🎉 NEWS 🎉

(May 2024) Our lab’s work will be presented/published at CHI, ISLS, CogSci, IDC (LDT), and EARLI SIG16 conferences! See Publications for more info.

(April 2024) AlgeSPACE project on SIC news and university news

(Mar 2024) Our lab will offer two new seminars in SS2024 – check them out here.

(Mar 2024) We will be at the Tag der digitalen Bildung (The Digital Education Day) in Saarland!

(Feb 2024) We have launched AlgeSPACE — a collection of free interactive exercises for teaching and learning how to solve systems of equations.

(Oct 2023) New grant (with Sarah Malone) on co-designing a learning dashboard on AI in Education with university students at Saarland.

(Sep 2023) Won the PRESTO (“Sakigake”) grant! (€300K) We will work on participatory design research with school students and teachers in Germany and Japan to design an intelligent system with a focus on student agency.

(Aug 2023) Echo has joined the lab as a postdoc from ASU! Learn more about her.

(Apr 2023) Starting a new role as a Visiting Professor at Hokkaido University in Japan!

(Mar 2023) Gave a talk at CAIS in Bochum

(Feb 2023) Gave a talk at ETH Zürich (FLI Colloquia)

(Dec 2022) Launched the “Future+Learning” working group with Lis Sylvan and Sandra Cortesi @BKC Harvard

(Nov 2022) Moved to Germany to start my TT position at Saarland University!

(June 2021) Our ISLS paper was nominated for Best Design Paper!

(April 2021) We were at the ED Games Expo! Here’s our entry.

(Dec 2020) Won the Fred Mulder Open Education Practice Award!

(Nov 2020) Gave a talk at Keio Univ.

(Nov 2020) Won an AECT award!

(Nov 2020) Presented at OpenEd20

(Oct 2020) Made a tape diagram template (available under CC-BY-NC)


[alt text] The GIF image above shows an example of our OER that we developed with educators. In the GIF, an action of duplicating a visual representation is shown.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: What is the problem we see in the OpenEd space currently?

  2. Approach: sharing evidence-based OER to promote meaningful exchanges and adaptation of OER 

  3. Case study: Designing and distributing a visual representation for middle-school math

  4. Towards building an ecosystem for promoting Open Education Research and Practice

1. What is the problem we see in the OpenEd space?

Although there is a growing need for more collaborations between education researchers and practitioners (e.g., educators, students, and instructional designers) to promote Open Educational Practices (OEP), the open education community has yet to develop an ecosystem in which education researchers share evidence-based instructional materials as Open Educational Resources (OER) and practitioners share back their customized materials. Too often, the quality of OER as instructional materials, but not as a cost-effective alternative to traditional resources, is examined by “the perceived quality” through a peer-review process among educators and researchers, rather than through actual field studies with its end users (see Hilton, 2016). 

2. Sharing evidence-based OER to promote meaningful exchanges and adaptation of OER

To develop an ecosystem in which researchers and practitioners share and use OER in an effective way, we think that the following are critical:

  • OER are designed for a specific instructional goal
  • OER are shared in a flexible format
  • OER are shared with its scientific evidence
  • OER are designed and used collaboratively

In what follows, we will illustrate these points using a case study in which we collaboratively designed an OER for the visual representation in middle-school algebra.

3. Case study: Designing and distributing a visual representation for middle-school math

[alt text] An image of multiple tape diagrams is shown above

In 2019-2020, we worked on a project in which we designed a visual representation called “tape diagrams”. Tape diagrams are a popular visual representation used in East Asian countries and getting its popularity in the US. In this project, the instructional goal we focused on was to use tape diagrams to help middle school students understand conceptual knowledge in equation solving. With this goal in mind, we collaborated with 8 middle-school teachers in US to design our own tape diagrams. Specifically, we used a novel method called “Pedagogical Affordance Analysis” to identify features of tape diagrams that could potentially support students’ conceptual understanding. The design process is described in this published paper:


Nagashima, T., Yang, K., Bartel, A., Silla, E., Vest, N., Alibali, M., and Aleven, V (2020).Pedagogical Affordance Analysis: Leveraging Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge to Elicit Pedagogical Affordances and Constraints of Instructional Tools. ICLS2020.

[alt text] A GIF image above shows how our intelligent tutoring software works. After typing in an equation, students will be prompted to select a tape diagram representation for the problem-solving step.

After designing our own tape diagrams with educators, we created learning software called an Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS) to maximize the potential benefit of using tape diagrams in teaching conceptual knowledge in equation solving. In the ITS (see the gif shown above), students will be learning individually, and will first be asked to solve a given equation on the left-hand side of the screen. Then, after typing in a solution step, students will be prompted to select a corresponding diagrammatic representation from the three randomly-shown options that appear.


Then, we used the ITS to actually test if our tape diagrams embedded in the ITS are really effective. In our field experiment with 41 middle-school students, we found that our approach helped students learn conceptual knowledge — our original goal — compared against an ITS with no diagrams. If you are interested in the results of the study, please visit this link below to read our recent paper:

Nagashima, T.,  Bartel, A., Silla, E., Vest, N., Alibali, M., and Aleven, V (2020) Enhancing Conceptual Knowledge in Early Algebra Through Scaffolding Diagrammatic Self-explanation. ICLS2020.

[alt text] The GIF image above shows an example of our OER that we developed with educators. In the GIF, an action of duplicating a visual representation is shown.

The ITS described above was NOT OER, but we thought that sharing our visual representation, which has its evidence, would be meaningful and might help educators.

So we created two OERs that keep part of the evidence we found while adding flexibility. The two OER we made were:

  • Tape diagram template made in Google Slides
  • Automatic tape diagram generation tool


  • Tape diagram template

The gif above shows how one might use the template. The idea is to distribute our own tape diagram design so that practitioners (e.g., middle-school teachers) can modify it to re-purpose the diagrams. Our tape diagram design, as described in the first paper introduced above, has some core design features, such as color-coded variables and constants and vertical bars to show a balanced relationship. We hoped that practitioners will use it in many different ways while keeping those evidence-based design features.

The template is made in Google slides so that practitioners can download, make their own, and use for whatever purpose (CC-BY-NC). Here is the link for the template:

  Tape diagram for equations template


  • Automatic tape diagram generation tool

The template would be good for those who want to customize the diagrams and creatively design some activities using tape diagrams. However, we also knew that not all educators have a lot of time to spend on it. To offer alternative form for the use of our tape diagrams, we also developed a tool that generates tape diagrams automatically. The gif below shows how the tool looks like. The created diagrams can be used for any purposes (CC-BY-NC). It could also be used in a student-led activity. This tool would give an opportunity for those who have little time to spend on making instructional materials to use tape diagrams in their own pedagogical activities. You can access to the tool here (click, “Run Problem Set” under “Diagram Generation”):

Diagram generation tool

[alt text] A gif showing how users can get diagrams by typing in an equation. Here, the equation "2x + 3 = 7" is entered and the diagram for the equation is shown.

4. Towards building an ecosystem for promoting Open Education Research and Practice

The case study above illustrates how researchers and practitioners can work together to design and use OER in an effective way. Specifically, we advocate the following:

Offer OER in multiple formats allows for flexibility while providing scaffolding –– this trade-off can be tricky but critical. Never assume that users have plenty of time for working on re-purposing but acknowledge that there are users who can creatively take your work to the next level. In our case, those who want to customize a lot can choose the first OER while those who rather want to “re-use”what we provide can choose the second OER. We think that it is important to offer OER, if possible, in multiple formats to provide scaffolding for those who need it.

Scientific evidence can foster 5R activities. Seeing the actual evidence that comes with OER can be a powerful motivator for users. Field studies, rather than “the perceived quality”, give the evidence that the material actually “works”. In our case, our OER comes with evidence that the tape diagrams were used in a field study in which students learned better with tape diagrams. Sharing such scientific evidence can encourage users to adopt/adapt OER. Although we do not have evidence showing whether it fosters adoption/adaptation, we believe that educators would prefer to have resources that come with actual evidence from a field study than to use resources without such evidence.

Collaborative Open Educational Practices can help conduct effective 5R activities: In every phase of the research and design, we worked with actual users — middle-school teachers. By working closely with users, we were able to make OER that are aligned with what teachers need and want. Collaborative OER design and use also made it possible that teachers learned the instructional effectiveness of using tape diagrams in a rigorous way, which encouraged the teachers to continue using tape diagrams even after the field study.

All content on this page is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License (CC-BY-NC). Content by Tomohiro Nagashima