Lev Horodyskyj Home   Portfolio   Teaching   Outreach   Research   Publications  
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Research Interests
My research interests fall under the category of "Education for the Anthropocene". As we enter a new geologic era where we make an outsized impact on the planet but without a clear idea of the consequences of our actions, it has become increasingly important to educate and train global stewards. We need citizens who have a global perspective and can think and reason scientifically to solve increasingly complex problems. My research focuses on improving science education at the young adult and adult level, specifically focusing on interdisciplinary science (astrobiology, geoscience, and sustainability).
  • Undergraduate education - improving student understanding of the scientific process (observation-assumption models)
  • Graduate education - improving student research integration with local and global communities
  • Public outreach - building public understanding of the scientific process and funding mechanisms

The primary tool I use to develop and research digital science pedagogies is Smart Sparrow's adaptive e-learning platform (AeLP). This simple powerpoint-esque authoring environment allows me to lay out content (images, text, questions, simulators) much like I would a PowerPoint presentation. I then add adaptive feedback and create adaptive pathways that create different experiences based on what a student has done on the screen. The AeLP allows me to export this data (including answers, activity sequence, timestamps, and number of attempts), which I then analyze for patterns. My work involves developing and deploying educational research instruments (often surveys) and analyzing behavioral data collected by the AeLP. I collaborate with a number of researchers to develop methods for parsing our enormous dataset for useful knowledge. These have included traditional statistical analyses and are now incorporating machine learning algorithms.
There are a variety of projects I am currently pursuing related to digital pedagogy and its integration with interdisciplinary science.

Observation-Assumption Models
For many students, science is not an approachable topic because of previous educational experiences or cultural background. For example, many of my struggling students report terrible high school science experiences that have left them confused about even basic concepts like atoms and photons. Instructors who work with native cultures report a resistance to science due to negative experiences with colonization. I often find that although scientific thinking is natural, most instructors and students approach it as something foreign and difficult to understand and implement. My observation-assumption model (detailed under Teaching) may be an approach that makes science more accessible to everyone. I am designing several experiences using this approach to compare results from more traditional approaches to the same topic.

After completing the philosophy of science activity designed to teach this conceptualization of science, students are able to better differentiate hypotheses from theories and apply these labels correctly to scientific concepts they may encounter in the news (environmental incidents, habitable world discoveries, medical breakthroughs, and paleontological discoveries). More crucially, these outcomes are better than what we see in Habitable Worlds and BioBeyond (digital courses that ETX has developed), which simply explain to students the difference between the two concepts. The next step is to recast more activities into this format (identifying interesting observations about the world and universe, then asking students to list their assumptions for why these observations exist).

Curricular Interventions
Data from Habitable Worlds allows me to isolate and identify behaviors associated with success and failures. More intriguingly, these behaviors manifest and are identifiable as early as the first week of the course, which gives plenty of warning to instructors to allow for effective interventions. I've been experimenting with a variety of interventions to improve outcomes for students who fail, from passive e-mail prompts to more one-on-one interventions to bonus incentivization structures for good study habits.

An attempt at automated interventions (based on completion rates and scores) was unsuccessful, mostly because the notifications became repetitive and had a high rate of false positives (procrastinating students aren't necessarily just the ones who are slated to fail the course). More successful interventions resulted from personalized e-mails to struggling students with follow-up, paired with bonus points for completing activities 24 hours earlier than the official deadline. Because of ASU's high acceptance rate, we have a large population of students who do not have good study habits and never learned them. This incentive structure allows us to teach both content and good study strategies. The next step is to build a system that automatically generates these warnings and makes it easy for an instructor to reach out to the struggling students.

Public Policy and Geoscience
More science knowledge does not necessarily result in better policy-making, especially when politically motivated reasoning comes into play. Many scientists have responded to poor public policy related to science issues with more outreach, but often framed around the approach of better informing the public of the "facts". I think we can be more effective in our science outreach and improve its impact on public discourse by integrating it into non-science human endeavors as scene-setting background. As an example, I have worked to integrate a geology- and climate-accurate digital world map into a political ideology and diplomacy course. Rather than making the consensus science front-and-center in the energy policy and climate change diplomacy scenario, the science is treated as a background element and simplified so that the students interact with it as a problem-solving tool, rather than as an end onto itself.

The scenario gives a very cursory overview of the major impacts of climate change (sea level rise, karstification of terrain, salinization of groundwater supplies, shifting weather patterns), but realizes it in pretty stark terms as students explore what their countries will look like under low-, moderate-, and high-warming scenarios. Yet despite the lack of scientific details, students are better able to explain the impacts of climate change on their society on their families after completing the activity. In addition, students made more data-driven decisions when negotiating, resulting in more specific treaties and action items as opposed to previous semesters when the effects of climate change were more nebulous. The next step is to build a digital world that automatically responds to student choices and country policies (currently, the instructors manually program the impacts based on climate models) and expand the "science as background" approach to a variety of environmental challenges that can be explored in this form (plastic waste, deforestation, marine resources, national park policy).

Place-Based Science Storytelling
For many people, place plays a key role in understanding concepts. Yet too often in science, concepts are stripped away from their places and taught as isolated modules of knowledge. I am exploring how to build climate change concepts into virtual field trip settings to understand whether or not they are more effective for teaching science, and if places speak across cultures. The project is currently in development.