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Grant Proposal from Kristen Betts

If I were to tell you that Dr. Kristen Betts is a Clinical Professor in the School of Education, I would only scratch the surface of what her role actually is at Drexel University. The courses that she currently teaches in the EdD in Educational Leadership & Management program and the MS in Higher Education program are just the tip of the iceberg. You can tell by speaking to her that she is passionate about teaching and the study of how people learn. She is currently involved in many different projects on campus involving faculty, staff, and students. One such project is a research proposal that focuses on advancing the understanding of how students learn when courses are augmented with 2-D, 3-D, and Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) through various measurements and assessments called “A Six-College Approach to Transcending Disciplines for Learning and Transfer through Immersive Virtual Reality.” 

Dr. Betts has had two stints at Drexel, starting in 2005 with the development and implementation of the MS in Higher Education Program. She left in 2011, but returned to 2014 because in her own words “Once a Dragon, always a Dragon.” When asked what she is most proud of in terms of her work at Drexel, she shared her work with co-op. “I am most proud of being an integral part of the development of the online graduate co-op for the School of Education at Drexel University. When we developed the MS in Higher Education program in 2005, there were no co-ops for online graduate students in the United States. I feel very fortunate to have worked closely with the Steinbright Career Development Center on the development and implementation of the online graduate co-op.” In 2008, Dr. Betts co-presented with three MS in Higher Education graduates at the WACE Conference in Singapore on "The Next Generation of Co-op: Development, Facilitation and Implementation of Graduate Co-op ONLINE!” “Being a part of innovative and collaborative initiatives like this is what makes Drexel University such an exciting place to work.” The amazing thing about her engagement is that she is actually based in Connecticut. Dr. Betts uses Zoom to stay connected online and she also comes to campus throughout the month to attend some meetings and to meet with colleagues and students involved in different research projects.

In August 2016, there was NSF solicitation that caught Dr. Betts’ attention. The focus was on cyberlearning and future learning technologies. “I reached out to colleagues I had worked with on previous projects from across different colleges/schools at Drexel University and we set up a series of meetings to discuss how we could approach an interdisciplinary study. We decided to develop a collaborative proposal focusing our research on understanding how students learn when courses are augmented with 2-D, 3-D, and IVR.” She had quite a response to her outreach. The research team includes 12 faculty members across six colleges/schools and a PhD student, so the approach will capitalize on all the areas of expertise in terms of the research design: pedagogy, assessment, creativity, learning transfer, learning environments, experiential learning, chronotype, stress/anxiety, and neuroimaging assessment. The research project will initially focus on understanding how students learn in a College of Engineering course that is augmented with 2-D, 3-D, and IVR. Various measurements and assessments will be employed to try and understand how these different approaches impact student learning. However, the goal is to replicate and expand the research to other disciplines, learning environments (onsite, blended, and online), and populations (traditional, nontraditional students).

To better understand the types of 2-D and 3-D platforms available through different vendors and at Drexel University, the group arranged several on campus demonstrations. One of the vendors that hosted a demonstration was zSpace. zSpace technology combines elements of VR and AR to create “lifelike experiences” that are immersive and interactive. Betts shares, “The team is fortunate to have Nick Jushchyshyn, who works with Drexel University’s College of Media Arts & Design since he specifically works with Drexel Immersive Virtual Reality. His expertise with the technology will be invaluable going forward.” zSpace, like other 2-D and 3-D systems, provides highly interactive learning content but it is “location-bound” – the system is only accessible by students when they are on campus in class or in a lab. This makes access to the technology a challenge for students who may not live on campus, or for those students enrolled in blended and online programs who are on campus infrequently or not at all. Betts explained “We would like to develop highly interactive learning content, learning experiences, and innovative assessments using Drexel’s Immersive Virtual Reality to augment courses so students, regardless of location, have the opportunity to expand their engagement with course content as active participants in the Drexel learning community. When you bring together the VR expertise at Drexel with the neuro and cognitive expertise of Dr. Trish Shewokis, Dr. Meltem Izzetoglu, and Dr. Don McEachron, it makes this a very exciting and unique research project.”

This interdisciplinary project, is focused on the following outcomes: 1) Advance the understanding of how students learn when courses are augmented with 2-D, 3-D, and IVR through various measurements and assessments; 2) Develop innovative and interactive 2-D,3-D, and IVR applications that can be integrated into curricula to enhance, assess, and compare learning and transfer across different disciplines (e.g., different programs across Drexel Colleges/Schools), learning environments,and populations, and 3) Develop pedagogy using 2-D, 3-D, and IVR applications to foster active learning and transfer, 21st Century Skills acquisition (critical thinking, problem solving, creativity), decrease anxiety, and increase student performance, persistence, and retention. “For me, one of the benefits of our research is the interdisciplinary approach to exploring and developing unique opportunities to engage our students with real-world, highly interactive learning content and learning experiences within and outside of our classrooms,” stated Betts

Added to those very specific outcomes would be some very interesting things can also be studied. “The study aims to examine creativity and identify any differences that may exist in levels of anxiety (before, during, and after) task performance by gender, age, learning style, self-perception, chronotype, and scheduling. It also seeks to examine self-perception and learning difference across disciplines, populations, and learning environments. The research has the potential to change how faculty and instructional designers approach course design, teaching, learning, and assessment across multiple learning environments resulting in significant new innovations. In the future we could examine learning transfer as it relates to co-op and career development. It is such a dynamic opportunity when you can bring together the neuro-, cognitive, and learning sciences. Working with my own colleagues in the School of Education in their areas of expertise in the learning sciences is also exciting including Dr. Rajashi Ghosh, Dr. Jen Katz-Buonincontro, Dr. Connie Lyttle, Dr. Penny Hammrich, and Dr. Bill Lynch as well as one of our PhD students, Tamara Galoyan,” share Betts.

The team has submitted an application for an internal Drexel grant to fund a pilot study. The collected pilot data can be used to apply for future grants through NSF or other funding agencies. The team also plans to seek additional funding opportunities. “While we are initially working with Dr. Kevin Scoles and an engineering course, we plan to expand our focus to math and working with Dr. Dimitri Papadopoulos.”

This project is collaborative in nature which is a primary interest for Dr. Betts. Some of the other projects that she is currently working on include a study on “neuromyths” within higher education, development of an E-poster track for an upcoming conference where students will be able to present research posters online, and also the launching of a new postbaccalaureate certificate in Neuroscience, Learning & Online Instruction, which involves the College of Nursing & Health Professions, School of Education, and College of Engineering.

In the end, Dr. Kristen Betts is not only a Drexel team player, but she is a spearhead for the advancement of the study of how people learn through collaborations. When asked what her dream project would be, she responded with the creation of a center on campus that could study many of the aspects of how people learn. “It would be wonderful to be part of an interdisciplinary center for pedagogical innovation and research that brings together the neuro, cognitive, and learning sciences from across all of the colleges/schools to conduct research on “how students learn” and develop best practices for teaching, learning, assessment, and engagement across learning environments including on-campus, blended, and online. The ubiquity of technology and advancements in neuroscience are transforming how we learn and what we know about learning. It would be exciting to work with researchers and faculty on projects that examine cognitive and non-cognitive factors, including innovative types of assessments and biometrics, that affect learning, mastery, and application across contexts as well as affect persistence, retention, and completion. Though this type of collaboration, we could find new and innovative ways to optimize learning environments and learning experiences for our students and faculty.” Let’s hope that someday that this dream can come true for the benefit of Drexel education as a whole.