A Very Brief Overview 

As learners work in today’s information-rich world, it is easy to be overwhelmed. First, locating relevant information resources among billions of sources is a significant challenge, particularly when terms and concepts lie outside one’s expertise. This “challenge of ignorance” is often expressed as “I can’t ask a good question because I don’t know what I don’t know.” Second, after mining resources over time, a “challenge of surfeit” can arise when trying to organize, filter and visualize an extensive collection of information resources that were located and filed.

nStudy is a state-of-the-art extension to the Chrome web browser integrated with a server side system. It is designed to help learners deal with challenges arising from ignorance and surfeit. nStudy supports desktop-like GUI actions that generate data stored in a server-side database. As learners of any age identify and operate on information in the internet, whether this be from recommended web sites or by “free surfing,” nStudy provides tools they need to record, catalog, analyze, organize, view and synthesize selected information for tasks of any scope and information in any subject area. nStudy also provides a space for collaboration and sharing results of solo work.

 In nStudy, people create and manipulate artifacts – containers of information. Artifacts can be sorted and filtered by metadata  (e.g., title, author, date created, date last viewed, tags and more), and organized by linking them to one another. Learners have access to multiple classes of artifacts in nStudy:

  • Bookmarks point to information sources in the internet (URLs). Content can be formatted as .html, .pdf and video/audio.
  • Quotes are selections of information in bookmarks (and essays and discussions; see ff.). A quote “highlights” content in a source, providing a quick visual marker; and every quote’s information is copied to a sidebar in the browser, creating a list of selections.
  • Notes allow learners to elaborate information according to their interpretations of it. Each note invites the learner to title it, and it is automatically linked to a quote that prompted making the note. The quote is recorded in the note. Clicking a quote returns the learner to the location of the quote in the source, reinstating the context that led to creating a note.
  • Forms provide a method for creating structured notes about quotes, bookmarks, essays and discussions. Fields available in forms are: text, checkboxes, radio buttons, sliders, , images, and links. Each field can be optionally titled and, in text fields, replacement text (that disappears when the learner enters information into the text field) can guide the learner about the content to include in the note. Forms ( e.g., a debate form that includes fields for claim, evidence, warrants, counterarguments and “my position”) alert learners to key types of information they should consider. Forms are configurable. In a future version of nStudy, learners will be able to configure their own forms, inviting them to consider critical kinds of information for a task.
  • Tags are indexes to artifacts. Tags can be tailored by researchers or instructors, or extensible allowing the learner to generate a system for cataloging artifacts according to tasks (seminar, lab6), qualities of information (vague, metaphor), follow-ups (explore, ask prof.), and so forth
  • Essays allow learners to create a formatted text such as a memo, lab report, business plan or term paper. Other artifacts can be incorporated into an essay by drag-and-drop or copy-paste operations.
  • Discussions are text records generated as two or many learners exchange information. nStudy’s hub, where discussions take place, can be configured to provide roles (e.g., manager, critic, analyst). To educate learners about how to carry out a role, prompts are available that are keyed to each role; e.g., for critic: “What is the evidence for ___?” or “Is the view that ___ corroborated?” Clicking a prompt inserts it into the text field where the learner can complete it before sending it to the discussion.
  • Terms provide a form for describing key concepts in a domain (e.g., the chemical elements, main characters in a novel). When a term uses another term in its definition, both terms are automatically linked so the learner can easily traverse the conceptual structure of a domain.
  • termnet is a graphical display of a domain’s critical concepts in the form of a node-link network. Each term is a node in the network. Links are drawn as lines to depict the conceptual structure of the domain. The termnet depicts the domain as represented by terms. We are exploring the mathematics of graph theory applied to this representation as a method for characterizing conceptual structures.
  • The library is a view that shows artifacts according to the learner’s development of folders and metadata, such as tags, type(s) of artifact, date last edited, or date last viewed.
  • Maps are graphical representations of relationships (links) among artifacts (nodes in the map). Learners can create a new map by generating artifacts in a map “space” and linking them. Also, maps can be created or augmented after filtering artifacts in the library that have desired qualities (e.g., notes and terms created in the past week). Artifacts in a map can be grouped to form clusters, and artifact can be elaborated by showing its links to other artifacts.

As a learner uses nStudy, the software records in very fine grain with time stamps accurate to the millisecond all the activities performed (e.g., web sites viewed, notes reviewed, terms created) and the information operated on (e.g., text selected as a quote, text entered in fields of a note, radio buttons selected, artifacts filed in folders). A learning analytics module is being developed to provide learning scientists, instructors and learners with quantitative and qualitative information that describes studying and semantic qualities of the information on which learners operate. Information visualizations will be available to display results of analyses to enhance interpretability.

* AERA 2016.pdf
View and download our AERA 2016 poster here