A team of researchers from Indiana University will support middle school students' data literacy with the help of their software tool Net.Create and a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Net.Create, launched in 2018, is an open-source analysis tool developed by Kalani Craig, co-director of the Institute for Digital Art and Humanities and an associate professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Joshua Danish, professor in the School of Education and Learning Sciences Program coordinator.
The grant will allow the team to develop a new version of Net.Create educational software and materials and conduct research that will help better understand the benefit of network visualizations in the classroom. Networks track individual interactions between people, places and things. Visualizing these interactions helps support a variety of learners and researchers trying to understand how a single interaction fits into a complex network.
"The main goal for Net.Create was to create a live, collaborative experience for analyzing data," Danish said. "Other data tools do a nice job of representing information, but they don't support teams in developing their ideas together. New software features aim to support data novices in exploring ideas together, while the tool also helps them learn about key technical details."
Danish leads a team of students in the Learning Sciences Program dedicated to supporting middle school students in understanding data and media literacy. As middle school students work to understand interactions from their every day lives and transform those interactions into data, they will use Net.Create to help represent complex data and understand how different representations of data shape the world around them.
"Middle school is also a key time when students begin exploring social media platforms that build on data about their lives," Danish said. "Net.Create and its collaborative networks are highly relevant to their lives because it offers a safe space to help them be critical about what they tell services like TikTok and Facebook. The data science, computer science, and social studies content we would like to explore are also well-aligned with the standards for content to be covered at this age."
The interdisciplinary team also includes Cindy Hmelo-Silver, distinguished professor in the School of Education, and Ben Loh, director and co-founder of the education technology company Inquirium LLC.
Craig coordinates literacy and history aspects of design and learning while Hmelo-Silver supports design and the evaluation process. Loh is responsible for software development as Net.Create installs new features. Collaboration with Merijke Coenraad at Digital Promise allows for coordinating with their extensive network of school partners.
"Net.Create has features like live visualization that make it more interactive, fun and interesting for learners as they explore information together in class," Danish said. "We have found that people working collaboratively with networks in Net.Create really value being able to see a representation of their ideas emerge that builds on what their peers are doing in real time."
In the coming months, the team plans to continue refining the design and software development. In addition, they will work closely with teachers on professional development and teaching them about network visualizations, data literacy and relevant content. Both the team of researchers and teachers will collaborate on curriculum design and new features to best support students.