Research Interests

Computer Science Education Research. Much of the work that has been done in science education research remains to be done in computer science education research. For example, in physics education, the force concepts inventory (FCI) of the 1990s is just now being used as a model for computer sciences education researchers as we try to identify core concepts in digital logic, discrete mathematics, and other domains of interest in computer science and assess the degree of student attainment of those concepts.

Science Education Research. I’ve worked for over a decade with Dr. Paul Zachos and others to develop an empirical basis for determining what factors contribute to a student’s ability to make scientific discoveries. That work has been the topic of numerous conference presentations (AERA, EERA) and was recently the subject of a paper in The Journal for Research in Science Teaching. (Setting theoretical and empirical foundations for assessing scientific inquiry and discovery in educational programs. Paul Zachos, Thomas L. Hick, William E. J. Doane, Cynthia Sargent. J Res Sci Teach 37: 938-962, 2000)

Appropriate Uses of Technology in Education. The United States Government has made it a national priority to place computers in classrooms as quickly as possible, even though relatively little is known about the benefits or detriments of student and teacher use of computers in the classroom (See Larry Cuban, e.g.). What are the optimal modes of interaction with computers for K-12 users– simulation software, web-based research, database access for research, textbook replacement, textbook augmentation? At what grade level should computers be introduced into the classroom? What impact does the learning-curve of software packages have on student attainment of curricular concepts? What is the optimal computer-student ratio? Can technology be used to support intended learning outcomes, rather than presume to rewrite them?

Collaborative uses of Technology in Education. Can technology be used to develop unique collaborations among students, educators, and professional researchers that would otherwise be impossible? How can computers be used to support the instructional program, and to foster interaction and information sharing among students?

Games used for Education. One possible use for technology in education is the use of games to promote student learning. Games, the argument goes, engage a persons mind and emotions, thus aiding in learning. Development of games that are both engaging and embody educational value has been challenging.

Computational Learning through Game Design. In computer science education, we can engage students not just in the use of games, but also in the construction of games. By working to embody educational content in a game format, students must grapple with issues in mathematics, physics, computational thinking, modeling, engineering, social interaction, storytelling, network theory, and so on. Through building games, students learn how to express their intentions in computer code, while also learning the underlying phenomena and relationships of the represented activity.

Education Reform. More generally, the question of how education research, assessment of students, and evaluation of programs are used (or not used) to improve the instructional program, curriculum, and educational experience is of interest to me. In both technology and education, ethical and moral issues are lurking around every corner, and whenever possible care should be taken to ensure reasonable use of ones work.

Web Technologies. The WWW began as a simple set of logical abstractions intended to describe the display of text and images on-screen. Now the WWW is being used as an advertising medium, as conveyor of entertainment, and many other ways. As Web technologies have grown to meet these new demands, how have the pieces of the content delivery puzzle been held together, or have they? Is the Web now simply a hodgepodge of technologies with no discernible direction for standardization?

User Interface Design. I’m also interested in the norms of UI design that seem to have developed around Web pages– left-hand navigation, etc.. Nevertheless, the UIs created for real world products often miss the mark. For example, several years ago, I was participating in a training session for a newly installed Beowulf Cluster. The tech giving the demo proudly showed how the color-coded display worked: blue=off; red=starting up; green=ready. Ask yourself: why did they select blue? why not use red, yellow, green mapped onto the states of the machine?

As another example, I once purchased an electronic book. In order to set the IP address of the unit, one used a set of four vertical sliders where the “down arrow” increased the IP number, and the “up arrow” decreased the IP number. On the same machine, there was a utility to set a telephone number to use a built-in modem to connect to the service provider — that utility used an on-screen numeric keypad representation to enter the phone number. The keypad widget was in the system… who decided not to use the keypad interface to set the IP address, and why?

Intellectual Property Issues in the Digital Age. What is the nature of intellectual property? Is copyright a workable concept in the digital age? Is copyright a contract to protect the creator of works, or is it a contract between the people and individuals to promote contributions to the common wealth, or possibly both, or neither?

Artificial Scarcity. In the information age, computers, the Internet, and digital storage have created an environment where data (music, text, images, research) can be quickly and easily reproduced and transferred from one person or place to another. When a resource such as data is no longer scarce, why do we create artificial scarcity to control it? Is artificial scarcity appropriate? Assuming that it’s not, what new economic model would supplant the economics of scarcity?

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