interaction preferences.

“By collaborating with researchers across several disciplines and interacting with teachers, students and parents, we can solve complex human-technology problems and facilitate effective learning in a way that is engaging and fun,” he said. “We believe that this project will demonstrate the value of that approach and lead to more collaborations.”

December 10, 2014