Doctoral student Sagun Giri earns top award from state organization

Jim Carlson
March 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A doctoral candidate in the College of Education’s Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) program and founding president of Penn State’s student chapter of the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications (PAECT) has been named that state organization’s student of the year.

Sagun Giri, originally from Nepal, received the Paul W. Welliver Outstanding Student Award. The award, named for former Penn State professor Paul W. Welliver, recognizes the top student in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with the greatest impact on the field of educational technology.

Giri is in his fifth year of the LDT program. His ongoing dissertation research is focused on design and implementation of productive failure learning design in open-ended problem settings in K-12 educational spaces to evaluate the efficacy of such design on students learning, conceptual understanding, collaboration and problem solving.

“Sagun Giri has committed himself to furthering the field of educational technology through his research, teaching, volunteerism and professional practice,” said Josh Kirby, assistant professor of education (LDT) and program coordinator of the LDT online programs. “Under Sagun’s leadership and motivation, the PAECT student chapter has engaged with at least five PAECT regional events to provide teacher-focused technology workshops and logistical support. 

“Sagun is consistently asking how we can create additional opportunities for pre-service educators to learn more about integrating educational technology into their practice, and considering the field as their future master’s degree," added Kirby.

Kirby said the PAECT and the LDT program (including the former program name of Instructional Systems) have had a long history of collaboration. Welliver was one of the founding members of the PAECT and Giri joins Nathaniel "Nate" Turcotte, in his final year as a doctoral candidate in the LDT program, as the second Penn State student in three years to earn the award.

“My scholarship is diverse in the sense that I have worked and published in the field of behavioral science and learning sciences,” Giri said. “In behavioral sciences, my research focused on theoretical shifts in behavioral development, especially with rigid-stage domains and developmental stages as well as measurement of 'smarts' or performance.”

Giri’s research also includes development of psychometric instruments and he has helped develop an autism instrument using the Model of Hierarchical Complexity to aid early diagnosis. 

“I helped develop a gamified phonics-based reading program and studied the effect of such a program on student reading scores,” he said. “In addition, I developed an instrument to determine the level of 'smarts' among a non-literate population (people without formal schooling) based on their tool usage and tool creation to aid farming, hunting and food preparation.”

He said his ongoing dissertation research is focused on design and implementation of productive failure learning design in open-ended problem settings in K-12 educational spaces to evaluate the efficacy of such design on students learning, conceptual understanding, collaboration and problem solving. 

“The project involves designing learner-driven, collaborative problem-solving conditions where students initially attempt to generate multiple solutions to debugging problems without scaffolding, direct instruction followed by discussions on student-generated solutions and addressing knowledge gaps,” Giri said. 

“The research is based on prior research on the theory of constructive failure and impasse driven learning and on the premise that failure in certain conditions can be constructive and integral to learning, problem solving, task performance and deeper conceptual understanding," added Giri.

His current collaborative research work involves designing, implementing and teaching maker activities in K-12 formal and informal STEM settings. “These maker activities involve making wearables with electronic textiles, and designing and creating games by integrating various digital and fabrication toolkits such as Lilypad Arduino, Makey Makey, Scratch, Modkit, etc.,” Giri said.

Giri, whose adviser is Gabriela Richard, assistant professor, learning and performance systems, in the Department of Learning, Design, and Technology, said one of the driving goals of Penn State’s PAECT is to bridge the gap between research and practice.

“In our observation, we have found limitations in knowledge and ideas exchange, communication, collaboration and partnership between university level researchers and classroom practitioners/teachers,” he said. 

“We also found that researchers at times may not understand or may not be mindful of the practical realities and constraints such as budget, professional development sessions, red-tape, class size, socio-economic conditions of students that practitioners face around technology integration and research-based practice. My goal as the student director was to try and bridge this gap.”

Giri established communication, collaboration and partnership between Penn State PAECT and State College Area School District teachers. “The teachers that PSU PAECT worked with wanted help with integrating maker toolkits such as Scratch, Makey Makey and ozobots in classroom for science, math, art and history classes,” he said. 

As part of this partnership, Giri worked on “Engineering a Better World" — a one-day event hosted by a State College school teacher. In this event, Giri challenged students to design and create a game that either proposed a solution for or raised awareness of environmental issues about which they were passionate. Students came up with recycling games, games with robots that could clean up garbage from the ocean, and games using drones to plant trees at a faster rate and in inaccessible places.

“We have established a good relationship with teachers whereby they think of us and invite us to lend a helping hand, exchange knowledge on curriculum, lessons, new classroom initiatives, or just to bounce of ideas or share cool edtech toys,” Giri said. “This collaborative and supportive partnership is, I think, the biggest reward and something that I helped build.”

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Last Updated March 26, 2020