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Director of BioMedInfo Lab awarded NSF grant to improve STEM student comprehension

Dr. Indika Kahanda, assistant professor of computing and director of the UNF BioMedInfo (bioinformatics, and biomedical informatics) Lab, was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to fund a research project to help undergraduate students enrolled in foundational Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses enhance their critical thinking skills to achieve conceptual understanding of topics they are struggling to comprehend. This project is in in partnership with Montana State University.

Difficulties in STEM courses often arise from a student’s inability to accurately identify their knowledge gaps and develop effective strategies to close them. To help address this, Kahanda’s research project will utilize innovative writing exercises that promote critical thinking and self-reflection to help students build mental models, overcome misconceptions and enhance their metacognitive skills.

The research project will be implemented in an introductory circuit analysis undergraduate course. Unlike in traditional electrical engineering courses, students in the research study will provide written answers for their assignments that explain why and how they arrived at their conclusions. Once completed, the written answers will be evaluated and instantaneous with personalized feedback provided to the student to help them understand what they did or did not do correctly.

To achieve this type of system, the writing exercises will be implemented as web-based applications that leverage recent advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP). Evaluation of the writing assignments will utilize automatic grading techniques that can read, analyze and provide helpful feedback to eliminate time-consuming manual grading.

Once created and tested, instructors from multiple disciplines across the country will be able to use the web-based templates developed by the research team to implement conceptual-based writing exercises in their foundational STEM courses.

Kahanda's research interests lie in the areas of bioinformatics and biomedical informatics. He focuses on the application of machine learning and natural language processing techniques to solve problems involving large-scale biological, molecular, and biomedical data.

To read the research project’s full abstract, visit the NSF website.