Investigating environmental problems and finding solutions: A testbed for virtual learning
Due to the enormous expansion and exposure of new knowledge, our presupposition is that it is important that students get the opportunity to understand the nature of scientific knowledge at a more general level i.e. to not only understand its end products but also how scientific knowledge is produced. In this project the students learn about specific environmental challenges through three activities based on different digital supports:
- First, the Acid Ocean virtual lab let students learn about the unknown second half of the human CO2 emission issue: its absorption by the ocean and the decrease of sea water pH. In this first activity students run an environmental experiment in a virtual laboratory where they test the effect of pH decrease on larvae development.
- Secondly, while understanding the impact of pH decrease on the size of larvae, students still don’t understand the global impact of this potential larvae size decrease. An interactive talk by a researcher working on this issue replaces the results from the virtual lab in a global context. The talk is displays on Voicethread, a collaborative multimedia slide show that allows people to leave comments and thus have an asynchronous discussion with the scientist. This tool is underdevelopment and will be ready for testing in the classroom in early November.
- The third and last step is a carbon footprint calculator aiming to help students understand their own responsibility in this issue and giving them ideas about how to have a more Carbon footprint friendly life style. This tool has been extended in an international activity (http://footprint.stanford.edu/) where classes from all over the world calculate their footprint and post it on a global world map with the data from the other classes participating. Students can then discuss the results and their perspective regarding climate change and related environmental issues on the Einztein Knowledge Exchange website.
An interesting aspect is that within this project the digital tools are continually being evaluated and adjusted.
Empirical material has been collected through video recordings of the Swedish students' engagement in using these tools. We have also had access to a pre- and post-intervention survey completed by a large group of American students (about 500), before and after they worked with the virtual lab. Our analyses focus on how the students' knowledge of how to perform and understand science activities is developed by using appropriate scientific language and reason about how to organize an experiment.