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Special Spotlight Insert

The virtual realities of COE's Roxana Moreno

By Larry Walsh

Roxana Moreno shows off her bike. Photo by Margaret Duran.The ready images of Argentina include gauchos, tangos by Gardel, the intellectual labyrinths of Borges, and a national cuisine that begins with meat, is followed by meat and ends with meat.

Yet, the reality of Roxana Moreno, an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology Program in the College of Education (COE), is in sharp contrast to these images. A vegetarian from Buenos Aires, she is a woman who loves motorcycles, mathematics and computers, attributes that are still too rare even in this country.

Her real passion, however, lies with understanding how students learn mathematics and science and how best to teach them.

“By teaching students to be successful in mathematics and science, you can promote the development of good thinking about any other area as well,” Moreno says.

The National Science Foundation recently reinforced her efforts to improve how mathematics and science are taught when it funded two of her research projects for more than $2.3 million.

The first project, “Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice in Teacher Education: Guided Interactive Virtual Environments (GIVEs) for Case-based Learning,” entails developing a virtual classroom, where student-teachers can experience the demands of a diverse classroom.

“In New Mexico, 60 percent of school children are identified as minorities, 17 percent are special education children and 28 percent live in poverty,” Moreno reports.

“This means that teaching in diversity requires not only being knowledgeable in the subject matter and instructional methods, but also being able to simultaneously process many variables for each student. The complexity of the classroom environment constantly threatens to overwhelm teachers,” she adds.

The virtual classroom (GIVE) will provide teachers the opportunity to practice with virtual students from very different backgrounds, all trying to learn in the same classroom, just like the real world.

Moreno hopes that better preparing teachers for the reality of the classroom will lead to high-quality teaching and a higher retention rate.

Working with COE Professor Joseph Stevens and UC-Santa Barbara Professor Richard Duran, her second research project is also very ambitious. Titled “Assessing Cognitive Diversity: Implications for Hispanic, Native American and White Children’s Mathematics Learning,” this longitudinal study will examine how these students in grades four to eight differ in their ways of learning mathematics and displaying that learning.

Moreno’s personal background is also intellectually and culturally diverse. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in economics and a law degree in Argentina, she decided to study artificial intelligence and computer programming at UC-Berkeley.

In her spare time, she also passed the California State Bar and became a multimedia designer and consultant.

Soon her interest in artificial intelligence evolved into the study of human intelligence and how multimedia techniques could aid learning. Moreno earned a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in cognitive science at UC-Santa Barbara and then received a postdoc from the National Science Foundation.

“I started out giving folks talks, very theoretical talks, on psychology, and then I got a taste of what it was like to teach in a classroom. I decided that I had to work in education,” she relates.