Penuel, W.R., Roschelle, J., Crawford, V., Shechtman, N. & Abrahamson, L. (2004). Workshop report: Advancing research on the transformative potential of interactive pedagogies and classroom networks. Menlo Park: SRI International.
Classroom network technology holds significant promise for transforming whole group instruction in science and mathematics, both in K-12 and university instruction. Research on pedagogically appropriate use of classroom networks, often referred to as “classroom communication systems” or “student response systems” describe improvements in students’ content knowledge, motivation, and engagement as well as classroom participation (see Roschelle, Penuel, & Abrahamson, 2004). Newer, advanced applications of this technology provide students with different kinds of encounters with subject matter, allowing students to generate and contribute individual mathematical and scientific representations to a group display; this allows the teacher and students to discuss more complex and conceptually difficult subject matter (Kaput & Hegedus, 2002; Stroup, 2002). We have termed both older and newer pedagogical applications of this technology CATAALYST, “Classroom Aggregation Technology for Activating and Assessing Learning and Your Students’ Thinking” because of the promise shown for improving teaching and learning. We use CATAALYST to refer simultaneously to the technology and the pedagogy it enables, as all prior reports agree that the teacher’s role is significant and the technology should not be considered an isolated factor.
The National Science Foundation has invested over $11 million in applications of CATAALYST for improving STEM education. For the most part, the investment has been in the development of materials and in descriptive research. Descriptive research answers questions about “what is happening?” in classroom when teachers and students use CATAALYST. Our review of this research (Roschelle, Penuel, & Abrahamson, 2004) found that it points to consistent main effects—both student achievement and participation levels improve when teachers implement CATAALYST well. These main effects, however, have yet to be tested with an appropriate experimental research design. Moreover, little systematic implementation research exists that explores how CATAALYST instruction produces results described in the extant studies. New, more systematic research could have important implications because purchase and implementation of CATAALYST technologies are rapidly accelerating at both the university and K-12 levels. Effectiveness and implementation research is now needed.
Researchers and educators who have been studying and using CATAALYST come from many different fields, and do not all share common methods, theories or social networks. They include mathematicians (Kaput & Hegedus, 2002), physicists (Hake, 1998), learning scientists (Bransford, Brophy, & Williams, 2000), and communications researchers (Davis, 2002; Trees & Jackson, 2004). Users of classroom networks, including many university professors, have conducted their own research and developed pedagogies for effective use of the technology (see, for example, Mazur, 1997). Vendors of network technologies have also conducted their own studies (Robinson, 2002). From one vantage point, these different people share many attributes of a community—a common set of tools, strategies for using the tools that bear close resemblance to one another—but have not yet organized to produce the effectiveness or implementation research currently needed.