October 22, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 193—A new tool for education research, and improving diagnosis of infectious diseases

Since the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a massive transition to remote instruction, teachers and students alike have become very familiar with the Canvas online learning management system, the most widely used learning management system in the US, which allows students to submit assignments, take quizzes, watch videos, write reflections, and more. As online learning becomes more popular, studies of the effectiveness of these kinds of activities online has become a key priority for education research. Now, Indiana University’s eLearning Research and Practice Lab has launched Terracotta, a Canvas plug-in that helps teachers and researchers measure how well online learning activities work. Terracotta makes it possible to conduct experimental research through Canvas to test theories and identify best practices that are critical to the effective use of digital learning technologies in education settings. IU’s Ben Motz, director of the eLearning Research and Practice Lab and lead researcher for the Terracotta project, says the education field has long lacked tools to evaluate teaching and learning activities, but Terracotta makes it possible to run a variety of experimental research designs, and collect informed consent and deidentify student data, making education research more efficient, rigorous, and responsible. The user-friendly Terracotta tool also facilitates broader participation in education research by making it easier to design experiments and gather evidence-based insights for improving student outcomes.

In other news, chemists at IU Bloomington have created a new sensor that could potentially contribute to early diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. The process used by immune cells to destroy disease-causing pathogens in the body relies on complex chemical reactions, says IU Professor of Chemistry Yan Yu, who led the new research. But measuring those reactions inside a living cell is extremely challenging. In the lab, Yu and colleagues designed particles that help reveal the many types of complex chemical interactions in living cells. The particles are coated with sensors that detect various chemicals involved in biological processes. Yu's team perfected a technique to pack the sensors very close together across the particles, which significantly increases their effectiveness as an investigative tool. Yu says the research showcases the feasibility of using the new particles as a tool for monitoring multiple reactions within a cell and for detecting and diagnosing infectious diseases. Understanding the chemical processes in immune cells is especially important in bacterial infections that evade the body's immune response such as tuberculosis, which is the world's leading infectious disease killer, claiming about 1.5 million lives annually.