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New Technology Advances Research and Teaching
New Technology Advances Research and Teaching

In the areas of mathematics, science, special education, and teacher education, investigators at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) are using new digital media, hypertext, and computer networks to analyze and disseminate research data and to develop training tools. For example, CD-ROMs disseminate data sets and curriculum resource materials. Online, interactive Web environments are used to share data among institutions.

Here is a brief look at how digital resources shape our research.

Improving student mathematics skills

UW-Madison education professor Brian Bottge and colleagues have worked with multimedia artist Enrique Rueda to develop a new CD-ROM–based multimedia tool that presents a problem in applied mathematics. Paired with applied tasks in classrooms, the video and animation tools on the CD-ROM aim to stimulate mathematics problem-solving skills of students with and without disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Called Fraction of the Cost, the video was developed in WCER’s multimedia studio.

The 7-minute lesson provides contextualized mathematics instruction. In the story, three middle school students plan to build a large skateboard ramp. The problem posed in the video asks how the students can build the ramp with the money and building materials available to them. To solve the problem, students have to use their math skills to convert feet to inches, calculate percentages, read schematic plans, and compute mixed fractions. The CD contains several instructional models intended to help students strengthen and extend their computational and problem-solving skills.

After students solve the Fraction of the Cost problem in the math classroom, they apply what they have learned in building projects in the technology education classroom. For example, students at one school figured out the most economical ways to build three benches, which are now used at a new high school. At another school, students used plastic pipes to design and build “rollover cages” for model hovercrafts (see illustration). This project was especially motivating for the students because they raced the hovercrafts after they attached the cages to their base.

Bottge’s research tests a theoretical model of learning mathematics for adolescents with learning disabilities in inclusive classrooms. The project intends to demonstrate how the theory can guide instruction to uncover mathematics skills that middle school students with disabilities already have, and to enhance those skills through contextualized problems. Another goal of the research is to document changes in how teachers and students perceive and act on their beliefs in these contexts.

This project is funded by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education. For more information, visit the project Web site at

Disseminating science assessment materials

WCER researchers John Smithson and Andrew Porter have produced a CD-ROM of science assessment materials developed over the past 8 years under the auspices of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Their work is part of the CCSSO State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS) Science Education Assessment Project. The CD, which runs on both Macintosh and Windows platforms, contains a large pool of science assessment exercises, a portfolio implementation guide, surveys of the enacted curriculum, and reference materials. The user can point and click on a main menu to open the desired folders and documents (see illustration). Hypertext links point to additional Web sites and sources of information on science education and assessment.

The science assessment pool includes all the assessment exercises developed by the SCASS science project, organized by elementary, middle, and high school levels. The more than 1,000 individual assessment items are organized into three groups:

  • Events: hands-on group activities that take one class period to complete;
  • Modules: multiple-choice, short-answer, and extended responses; and
  • Tasks: individual projects expected to take more than a week to complete.

Other materials include scoring rubrics, teacher instructions, field test data, and “anchor papers” showing exemplars of student work.

The science portfolio materials include teacher and student guides for elementary, middle, and high school grade levels, and an implementation guide and appendices for trainers. The portfolio allows teachers to devise and refine instruction based on student development and individual need.

The surveys of the enacted curriculum are survey-based indicators of classroom practice that schools, districts, and states can use to gather information about instructional content and practice. The surveys provide educators and policy makers with data for analyzing student performance on assessments, measuring classroom curriculum changes in relation to state or local content standards, and evaluating the specific programs’ effectiveness.

Finally, the CD offers a collection of reference materials, including a glossary of terms found in the SCASS science resource materials, information on the history of the SCASS science project, reference tables and release dates for the assessment pool, and links to related Web  sites. The CD includes full search and retrieval capacity for all science assessment items, student work, and professional development materials

Smithson says the goal is to increase the use of high-quality, multimethod assessments in science education. This project is funded by CCSSO and participating states. For more information, contact Smithson at

Analyzing digital video data

The success of the video classroom study of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is one example of the increasing importance of video as a form of data. Researchers now need robust video analysis tools and well-tested collection management procedures to support this work.

WCER researcher Christopher Thorn and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the San Diego Supercomputer Center are integrating their data management systems through a project called Digital Insight. Digital Insight is a prototype for acquiring, managing, analyzing, and disseminating digital video data in education research.

This project, funded by the National Science Foundation, addresses challenges in video management technology, research methodology, human subject protection, data management, mixed-methods analysis, and the use of archived multimedia data for secondary analysis and teaching.

Thorn says, “We’re developing tools for education researchers for extracting event-based data from video and correlating these data with other kinds of data, such as field notes, images of student work, lesson plans, and assessment data.” Researchers will be able to build histories of student learning and development. They will be able to separate video-based research into its constituent parts of acquisition, management, analysis, and dissemination. Then they can describe and encourage a set of best practices at each stage of the process. Applying these technologies will enable researchers to study many more cases in the same time it took to analyze a handful of cases with analog video. Digital Insight will

  • allow users to engage in more sophisticated analysis;
  • share the results of analysis with a wider audience;
  • help partners make new arguments and bring more forms of data to bear on a problem; and
  • make it easier for collaborators at other locations to participate.

Digital Insight’s effect should be felt across a wide range of funded research, as well as in the classrooms and professional development activities of its partners. For more information, see

Improving assessment literacy and accommodations

Assessment and educational accountability are critical for students with disabilities. Federal legislation requires states to include students with disabilities in educational accountability assessments. Many states demand that students with disabilities meet state standards for promotion and graduation. Unfortunately, educators are generally not well prepared to include students with disabilities in educational accountability assessments. Special educators, in particular, lack the specialized knowledge of assessment they need to meet inclusion and disability demands.

WCER researchers Jeff Braden and Stephen Elliott are evaluating a hypermedia distance education initiative designed to enhance educators’ decisions regarding the participation of children with disabilities in assessments and to help educators apply their enhanced decision making to children’s individualized education plans (IEPs). Developed in partnership with the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the initiative promotes situated, social, and distributed knowledge via Web-based hypermedia modules, virtual and physical discourse communities, case-based learning, and traditional media. This online professional development project provides links to current research, policy and practice, and other sources to enhance general and specialized assessment literacy. The project is funded by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education.

Learning content is grouped into three modules:

  1. principles, polices, and practices of educational assessment,
  2. large scale assessment, and
  3. accommodations and alternate assessment.

The initiative will proceed in three phases: validation of module content and process, pilot dissemination to three intact educational communities, and national dissemination to more than 500 educators, parents, and administrators across the U.S.

Elliott and Braden will evaluate the project’s impact via pre- and post-evaluation of participants’ knowledge, analysis of concurrent- and post-participation surveys, and evaluation of permanent products demonstrating knowledge application (e.g., IEPs).

For more information, contact