This site presents the highlights of my research in teaching, learning, and technologies. Of primary interest is the creative and targeted uses of technology to assist learning.  In addition to the current research project described here, I have interests across a broad and interdisciplinary array of topics related to new technologies in learning that I would like to investigate, including:

  • Augmented Reality
  • Wearable Computing
  • Artificial Intelligence in Education
  • New Tools for: Raising Social Presence, Location-aware context, visualization-on-demand

Described here is the current research project that I am undertaking. For further information, contact information is listed below.
Patricia Donohue

Current Resesearch:  NSF CPATH RET (Computing Pathways – Research Experiences for Teachers) Grant

Location:  Napa New Technology High School
Content: SBL infused Spatial Studies course
Research Focus: Developing a Studio-Based Learning (SBL) framework for K12
Timeframe: June 2010 to August, 2011.
Teachers: Calvin Ross and Ariel Paisley, Napa New Technology High School
Project Lead: Dr. Patricia Donohue – San Francisco State University
PI (CPATH Grant): Dr. Martha Crosby – University of Hawaii at Manoa
Originating NSF CPATH Grant: CPATH 2 – Collaborative Research: Broadening Studio-Based Learning in Computing Education
CPATH Development Team: Computer scientists from departments at the University of Hawaii, Washington State University, and Auburn State University.
SBL Home – Hosted by Auburn University,

Description: This supplemental grant seeks to build a K12 model for ‘Studio-Based Learning” (SBL) that is demonstrating success in a National Science Foundation (NSF) CPATH grant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM). The Information and Computing Sciences department at the university has started its second CPATH grant seeking to broaden computing science education through building computational thinking in undergraduate coursework. The SBL model was developed by researchers from the University of Hawaii, Auburn University, and Washington State University. As described in the original grant, the idea of the SBL model:

“owes its origins to the master-apprentice educational system used in the guilds of the Middle Ages (Lackney, 1999). The architectural schools of Europe and North America adopted this instructional model in the form of the ‘design studio’: a place where students set up their own workspaces—drafting tables, books, drawing and modeling materials—and spend much of their lives working individually on common design tasks (Schon, 1983). As students spend long hours working on these tasks, they build camaraderie, looking to each other for support and feedback as they work toward a common purpose (Lackney, 1999).

The SBL model implements a protocol based upon ‘Design Crits,’ where students learn computational thinking through an iterative process of critiquing and interaction with master teachers and with their peers. Undergraduate students learn to improve their computational designs by presenting project work first in conversation with their instructor, then with each other, and eventually in presentation critiques to their class, often including visiting experts.

The Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) supplemental grant seeks to expand the CPATH research by bringing computational thinking in an SBL model to the K12 environment. Our grant is working to develop the SBL approach into a K12 model that would be applicable to any STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curricula to promote students’ inquiry methods, computational thinking abilities, and higher-order thinking skills. If successful, the model would be adaptable for any technology-based training or instructional course where learners need to build skill with ill-structured problems or deep thinking.

Research – We asked the following Research Questions:

  1. What modifications of the university’s SBL protocol would have to be made to adapt it effectively for high school implementation?
  2. Would students learn better in an SBL environment?
  3. Would a K12 SBL model be adaptable across the curricula?
  4. What improvement would SBL bring to existing project-based learning models?
  5. What lessons would students take from an SBL experience?

We selected to work with two teachers on a new Spatial Studies class that was being developed at Napa New Technology High School, the founding school for the nationwide New Technology Network (60+ schools). This course was designed as a combined 9th-grade course with a Digitial Media Arts class (Mr. Ross) and a Geometry class (Mr. Paisley). During the spring of 2010, Dr. Donohue, project lead, introduced teachers to the university’s SBL model. The teachers were then hired to write their new Spatial Studies curriculum to include an SBL approach. Because the New Tech High model is heavily collaborative and project-based, the teachers were prepared for the SBL model and understood it could bring an improved level of student reflection, critical thinking, and self-learning to the course content. They wrote the new course with SBL embedded as a foundational scaffold.

The K12 SBL framework included:

  • Students are gradually introduced to needed design crit skills through practice in pairs and then in groups on increasingly complex projects.
  • The functionality of the “design crit” as a critiquing forum for design improvements was introduced to students as “self-reflections” during a “post-production” process.
  • Students would participate in groups on design projects in a three-phase process that would be known as 1. Pre-Production (planning), 2. Production (project implementation), and 3. Post-Production (post review = Design Crit analysis).
  • Assessment would be based on the SBL use of the Trade Guild concept for rating experience and skill, moving up the ladder of performance from Novice to Intern, Apprentice, Journeyman, Leader and Master. 

A feasibility case study was done in the fall of 2010 to test if an SBL approach would be operational and effective in the Spatial Studies class. Data on student demographics, grades, teacher reflections, and student group interviews were collected and are being analyzed.

Preliminary Results: Early observations from the data were reported at the 2011 Hawaii Educational Research Association conference in Honolulu on January 8, 2011 (see, HERA SBL show). The most revealing information of the SBL effects on student learning and problem-solving experiences come from group interviews held at the close of the fall semester, in December 2010. Interview transcripts are being categorized and coded. Here are samples from those recordings and transcripts of what students thought about their first exposure to the SBL process:

Selections from Transcripts:

Mr. Ross’ teacher blog:

“10-7-10 ““The crit – post-production meeting where decisions on refining the product are supposed to take place – appears to have delivered the goods. Freshmen, six weeks into the first term, are ready to self-manage, self-motive themselves. … This means they are in charge, they are critically thinking.”

Student Interviews:

“Maureen: I think it’s pretty cool how they intertwined the digital media with the geometry.  I didn’t know that you could do like…you could do the geometry stuff like in the digital media thing.

Alex: I think it’s like Misty said…it’s really…I wasn’t  sure how they were going to make it connect at the beginning of the year…like…I was like always wondering is the Geometry going to come into the digital media.  But then I realized that there was so many different things that we could do with the computer and they could just intertwine with each other really well.”

“Otis: I think that pre-production meeting is like so that you can find ideas to do things.  And while you are working on the actual project, you can relate back to the pre-production meeting, and then you can refine things if you find a better way.  But the pre-production meeting just gets you started so then you know what to do and how you are going to do it.”

“Farrir: I think the post-production, what you do afterwards, is supposed to be like a reflection on what you did well, what you didn’t do well and what you can improve on next time, and I always find that part helpful.”

“Thomas: Yeah, I also find the post-production helpful because then in the next project, you can actually use, in the pre-production, what you used in the last post-production.  You can say ‘this is what my group did bad last time, so maybe we could do this better ‘ and you can kind of reflect on your last project.”


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Some interesting articles

School of One

On the Threshold of the Avatar Era

Contact Information
Patricia J. Donohue, Ph.D. CV: Donohue_cv2011
Cell: 925-451-7820
CLR Ning Site:

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