Passonneau named a Teaching and Learning with Technology Fellow

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rebecca Passonneau, professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Penn State, has been named a 2017 Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) Fellow.

TLT is a Penn State organization that works to guide the University in the appropriate use of technology to enrich teaching and learning. Its focus is to help instructors take advantage of information technology in order to enhance the educational experience of their students.

Fellows will work collaboratively with TLT to identify emerging questions in the field of teaching and learning with technology; create and grow communities to explore topics to inform new practice; support directed research and development; and set up opportunities to develop long-term relationships.

Passonneau, a professor in computer science, points to a crisis in reading and writing education that has been documented for several years by the National Assessment of Education Progress — teachers have less time to devote to repetitive and gradually constructive practices. Right now there isn’t much research that involves automated methods to handle natural language processing. She wants to change that.

As a Fellow, Passonneau will work with TLT to develop an application to turn her research into a process that could work on a larger scale and in more contexts.

“A potential means to instill stronger language skills would be to develop more sophisticated digital learning environments that allow students to interact with their curricula more consistently in reading, writing and revision exercises, and that facilitate teachers’ ability to monitor and promote students’ reading and writing skills through timely analysis of their written work,” said Passonneau. “The software for content analysis of summaries that we have developed can identify which ideas students have mastered, versus those they still struggle with, given a small number of models written by proficient individuals.”

Over the summer, Passonneau had her students work on a faster automated method to analyze the content of short summaries that don’t have much structure.

“You can have a question that elicits a short answer and where it’s not relevant why the student is expected to know the answer,” she said. “A summary assumes that the students have been presented with some material and they have to select what’s important in the material to include in a summary.”

From there, she’d like her research group to build to the next level, analyzing essays.

Her goal for this software, which she hopes will be easily accessible to any teacher interested in using it in the classroom, is to not replace the teacher but to give them tools that will help students develop better reading and writing skills.

Additionally, this fall, Passonneau and her graduate students are hosting a workshop at Penn State: Connecting Language Integration and Digital Environment (CLIEDE). The daylong event, supported by funds from the National Science Foundation and TLT, will bring faculty and students from many disciplines together and give them a chance to “speed date” each other in order for find interdisciplinary collaborative research opportunities.

“We’ll have a lightning-round where people are paired up and can talk about their research interests with each other — then they can decide if they want to work together after the event,” Passonneau said. “I have a personal agenda with this workshop — I want to find collaborations and get to know the Penn State community — get to know a larger number of people here and think about new research opportunities.”

According to TLT, the goal for their Fellows is to further work that is mutually important and join the organization to create tangible outcomes that can be shared widely with the teaching and learning community through presentations, publications and new services.

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Last Updated August 21, 2017