Nichole Pinkard and Denise Nacu are co-PIs (principal investigators) for a project entitled “Developing Frameworks, Tools, and Social Practices to Support Effective Instructor Use of Online Social Learning Networks in Blended Learning Models.” The project, awarded from National Science Foundation, is for $1,349,230 over a three-year period.

Dr. Pinkard and Dr. Nacu have this to share about their work:


Our team of researchers and designers received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study cyberlearning, or how online technologies are shaping the way we learn in and outside of schools.  We are especially interested in understanding contexts that use a blended approach to organize learning.  In the blended approach, traditional face-to-face instructional practices are augmented to incorporate the capabilities of online technologies. To support our research, we plan to focus our investigations on contexts--such as schools, libraries, and afterschool programs--using the iRemix Platform (

Our project is not an evaluation study of teaching or of iRemix platform; instead it is a chance for us to learn about the participation patterns and experiences of actual users in various contexts. What we learn will allow us to identify and develop instructional strategies, user interfaces, and data visualizations that support effective blended environments.

Our specific research questions include: (1) What types and patterns of online interactions create opportunities for and evidence of learning? (2) How can we design online social learning networks that support interactions that lead to learning outcomes? (3) What kinds of analysis and representations of online data can best be used by both practitioners (including educators and students) and researchers to inform understanding of interactions within online social learning networks? (4) How can we support educators in effectively using online systems to develop students’ digital literacies?

Our overall research goal is to help educators and students better use online environments for learning interactions. We are also interested in building better online systems for learning in formal and informal learning environments.


During this three-year project, we will work with four different learning environments around the city of Chicago. For each environment, we will build relationships that will let us collaborate with teachers and students over the project duration. For a larger sample from each location, we will conduct surveys of teachers and students and track online participation within iRemix. We also will invite a few teachers and students from each school to participate as case studies, going into more depth with these individuals, including individual interviews, ethnographic observations of classrooms, and small focus groups.


We consider this research to be a collaborative effort between researchers, designers, teachers, and students. As we learn from user practice, we can share our results and insights. This includes contributions to professional development sessions by sharing our research and results about online participation in learning networks and sharing our survey results with teachers and administrators to offer schools a snapshot of their learners and development over time. Participation in this research also allows teachers and students to contribute and provide feedback to new designs and learning features within the iRemix platform.