ECR Projects

Explore past and current fundamental STEM education research projects across the three research areas that NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program funds, as well as across ECR funding types. Other search filters draw from both NSF's data and the ECR Hub's hand coding of award abstracts.

Ninth-grade biology students create cell models using clay.

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Measuring and Modeling Visual Attention in Online Multimedia Instruction

Effective Years: 2021-2024

Online multimedia instruction is expected to grow. Yet, given the tendency for students’ minds to wander and to be distracted especially during online instruction, it is important for researchers and educators to understand how to help students to stay focused on the important information while ignoring the unimportant information. This project addresses two fundamental issues: How does the online Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) instructor or educational materials developer know when learners are effectively paying attention to the learning material? How can they use this information to improve the design of their online learning materials in STEM? Attention and learning outcomes will be collected for several hundred students as they use multiple online modules, over a semester-long of a university introductory physics course. These data will be used to predict students’ attention and how it relates to their learning outcomes. This information will then be used to help improve online multimedia instruction.

This project addresses a gap between the known effects of attention on learning and attempts to translate those theoretical constructs into pedagogical practice in rigorously, reliably, and validly measurable ways. This study is the first to bridge the theory and methods of studying attention in cognitive science with educational practice during a semester-long university online course. It points the way to making rapid, ecologically valid progress in understanding the connections between students' moment-to-moment attentional states and their long-term STEM learning. Such progress could be useful in advancing policy and practice surrounding improving STEM learning. In Phase 1(Basic Research), the Principal Investigators (PIs) propose a longitudinal, naturalistic study of attention and learning from online instruction. The PIs will study several hundred students' attention to online learning materials, and their learning, over a semester-long of a large university introductory physics course. In Phase 2 (Applied Research), using the above information, the PIs will identify generalizable targets of change in students' attentional states by alerting students at critical moments of attentional lapses, or cueing their attention to relevant information. For instructors and instructional designers, the project will provide meaningful, high impact data on students' varying attentional states over time, and will pinpoint attentional deficiencies. The proposed research will develop an Attentional Toolkit that takes a two-pronged approach to leveraging students' attentional states and improving their educational outcomes. The first prong ("demand side") addresses the learner by measuring their level of attentiveness and alerting/cueing their attention. The second prong ("supply side") addresses the instructor or online materials developer. To improve the broader impact of their research, the PIs will seek out a diverse pool of participants and take all measures necessary to improve fairness and reduce bias. Further, because the proposed methods are likely generalizable across numerous educational domains, the Attentional Toolkit could be broadly used across educational disciplines. In addition to publications and presentations, the Attentional Toolkit will be made available to faculty. The PIs will also provide workshops to faculty who are teaching multimedia online courses on how to use the Attentional Toolkit. This project is funded by the EHR Core Research (ECR) program, which supports work that advances fundamental research on STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.