Phil WinnePhil Winne

learning

Online tool nStudy helps learners and researchers

March 29, 2012
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Web browsing reaps a lot of useful information for students and other learners, but web browsers only offer rudimentary ways to store, tag, annotate, organize and analyze it.

Until now.

SFU education professors Phil Winne and John Nesbit have developed an online learning tool called nStudy that does all of these things in a way that helps both learners and researchers.

With nStudy, users can create, manipulate and link learning objects—user-created packages of web data such as bookmarks, notes, forms, chats, tags and documents—that help them achieve their learning goals.

The software includes learning strategies that users can read, apply and link as well as tools for collaborating and sharing learning objects with peers.Winne and Nesbit weren’t satisfied to leave the system there, however. They have also included tools that can log users’ learning patterns, content selection and use of learning strategies. Educational researchers can then access this information to carry out sophisticated scientific investigation into how online learning occurs.

“Using those patterns, we believe we can understand and accelerate how learners evolve from novices to experts,” says Nesbit. “For example, expert writers have cognitive structures they’ve built over years. Using the data that nStudy collects, we hope to identify those structures, and then design software tools students can use to develop this expertise.”

“A huge bottle-neck with research on this scale is collecting and examining data,” adds Winne. “With nStudy, as hundreds or thousands of learners work away on assignments, data is flowing back to our servers. Those data can then be analyzed using tools we’re developing.”

Winne and Nesbit are excited about scaling up nStudy for use in hundreds of classrooms.

Nesbit will use nStudy in his own undergraduate course, and invites other SFU professors to join him and Winne as they dynamically blend teaching with research. For more: winne@sfu.ca, nesbit@sfu.ca.

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