Janet Mannheimer Zydney
MA '00, PhD '04, Educational Communication and Technology
Janet Zydney is a big fan of applied knowledge. “I was very good at math and science in high school, but I had a difficult time at first applying those subjects to chemical engineering, my major in college.” That’s when it struck Zydney that schools don’t do enough to help kids understand why they learn what they learn. “If you explain to kids from the start how they’ll be able to use, for instance, algebra and geometry in their daily lives, then they’re going to be more engaged in their learning.”
Applied knowledge was, in fact, the reason Zydney was drawn to the Educational Communication and Technology program in the first place. “It had a strong theoretical basis, but I really liked how it gave students the opportunity to be more ‘hands on.’ We were able to create videos, web sites and software that helped us apply the theories we were learning in class.” Zydney received her MA in 2000 and her PhD in 2004.
Now doing post-doctoral work at the University of Kentucky, Zydney continues to explore applied knowledge, this time as the basis of her own research. She recently received a grant from the United States Department of Education to develop a new software program for kids in third through twelfth grades who have learning difficulties in math. Zydney is creating the program with her adviser, Dr. Ted S. Hasselbring, a renowned expert in the field of Special Education Technology.
“We're creating a series of mini-video clips – about 30 seconds long – that present students with a variety of math problems within the context of a live-action adventure. Kids will then have to discover what math is needed to be able to solve the problem.” There have been similar videos in the past, says Zydney, but they haven't been embedded within a computer-based environment and they generally ran 15-20 minutes long. “The advantage to our much shorter videos is that we can show many different kinds of problems in many different scenarios. Kids get to see a whole range of ways that math can be used in the world.” Zydney considers her initial research on this program to be a co-development process with the kinds of kids who will eventually use it, and refinements she makes to the software are often informed by kids’ comments. “Creating this software is a constantly evolving process and I’m very excited by it.”
Zydney attributes her passionate involvement in research to her time in the Department of Administration, Leadership, and Technology. “My professors provided me with many of the technical skills I use in my research today. I can actually build my own software, which I find unbelievably valuable. If you’re working with software that’s already created you can’t then tweak it when your research reveals new directions you might want to explore.”
But perhaps the thing Zydney values most about her time at NYU is the diversity of the students she encountered there. “I was incredibly impressed by that diversity and the fact of it remained very important to me while I was in school.” One class she took had about 24 students in it, 18 of whom came from different countries. “I remember thinking ‘I’m actually getting a global perspective on the things I’m studying, which is tremendous.’”