Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Meet the Engineers of Tomorrow: Vineet Pandey and Yasmine Kotturi

We’re gearing up for Research Expo 2015 on Thursday, April 16 here at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. As part of that, we’re introducing you to a few of the graduate students you’ll meet there beforehand.

In this second post of our “Meet the Engineers of Tomorrow” series (see Meet the Engineers of Tomorrow : Oscar Beijbom), we’ll hear from computer science PhD student Vineet Pandey and research assistant Yasmine Kotturi from the Design Lab at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

The two are collaborating with Stanford University PhD student Chinmay Kulkarni on a project for UC San Diego professor of cognitive science and computer science and engineering Scott Klemmer and Stanford University professor of computer science Michael Bernstein.

I asked Pandey and Kotturi to tell me a bit about themselves and their research interests.

My first year here at UC San Diego I studied systems and architecture, but I soon became very interested in the role technology can play in simplifying our lives on a large scale,” said Pandey. “For example, education has typically been an elitist commodity so to speak, since only a few people have access to it. With online education, we can provide people access to educational resources that they normally wouldn’t have. My research focuses on understanding how much we can achieve with online education and how we can work around its limitations.”

I wanted to know if he had attended Research Expo in 2014, and what he was most excited for this year.

“This is my first time at Research Expo,” said Pandey. “I’m looking forward to meeting others that are using technology to solve societal problems. Secondly, since I’m in my second year and still finding a direction, I am interested in learning about problems and techniques pursued by researchers in other areas. Finally, I am interested in getting feedback on my poster.”

“I received my bachelors in cognitive science from UC San Diego and began working with Scott Klemmer as a research assistant about a year ago,” said Kotturi in turn. “I’ve been really interested in online learning and getting a sense of the benefits it can provide to people around the world who have access to the Internet. That in turn has led me to want to have more technical skills to contribute to the field. In the Fall, I will be starting my master’s degree in computer science at UC San Diego.”

I was impressed. Both Pandey and Kotturi were just starting out. What have you accomplished so far, I asked.

“Prior to my arrival Chinmay Kulkarni had built a platform called talkabout, where students can video-chat with classmates about course material,” said Pandey. “We saw a lot of great things come out of it; students had more empathy for one another and test scores went up. With Chinmay and professor Bernstein (also at Stanford), we figured it would be interesting to know which objectives could be met using video-based discussion groups.”

“Talkabout aims to create social learning and peer collaboration within a massive online class,” Kotturi explained. “I’ve been focused on the implementation, development and design of this system and trying to understand the role it plays in the online learning ecosystem.”

When asked to describe the research they are presenting at Research Expo, Kotturi described something called the “Think-Pair-Share” format. It’s a commonly used format in classroom education to encourage peer collaboration. During the think stage, students are given time to think about a solution to a problem individually, and then they work in pairs to solve the problem before sharing it with the rest of the class.

“We piloted the video-based Think-Pair-Share format in a philanthropy Massive Open Online Class (MOOC),” said Kotturi. “It didn’t work so well.”

Why not?, I asked.

We expected the students to take an interest in the discussion questions that we created for them, which were problem-solving questions,” said Pandey. “As it turned out, they were much more interested in sharing experiences.”

“Right,” said Kotturi. “We needed to hear why the students didn’t like this more structured format and adapt the video-based discussions accordingly. The second time we tried it, we centered the discussion questions around the final project that each student had to turn in at the end of the study.”

“We learned that the students placed a high level of importance on getting feedback on ideas from one another,” said Pandey. “At the end of the course, I received requests from a few of the participants asking to be put in touch with the others so that they could continue the discussions on their own.”

The student researchers also noticed that when one student wasn’t speaking up on her own during the “Share” stage, her peer from the “Pair” stage encouraged her. The team feels as though the video-based discussion groups help to create an equal distribution of idea-sharing.

“My hope is that online educators will take note that video-based discussion groups are a useful medium to meet learning objectives which are difficult to achieve with current video-delivery and forums,” said Pandey.

Kotturi agreed. “Online education has the power to bring peers with numerous worldviews together,” she said. “Adding video-based discussion platforms that facilitate peer learning to these curriculums can achieve objectives like transfer of concepts, better collaboration and faster cognition while preserving the benefits of a global conversation, such as empathy and perspective-sharing.’”
You can see more of Scott Klemmer’s projects here.

Vineet Pandey will present a poster at Research Expo 2015 titled, “Connecting stories and learning objectives increases participant motivation in online discussions”.

Want to see more? Visit http://www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/re/ to see the posters and program and to register.

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