O'Rourke Develops Cyberlearning Technology

O'Rourke Develops Cyberlearning Technology

Eleanor O'rourke and Haoqi-zhangHaoqui Zhang and Eleanor O’Rourke are developing new cyberlearning technology. Northwestern University professors Eleanor O’Rourke and Haoqi Zhang have received a $750,000 National Science Foundation Cyberlearning grant to help beginning computer science students develop better learning strategies and diversify the field.

Novice programmers often struggle in introductory computer science classes, in part because the content is difficult, says O’Rourke, assistant professor of learning sciences and computer science the School of Education and Social Policy. But many students also need help with metacognition, which includes planning, reflecting on whether they understand the material, and knowing when to seek help.

These obstacles increase the drop-out rate, particularly among women and underrepresented minorities, at a time when the need for computer scientists is higher than ever.

O’Rourke and Zhang, co-directors of the multidisciplinary Delta Lab, will use the National Science Foundation grant to develop a new genre of cyberlearning technologies that gives students new tools and personalized support.

Their new platform and model, called Context-Aware Metacognition Practice or CAMP, will support a learning ecosystem that uses interactive activities across different contexts to help students understand their own thought processes.

Problems don’t just pop up in the classroom, O’Rourke says. Students might need support during office hours, when they’re on their own, working with a friend, or in  a variety of other scenarios. “Increasing a student’s self-awareness can help them recognize when they are having issues, prompting them to use more effective strategies,” she says.

CAMP can also help address the urgent need to expand the computer science workforce and increase the numbers and diversity of developers.

Enrollments in beginning computer science courses are skyrocketing; most undergraduate programs have seen majors more than double since 2009. But classes are often too large for the individual mentoring that’s needed to help struggling students.

Moreover, recent research by O’Rourke and her PhD student Jamie Gorson shows that students’ beliefs about intelligence and the practice of programming can sabotage their efforts. Many students believe, for example, that the ability to quickly solve problems reflects programming intelligence, that experts do not have to spend time planning, and that asking for help is a sign of low ability.

The Context-Aware Metacognition Practice approach will provide supports across the classroom ecosystem to address these challenges. Unlike existing instructor- or software- centered approaches, CAMP uses a variety of automated and student- and instructor-provided data sources to help students reflect on their beliefs and develop effective learning strategies.

The research team is made up of faculty members from the School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern Computer Science and the Segal Design Institute who have experience in cyberlearning, computer science education, self-directed learning, and advancing educational initiatives at scale.

In addition to creating the online platform that allows students and instructors to access information about student metacognition and provide practice activities, the researchers will make the study data available to other education researchers, and open-source the instrumentation software to make it easier for others to adopt and extend the CAMP platform.


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/3/20