School of Information Studies (iSchool) Associate Professor Jeffrey Saltz has received a research grant from education technology company 2U to study student learning and outcomes in online education environments.

In 2016, 2U and the iSchool entered a partnership to deliver the iSchool’s master of science programs online via 2U’s learning platforms. This is the company’s first year awarding research grants to their partner institutions, and Saltz’s award is one of 9 grants that 2U has made available, totaling nearly $200,000.

The grant will cover Saltz’s research into how students behave and learn in the breakout sessions held during synchronous online course meetings.

Online courses at the iSchool typically start with all students in one virtual online room interacting with the faculty member in real time. Faculty can, when desired, divide the students out into smaller online groups, to work in breakout rooms where they can focus on a particular task or assignment. It is these smaller breakout rooms and the structure of learning within these rooms that Saltz hopes to refine and improve.

“I’m approaching this from the idea of pair programming,” explained Saltz. “Pair programming is a software development methodology where two programmers work together at one computer, with one writing code while the other watches, comments, and reviews as the code is written.”

“I’m not necessarily looking to study programming, as that’s only part of what I’m teaching, but more to focus on the way that two people interact and switch tasks between each other in an online learning video-based collaboration environment,” Saltz said. “There’s not a lot of research out there right now on how students behave in these smaller-group online environments.”

As part of his research, for the first several weeks of his online course, Saltz will have his students work on various data science challenges outside of the pair programming structure. He’ll then introduce them to the concept of pair programming and how it can be used to facilitate small groups working on their breakout assignments.

“There’s a win-win in this for my students, 2U and myself” said Saltz. “With this research, I hope I can provide a process or methodology that other faculty within 2U’s ecosystem, both here at Syracuse and at other partner schools can use in their teaching – while also improving my own online classroom practices in a way that enhances student learning.”

This grant supports Saltz’s core research interests, which includes understanding how data science teams collaborate and work together.

“I’m interested to see how this plays out,” Saltz said of his research plans. “I’m also working on some different experiments for my face-to-face classes as well, and I’m curious to see where the differences might be.”