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ASU researchers awarded grant for improving hybrid learning platforms

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August 03, 2021

A group of researchers from Arizona State University has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for almost $1 million to fund the development of hybrid physical-computational platforms to create pathways to position neurodiverse students for success in school as well as in the larger community.

Sha Xin Wei, principal investigator and professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, is working alongside three other ASU faculty and co-principal investigators, including Seth D. Thorn, clinical assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, and Professor Mirka Koro and Assistant Professor Margarita Pivovarova, both of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Their research project “Engaging Teachers and Neurodiverse Middle School Students in Tangible and Creative Computational Thinking Activities” will be funded for the duration of three years with the $998,172 grant 

By working with teachers, families, employers and students, we’re trying to build pathways to support neurodiverse individuals academically, socially and creatively in a more inclusive economy,” Thorn said. “We’re co-designing technologies that adapt to individual, evolving needs and offer people novel ways to express themselves socially."

Neurodiverse students, particularly those with autism, often experience unequal outcomes in STEM education and employment. The team aims to build support and facilitation for neurodiverse individuals that increase the employment potential of students with autism in a more inclusive economy, where neurodiversity is a baseline rather than an exception. 

The team, along with researchers from the Neurodiversity Educational Research Center and practitioners at Science Prep Academy and Temple Grandin School, will collaborate on the development of learning activities and workshops that engage middle-school students, community members and employers in activities that use music, technology and computational thinking.  

Using techniques such as gesture tracking and augmented reality to help enable creative expression from neurodiverse people, the project is based on embodied learning and cooperative learning approaches that inform the team’s development of Telematic Embodied Learning (TEL) activities: activities that engage participants in using movement and their bodies to understand concepts.

These methods can be conducted in hybrid or remote teaching situations when students and teachers are in different locations. The project’s researchers will use a convergent mixed methods design to investigate the experiences of approximately 25 middle-school-aged children, 24 teachers, 15 parents and 10 future employers through a combination of surveys, observations, interviews and focus groups.

“This is the fruit from a year and a half of pilot experiments in telematic embodied learning spearheaded by Garrett L. Johnson, Tim Wells and Anani Vasquez, supported by Synthesis, notably Connor Rawls, Andrew Robinson and Brandon Mechtley, and by research affiliates Gabriele Carotti-Sha (San Francisco) and Muindi F. Muindi (Seattle),” Sha said. “I am looking forward to seeing what the team creates over the coming three years, with my faculty colleagues Seth Thorn, Mirka Koro and Margarita Pivovarova!”

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