Practice-based Experiential Learning Analytics Research And Support (PELARS) is a a project about learning and making. We are studying how people learn about science, technology and mathematics when they use their hands as well as their heads. A big part of the project is making more explicit the implicit practices of science teachers: “Lab demos” and hands on experiments have been a big part of science teaching for as long as anyone can remember, but how to model and analyse these practice, while empowering teachers, is far less understood. So, the PELARS project will find ways of generating “analytics” (data about the learning process and analysis of this data), which helps learners and teachers by providing feedback from hands-on, project-based and experiential learning situations.

There are many tried and true practices in the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) that involve experiential, practice and hands-on learning. Science and engineering teachers understand the importance and value of the ‘demonstration’ and the ‘laboratory,’ although many of these practices are historical or traditionally routed, and unstudied. Coming less from a tradition of constructivist education and embodied learning, these laboratory and experimental, project-based learning techniques come ‘from the lab’, and have an immeasurable, if known, value to the nurturing and training of creative STEM thinkers and doers. Further, particular trends in Do-It-Yourself learning of STEM subject matter (through systems and platforms, communities and resources online and off) prove inspiration for understanding and designing systems for learning support in more convention contexts of European education (high-school and undergraduate engineering education, as well as design and human-computer-interaction contexts). 

Domains where the PELARS project will create impact

The PELARS project goes through three phases. First, we look at the practices of teachers and teaching institutions. How do the best STEM teachers do what they do? What is are the specific values embedded in, and value of, the ‘demonstration’, the ‘practical’, the ‘laboratory’ both in terms of institutional emphasis (how teachers are supported) as well as individual learning processes? Secondly, the PELARS convenes over a period of iterative design phases, explicitly derived from the constraints and inspiring practices of real teachers, where propositional design prototypes and experiments are tested and assayed with teaching and learning communities. This phase includes designers and design researchers who create laptop-electronics and interactive kits for learning, as well as mobile learning and physical environment (furniture and interior design) designers, pedagogy experts and curriculum development partners. Finally the results of iterative design through the second phase will bring us to a trial of PELARS systems in real classrooms, workshop environments and educational milieu. Results, throughout the project, will be designed to inform the teaching and learning communities that have inspired and hopefully will benefit from…

Key questions for the PELARS project include: In what ways does teaching through practice enable the best kinds and forms of STEM educational prospects? Can contextual computing, tracking and tracing technologies help empower teachers towards more hands-on STEM practices inside the classroom? Can these same technologies show potential for bridging out-of-the-classroom learning with what goes on in taught environments? What new data analytics can be derived from the hands-on learning of STEM subjects? How could such data inform constructivist and practice-based learning models? What designs and physical interventions in the classroom can provide learning feedback to STEM learning in realtime, as well as after-the-fact for teachers, administrators and policy orientations? How might we provide STEM learning environments that are exciting and engaging as well as personalised and supportive?

Interested in learning more about the project? Check out the website, following the project on Twitter & Facebook or email to see how your Living Lab can get involved.