Posts Tagged ‘education’

Selected by UNL for National Science Foundation Grant

April 12, 2013

University of Nebraska LogoWe’re excited to announce that a research group from the University of Nebraska has chosen AthenaBridge as the technology platform for their $490,000 grant from the National Science Foundation!  The title of the project is “Investigating the Role of Distrust in Unauthorized Online Activities Using an Integrated Sociotechnical Approach”.

We’re fascinated by the researchers’ approach which will use our software to investigate how far everyday Internet users will go if they had the capability to sabotage comments of others in an online discussion.  Collaborating with the team from UNL will offer us some key insights about the social dynamics of online discussions which we look forward to integrating right back into the software.

There are also some great opportunities on the technology side– as part of the project we will begin exploring how third-party applications can integrate into the AthenaBridge platform via our API.  As we move down this path, software developers will be able to build new visualizations for AthenaBridge conversations, adding to the existing standard and map views and providing more options for conversation participants.

The Power of Peer Learning in Education

February 15, 2013
The AthenaBridge model for peer-to-peer learning is similar to how Carl Wieman (Nobel Prize in physics) teaches his students:

It is in these peer discussions that most students do the primary processing of the new ideas and problem-solving approaches. The process of critiquing each other’s ideas in order to arrive at a consensus also enormously improves both their ability to carry on scientific discourse and to test their own understanding.

Specifically we make it possible for the professor to create an online conversation where hundreds of students can participate in a meaningful way.  The purpose is not to replace discussion forums, but to augment them for the deeper discussions that they were not built to handle.

Blending In-Person and Online Discussion

February 5, 2013

When we’ve taken AthenaBridge software to a dozen classrooms in DC and Philly, we blended online and in-person discussion in 15-minute increments.

With some classes, all the students were working alone, and in other classes students were collaborating in groups of four.  With groupwork, the exchange of ideas was faster, but some group members were more dominant than others.

For those of you looking to use offline discussions in your classroom, here are some thought-provoking tips by Suzanne Chapin.  These are geared for math discussions; other subjects seem even easier for facilitating discussions because there is more room for individual interpretation, so if these suggestions work for math, they will work for many other subjects too:

“Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others”

February 4, 2013

Nearly all states in the US have adopted the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice in their public schools.  Implementation is happening over the next few years.

Common Core Standard #3– which asks students to be able to “Construct viable Conversation Maparguments and critique the reasoning of others”– is the most relevant one to our work at AthenaBridge.  After all, we make our software for deliberation and critical thinking.

These critical thinking skills are essential for citizens in a modern democracy, and teaching them shouldn’t be limited to mathematics simply because the Common Core Standards place this standard there.  Critical thinking also clearly belongs in the study of history, civics, government, literature, and the list goes on.

But how about blurring the lines between subjects further?  We are facing societal challenges of increasing complexity that require interdisciplinary approaches, so our educational institutions should reflect that.

How about a French teacher collaborating with an economics teacher to create host an online debate or brainstorming session about current events with students from a school in Paris?  Sure, it wouldn’t be as easy as learning to order food in French, but it would allow for much more creative thinking– among other things, students would learn facts about a complex economic situation, how to analyze different plans, how to communicate a solution effectively, how to communicate that solution effectively in a foreign language, and what students from another country think about that same topic.

The challenges we face at a national level do not fit neatly into categories, and the lessons we teach students might be more effective if they cross over into other subjects and class periods.

What are some innovative techniques you’ve seen to blur the line between subjects?  What the best ways to get students engaged in a critiquing the reasoning of others, whether it is inside or outside the math classroom?

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills via Peer-to-Peer Learning

February 4, 2013

Scott K. Johnson recently wrote an article in Scientific American about the need to improve the teaching of critical thinking skills in the classroom.  From his perspective as a college-level instructor in Earth Science, he believes that more interaction between students will help them examine their own assumptions more effectively:

All students have opinions and perspectives that they bring to these issues, and the sharing and sifting of ideas among classmates should elicit the very critical thinking skills that we’re after. Few things encourage intellectual maturation like recognizing and examining the assumptions behind one’s opinions.

We’ve seen this first-hand.  From our experience bring our critical-thinking software to a dozen high school classrooms, we noticed that students were able to quickly share an opinion about a topic, but they had difficulty backing that opinion up with facts or being able to support it as they were questioned by other students.

One possible explanation is that they are able to absorb opinions of others that they hear on TV, at the dinner table, etc much easier than they are able to retain the reasoning behind those opinions.  I think that’s generally true for each of us– that we absorb some opinions through our environment subconsciously.

We’ve seen that the peer-to-peer discussion model is highly effective in helping students question each other’s assumptions because they are coming from different perspectives and they raise questions naturally.  It’s quite exciting to see students learn by coming into contact with new ideas right in front of our eyes.

Our software which facilitates this process of in-class brainstorming and deliberation is free for teachers in grades 5-12; pricing for universities is on our homepage; please contact us at hello@athenabridge.com and we’ll be happy to get you started.

What the students say about AthenaBridge

June 8, 2009

Here is a brief and informal video of what 11th grade students think about using AthenaBridge (formerly DeepDebate) in the classroom.

This pilot project took place at Upper Merion High School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Upper Merion is a fantastic school with very enthusiastic teachers and students who know how to employ technology in the classroom.

If you’d like to bring AthenaBridge to your classroom, please contact us and we will be happy to get you started.


Here’s a related article about feedback from teachers after they’ve used AthenaBridge.

Feedback from Teachers!

June 8, 2009

paIn association with the Pennsylvania Department of Education we opened our software up to feedback from dozens of teachers across the state.  They provided keen insight into how AthenaBridge (formerly DeepDebate) can be used in the classroom in many subject areas in addition to those that we mentioned before.

Here are some of the positive comments:

“This is an effective way to visualize and organize student opinion.

“At first it was a bit confusing to navigate through the options. However, after a few moments I got the hang of it. It was easy to respond to a specific point someone was making… Once I understood how the website worked, I found it easy to engage in discussion on different points of the debate.”

“I liked that you can continue discussions on topics. I also like the idea of being able to rate/evaluate someone’s opinion. I really like the ability for people to log in anonymously to have a say. This allows someone to really express themselves without the fear of judgment.”

“I liked the idea of AthenaBridge. It offers many possibilities for my classroom.”

“I am going to try to use this with my students.”

“Everyday, there would be a new topic for the students to debate to get them ready for the day’s lesson.”

“I could definitely hold back-and-forth debates connecting social issues to literature that we are reading. We could run polls in order to get primary research from students during research projects. Most importantly, though, I would use this program to communicate with students in other classes/ disciplines. I would love to have my English students debate/ converse with social studies students when we read To Kill a Mockingbird. We could even open debates across grade levels and use this for tutoring help and things of that nature. I love this program and would love to start using it ASAP.”

Here are some of the comments suggesting improvement:

“A simple task made too complicated.” (Our thoughts: “Yes, for simple conversations of just a few people it’s best to use standard forum software.  AthenaBridge is most valuable in situations where participants will respond to each other’s ideas and engage in an ongoing conversation.”)

“I liked reading the other responses, but should not have had to double click on them. All responses should be visible. I can limit from there.” (Our thoughts: “We’ve incorporated this feedback into the most recent version of the software.”)

I thought the layout was a little confusing. Also, there were no directions on how to use the interface.”  (Our thoughts: “The new design of the software has been fully field-tested and is fairly intuitive for the average sixth grader.”)

We thoroughly enjoyed this project, because we learned a great deal about how our software can be useful for teachers and students.  We’ll also be able to address many of the excellent suggestions as we build version 2.0 of the software.

We look forward to working with the State of Pennsylvania and the creative ways teachers will use AthenaBridge in the future.  As we hear of other innovative ways to use AthenaBridge in the classroom, we”ll be sure to share them here on this blog.

Contact Us

If you’d like to bring AthenaBridge to your school district or organization, be sure to reach out and let us know!

Exploring a Model for Peer-to-Peer Learning

May 20, 2009

2013 Update: AthenaBridge software is free for classroom use in grades 5-12.  For example, find examples on our homepage or drop us a note at hello@athenabridge.org to get started.


We were invited to speak at Georgetown University’s Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Summer Institute. With about 350 participants, this was the Institute’s largest year ever.

The topic of our session was peer-to-peer learning and how AthenaBridge can significantly increase the bandwidth of communication in a classroom. The following diagram shows the difference between the standard broadcast model of education and peer to peer learning; the two can be used together in a very powerful combination.

Broadcast and Peer to Peer

These peer-to-peer conversations can occur anytime:

  • Before a lecture: identify the best ideas from the students to incorporate in the lecture that follows
  • During a lecture: real-time integration of broadcast and peer-to-peer
  • After a lecture: continuing the conversation until the next lecture

AthenaBridge software has been used in classroom settings ranging from middle and high school to colleges and universities.

There are some things that one simply shouldn’t learn from their friends (like how to become a surgeon), but in others fields (philosophy, history, civics, etc) learning from fellow students is essential. In some fields, learning occurs best by listening and in other fields learning occurs best by expressing ideas and receiving feedback.

With the structure that AthenaBridge provides, students can provide constructive feedback on each other’s ideas and turn disagreement into opportunities for learning.

Integrating VSAS and wikis into a single workflow

May 18, 2009
wikipedia

Wikipedia is the most well-known use of wiki software.

Wikis are tools for creating documents that reflect a consensus position. The defining feature of wiki software is that anyone who has access to a wiki document has the ability to edit it. The most current version is available to everyone at the same time. Wikis have been around for a while, but they have become more popular as businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies embrace collaborative tools.

VSAS (the enterprise version of AthenaBridge) is a tool that works very well with wikis, because it helps the participants identify the common ground and the points of disagreement before they start to write the consensus document using a wiki.

How Wikis and VSAS are Different: Two Scenarios

VSAS helps organize many ideas in the form of a conversation map; related ideas are displayed near each other. VSAS is different from wikis, because none of the ideas that people publish can be edited by anyone else.

To illustrate why this is important, we’ll create an example scenario where three people are editing a wiki. Person #1 writes the first draft. Person #2 edits the first draft. Person #3 comes along and edits what Person #2 wrote. This situation will work fine as long as each person that comes along is making improvements to the document. If Person #2 makes the document worse, then Person #3 will not be able to see Person #1’s original contribution unless they know to look for it.

If we imagine the same three people using VSAS to accomplish the same task, we will notice some distinct advantages. Person #1 writes the first draft just like before. Next, Person #2 comments on the draft. When Person #3 comes along, she will see both the first draft and Person #2’s comments and will be able to comment on both– not just the most recent version of a wiki.

As additional people come along, they will be able to see the first draft and all the comments. If they were using a wiki, they would only see the most recent version of the document, and they would have to sift through all the previous versions of the document to see the comments of other participants.

Integrating Both Tools into One Workflow

After all the thoughts are captured in a conversation map, then it is time to summarize them in a consensus document like a wiki. In fact, it might be very useful to create to consensus documents– one on the pro side and one on the con side. Because VSAS measures the credibility of each participant, it is possible to grant access to the wiki documents to just the most credible particpants on each side.

Using VSAS in addition to wikis has several significant advantages:

  1. Diversity of ideas improves the quality of ideas: With just a wiki, previous versions all idea are not readily available. Wikis have an additional assumption that every edit is an improvement. VSAS does not rely on that assumption and instead records and displays each idea.
  2. Less work for the document’s creator: When participants comment on each other’s ideas, they will synthesize all the comments for you, so that you as the document creator are not left with the monumental task of integrating everyone’s contradicting feedback.
  3. Less work for the colleagues who are providing feedback: If their ideas are already present as someone else’s feedback, then they can indicate their support of those ideas rather than having to create them on their own.
  4. Reduces the risk of groupthink: VSAS can allow anonymous feedback if necessary, to ensure an honest conversation that is not disrupted by office politics.

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