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What research questions the project addresses, aims & themes

The main goals of JuxtaLearn are to research, develop and evaluate a concept based pedagogical and technological framework that exploits performance to enhance science and technology learning.

The framework is based on:

  • computer based support for identification of personal concept barriers to understanding,
  • technical facilitated understanding of the identified Tricky Topics 'threshold concepts' through juxtapositioned, video-making performances
  • consolidation of new understanding through personal and shared reflective performances tied to formal education processes

 JuxtaLearn will encourage students to use creative activities, in particular video-making, to help them understand things they find difficult to grasp. This international project will apply to supporting conceptual understanding of science and technology for both university and school students.

Aims and themes

Technology can be a tool to facilitate learning but it can also support looking at our world in different ways. Over recent year’s combinations of mobile, sensors, gaming and social networking have stimulated different viewpoints on our world and lives.  Unfortunately, in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning these technologies are frequently poorly used and lack the ability to stimulate a student’s own creative approaches to their learning.

Within other disciplines such as the humanities arts and languages the creativity in learning comes from the students re-applying their understanding through developing stories, evidenced narratives and artistic representations. However, in STEM subjects the creativity is often implemented by the teacher not the students. Ultimately our approaches to STEM learning itself need to be dramatically altered so that they are relevant for students of the future.

Within JuxtaLearn we have developed a pedagogically underpinned staged approach that fits with teaching practices across Europe and utilises effective TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) solutions.  JuxtaLearn uses TEL solutions to support a concept focused approach to teaching and learning that uses participatory video making as a central approach.  This changes the situation and expectations of what STEM learning is both for teachers and students.

The goal of the JuxtaLearn Project is to enable students to overcome barriers to science and technology learning by exploring and sharing their understanding using creative video performance. By engaging student curiosity in difficult-to-learn science and technology subjects, the JuxtaLearn process and system supports students along a creative route to a deeper understanding of topics that the teachers have identified as particularly problematic.

We use the term Tricky Topic to refer to these barriers to understanding that students face. This Tricky Topic tool is designed to help identify Tricky Topics and break them down into Stumbling Blocks, using examples from practice to illustrate the sort of problems students have, and examples of teaching activities which help explain those Stumbling Blocks.

When we started working with teachers, they easily understood the idea of Threshold Concepts in science and technology subjects because they struggle with these every teaching day. They referred to them as Tricky Topics. Often, the students appear to have understood the concepts in class, but gaps in their understanding emerge when they have to apply what they have learned either in practice or in a test. Each Tricky Topic (Threshold Concept) can be broken down into a set of Stumbling Blocks that students commonly trip over.

The JuxtaLearn Process

 The JuxtaLearn Process consists of 8 stages:

  1. IDENTIFY: teacher identifies Tricky Topics using the pedagogical framework.
  2. DEMONSTRATE: pedagogical tools support the representation of the standard teaching activity.
  3. INTERPRET: learners collaborate with peers to understand the Tricky Topic.
  4. PERFORM: learners make videos combining juxtaposition concepts.
  5. COMPOSE: learners compose videos using tabletops collaboratively.
  6. SHARE: videos will be shared in the webspace.
  7. DISCUSS: webspace and interactive public displays promote discussions and understanding.
  8. REVIEW: teacher reviews videos and learning analytics results.

 The JuxtaLearn Process is illustrated, graphically, in Figure 1.


Figure 1: The JuxtaLearn Process

How the research questions are addressed by the project (methodology and activity/environment)

We see a need for both pedagogical and technical advancements rather than one leading the other. We focused on four areas:

  1. Personalised learning processes:  Identifying students’ barriers to understanding, which are referred to as Tricky Topics.  Using the Tricky Topic Tool the JuxtaLearn system will: identify personalised threshold concepts (Tricky Topics) that are a problem for the student, detailing components of these concepts that are potentially enabling and inhibiting for the student to support reflection within learning with further activities.
  2. Reflective Performance through Participatory Video and Editing:  Traditional paper-based STEM activities will support students’ articulation of their current understanding and will be automatically captured at each stage of the students’ articulation/‘performance’ through JuxtaLearn PENs turning them into pencast ‘performances’.  This will support student, teacher and peer reflections.  Juxtapose activities that initiate curiosity will then be turned into creative video ‘performances’ where students will be encouraged to reflect on their understanding through using metaphors, similes and engaging ways to represent the knowledge.  Through a usable reflective editing tool students will be supported in editing according to conceptual needs of the performance and prompted to reflect on comparisons with the previous activity.  Thus allowing this activity to be tied back to mainstream assessed criteria.
  3. School and Public Display:  In-situ reflection and social networking tend to have limited technical connection.  JuxtaLearn will use large screen displays and mobile devices to allow in-situ communities to use social networking to participate in supported debates around the conceptual understanding presented. This will fuel curiosity within the in-situ community and initiate deeper understanding with the students through reflection and debate.
  4. Social Media Analytics and Learning Analytics:  Currently social media analytics mainly focuses on usage and interaction patterns. Learning analytics focuses on students’ personal learning needs and progression.  Tagging and concept mapping will be used to span between the personal needs and web open resources providing students with cutting edge tailored support. Learning communities established for these activities will be analysed and progression in their understanding mapped back to them.

Current activities

The JuxtaLearn project is now in its third and final year of activity, and as such, the development of the systems is nearing completion and evaluation activities in schools are underway.  Much of the evaluation activity, particularly of the whole process and system is taking place in UK secondary schools.

Findings and outputs

  • Key findings to date highlight issues around:
    • ‘I don’t understand why they don’t understand’.  Identifying key barriers to student understanding supports teachers in understanding not just WHAT it is that the students don’t understand but WHY it is the students have problems.
    • Tricky Topics span the different STEM subjects.
    • Maths underpins other STEM subjects. Insufficient understanding in maths e.g. powers, equations, has a negative impact on learning Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Technology.
  • Development of the following technical system components:
  • Tricky Topic Tool
  • Diagnostic student quiz tool
  • Central webspace repository (ClipIt)
  • Tabletop editing software
  • Large Screen Display quiz
  • Explaining a concept to other students supports knowledge development.
  • Group work during video creation provides opportunities for peer learning, collaborative learning and reflective learning.
  • Peer feedback is valuable, however most students tend to use the rating radio buttons with minimal commenting feedback.
  • Early evaluation of the JuxtaLearn Process suggests that:

Project impact

  • CLIPIT won an award in the demo shoot-out (3rd place) for its system development at EC-TEL
  • Through the JuxtaFair engagement the project established connections with schools based networks and companies across the UK.
    • United Learning are supporting engagement with their 30 schools and thousands of school children nationally.
    • Set-Point, connected to STEMNET, are supporting engagement to conduct with their 600 schools and thousands of school children throughout Bedfordshire and beyond.
    • Institute of Engineering Technology ambassador is supporting engagement with specific schools to support engineering.
    • Royal Society of Chemistry have supported negotiations to re-use chemistry tricky topics and threshold concepts (identified by teachers and academics across UK and Europe) to direct the development of appropriate support systems.
  • Additional funding from Government bodies has been acquired across Europe for several projects:
  • Spanish Government to support a video competition across the country.
  • Portugal national funding to support additional PhD students supporting engagement in schools and video competition across several schools.
  • RCUK public engagement project to support extending JuxtaLearn processes into subjects beyond STEM and to identify methods for effectively capturing impact.

Publications (and ORO feed)

Complete publications list can be found here -

People involved

Anne Adams (lead PI), IET, Open University

Eileen Scanlon, IET, Open University

Mike Sharples, IET, Open University

Gill Clough, IET, Open University

Liz Hartnett, IET, Open University

Canan Blake, IET, Open University

Project partners and links

Linnaeus University, Sweden   

Rhein-Ruhr Institute, Germany

University of Birmingham

Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Spain

Universidade do Minho, Portugal



EU framework 7 (funding for €2.1 million)

Start Date and duration

1st October 2012 - 30th September 2015 (3 years)


Research & Innovation