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EAGER: Smart and Connected Communities: Reducing Friction in the L3 Connects Infrastructure: Embedding a recommender system into mobile apps to support real-time brokering: 1637350

Principal Investigator: William Penuel
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Tamara Sumner, Nichole Pinkard
Organization: University of Colorado at Boulder

This is an Early-concept Grant for Exploratory Research supporting research in Smart and Connected Communities. The research supported by the award is collaborative with research at DePaul University. The researchers are studying the use of technologies to enable communities to connect youth and youth organizations to effectively support diverse learning pathways for all students. These communities, the youth, the youth organizations, formal and informal education organizations, and civic organizations form a learning ecology. The DePaul University researchers will design and implement a smart community infrastructure in the City of Chicago to track real-time student participation in community STEM activities and to develop mobile applications for both students and adults. The smart community infrastructure will bring together information from a variety of sources that affect students’ participation in community activities. These include geographic information (e.g., where the student lives, where the activities take place, the student transportation options, the school the student attends), student related information (e.g., the education and experience background of the student, the economic status of the student, students’ schedules), and activity information (e.g., location of activity, requirements for participation). The University of Colorado researchers will take the lead on analyzing these data in terms of a community learning ecologies framework and will explore computational approaches (i.e., recommender systems, visualizations of learning opportunities) to improve youth exploration and uptake of interests and programs. These smart technologies are then used to reduce the friction in the learning connection infrastructure (called L3 for informal, formal, and virtual learning) to enable the student to access opportunities for participation in STEM activities that are most feasible and most appropriate for the student. Such a flexible computational approach is needed to support the necessary diversity of potential recommendations: new interests for youth to explore; specific programs based on interests, friends’ activities, or geographic accessibility; or programs needed to “level-up” (develop deeper skills) and complete skills to enhance youths’ learning portfolios. Although this information was always available, it was never integrated so it could be used to serve the community of both learners and the providers and to provide measurable student learning and participation outcomes.

The learning ecologies theoretical framework and supporting computational methods are a contribution to the state of the art in studying afterschool learning opportunities. While the concept of learning ecologies is not new, to date, no one has offered such a systematic and theoretically-grounded portfolio of measures for characterizing the health and resilience of STEM learning ecologies at multiple scales. The theoretical frameworks and concepts draw together multiple research and application domains: computer science, sociology of education, complexity science, and urban planning. The L3 Connects infrastructure itself represents an unprecedented opportunities for conducting “living lab” experiments to improve stakeholder experience of linking providers to a single network and linking youth to more expanded and varied opportunities. The University of Colorado team will employ three methods: mapping, modeling, and linking youth to STEM learning opportunities in school and out of school settings in a large urban city (Chicago). The recommender system will be embedded into youth and parent facing mobile apps, enabling the team to characterize the degree to which content-based, collaborative filtering, or constraint based recommendations influence youth actions. The project will result in two measurable outcomes of importance to key L3 stakeholder groups: a 10% increase in the number of providers (programs that are part of the infrastructure) in target neighborhoods and a 20% increase in the number of youth participating in programs.

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