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University of Cyprus, Department of Educational Sciences, Nicosia, Cyprus. Abstract: In this ... information, such as pictures, graphs and animations. In contrast ... Being integral to scientific practice, computer technology inevitably becomes an ...

WHICH INFORMATION RESOURCES DO STUDENTS USE WHEN THEY PRODUCE LEARNING ARTIFACTS IN SCIENCE Nikoletta Xenofontos1, Michalis Theocharous1, Constantinos Manoli1 and Zacharias Zacharia1 1

University of Cyprus, Department of Educational Sciences, Nicosia, Cyprus

Abstract: In this paper we examined the information resources students used in order to create learning artifacts in the context of the SCY-Lab platform, which is a computer supported inquiry learning environment. Specifically, 18 eleven-graders worked in groups of three for the completion of a SCY-Lab science mission, namely the “Design a CO2-friendly house”. Throughout the mission, students gathered information from a number of scientific information resources and created several learning artifacts. The data collection involved screen-captured data (audio and video recording) throughout the intervention, and interviews with nine students, after carrying out the mission. The data analysis revealed that for the construction of specific learning artifacts, students were using information coming from a particular type of information resources, even though the same information could be found in other instructional resources as well. Overall, the most favorable resources were videos and websites with short texts and other complementing resources of information, such as pictures, graphs and animations. In contrast, websites and SCYLab text with long text were not very appealing to students as it required a lot of time to read and gather information. In addition, after the completion of several learning artifacts, students tended to use these completed artifacts as information resources rather than the original information resources provided through the platform. This approach seemed to save students valuable time since they could find the core scientific concepts and evidence needed to address the mission’s tasks much easier and faster than revisiting the original information resources. Keywords: information resources, inquiry learning, computer-supported learning environments

SUBJECT/PROBLEM Inquiry oriented teaching and learning has received attention as part of an effort to bridge the gap between teaching and authentic scientific practices. In fact, it has dominated the interest of many researchers and educators over the past few decades (e.g., Abd-El-Khalick et al., 2004; Anderson, 2002; de Jong, 2006; de Jong & van Joolingen, 1998; Sandoval & Reiser, 2003), because it has been associated to effective teaching and learning practices (Anderson, 2002). Inquiry has also been associated with technology. Technologies, particularly computer technologies, have become commonplace in the practice and advancement of science. Being integral to scientific practice, computer technology inevitably becomes an integral part of inquiry as a teaching and learning approach (Songer, 1998). In the last three decades, there has been an especially rapid infusion of computer technologies into classrooms and a wide array of these technologies has

been used in education through an inquiry-based approach, including simulations, virtual labs, microworlds, multimedia, hypermedia, telecommunications, web-based databases, etc. Evidence is accumulating that this kind of learning has advantages over traditional, more expository forms of instruction (Linn, Lee, Tinker, Husic, & Chiu, 2006). Learning in computer supported learning environments can only assume shape if there is available information that allows learners to extract relevant data that are needed for the process of shaping their growing knowledge (van Joolingen & Zacharia 2009). According to van Joolingen and de Jong (2003), such information is coming from varying resources and aim at complementing learners’ prior knowledge and setting the basis for the production of new understandings. Given that this external input of information is of great essence for producing new knowledge, it becomes an imperative need to know what resources of information learners need. Unfortunately, the literature of the domain reports that we know very little about the resources of information that students prefer using when undertaking a learning task, especially in science education (Zacharia, Xenofontos, & Manoli, 2011). The purpose of this study was to examine the resources of information students used in order to create science-oriented learning artifacts in the context of the SCY-Lab mission “Design a CO2-friendly house”. The SCY-Lab is a web-based platform grounded on inquiry, knowledge building and learning by design (de Jong et al., 2010). In this context, knowledge is reflected though the development/construction of learning artifacts, such as, concept maps, models, graphs, tables etc. Creating learning artifacts are aligned with the basic constructivist principles of inquiry and collaboration, as well as with constructionist principles (Zacharia, et al., 2011; Papert, 1980). According to Papert (1980), the produced learning artifacts reflect ones understanding. Thus, a learner’s conceptual understanding could be captured through the evaluation of his/her learning artifacts. Investigating the resources of information that students use in order to create scienceoriented learning artifacts is particularly important because it could provide us with valuable insight for designing science learning environments, computer-based or not, that include information resources that fit better the learning profile of the students.

METHODS The participants were 18 (10 females and 8 males) eleventh graders from a public high-school in Cyprus. The implementation of the “Design a CO2-friendly house” mission was carried out by a biology teacher and its duration was 16 three-hour class meetings. The students were divided into groups of three and followed the jigsaw approach. At the beginning of the mission students formed design groups of three, they then worked in expert groups of three and towards the end of the mission they returned back to their design group. In order to complete the mission students created several learning artifacts. In this study, we focused on four specific artifacts (the concept map on CO2 emissions, the inventory of expert solutions, the house choices map and the final report; see Table 1). Data collection included computer screen video-audio capture data and semistructured interviews (n=9). The computer screen video-audio data (e.g., actions, sounds/talk) were analyzed and coded/clustered based on students’ actions/practices (e.g., visiting website, watching videos, reading text, etc.) using open coding (Cohen’s

Kappa = 0.89). The results were then represented in time-line graphs (Schoenfeld, 1998) plotting the time vs. the clusters of actions/practices. The interview data were also analysed using an open coding method, looking at which type of resource(s) (video, website, text, existing artefacts) were more helpful and why based on students’ responses.

RESULTS The analysis of the screen captured data resulted in eleven categories of student actions (see the legend of Figure 1 for the resulted categories). Table 1 provides the four artifacts investigated in the study, a short description for each one of them and the average time students spent in five of the above categories. Table 1 Average time distribution among cluster for the four Artifacts



Visited Resources / Mean time

Mean time of Construc tion 66:32

1 Concept Map on CO2 emission

Students construct a concept map on CO2 emission and related ecological problems using the SCYMapper tool.

(1) Scy-Lab websites / 11:11 (2) External websites / 7:49 (3) Scy-Lab videos / 22:30 (4) Scy-Lab text / 1:07 (5) Re-visiting existing ELOs / --

2 Inventory of Expert Solutions

Students use the SCYMapper tool to present a list of recommendations for a CO2 friendly house according to energy, thermal and domestic use issues.

(1) Scy-Lab websites / 0:45 (2) External websites / 4:45 (3) Scy-Lab videos / -(4) Scy-Lab text / -(5) Re-visiting existing ELOs / 10:39


3 House Choices

Students use the SCYMapper tool to present their final choices for their CO2 friendly house.

(1) Scy-Lab websites / -(2) External websites / 1:46 (3) Scy-Lab videos / -(4) Scy-Lab text / -(5) Re-visiting existing ELOs / 5:32


4 Individual Report

Students use the Word tool to write a report to the mayor of their city about CO2 emissions and CO2 friendly houses.

(1) Scy-Lab websites / -(2) External websites / 1:25 (3)Scy-Lab videos / 0:30 (4) Scy-Lab text / -(5) Re-visiting existing ELOs / 7:57


According to Table 1, during the construction of the Concept Map artifact, students visited all the resources (videos, SCY-Lab or external websites, SCY-Lab texts) and gathered information. They spent more time watching videos (22:30min) and visiting websites that included short texts and were complemented with pictures, graphs and animations (11:11min). They spent much less time reading SCY-Lab texts (1:07min). Since the Concept Map was the very first artifact, students could not gather information from other artifacts. However, during the construction of the other three artifacts, students preferred visiting mainly the existing artifacts, in order to gather information, instead of revisiting the original resources (see Figure 1). Surprisingly this trend/pattern was followed by all participants.

Figure 1: Graphical representation for the construction of the House Choices artifact. Y-axis key:(1) visiting SCY-Lab websites, (2) visiting websites outside SCY-Lab, (3) watching SCY-Lab videos, (4) reading through SCY-Lab texts, (5) discussing with peers, (6) discussing with teacher, (7) construction of artifacts, (8) revisiting existing artifacts, (9) reading though instructions, (10) searching through glossary and (11) carrying out other activities.

The analysis of the interview data triangulated the video captured data analysis. Specifically, it was found that the majority of the students felt that the websites with short text, but rich in information and pictures, were the most useful resources of information, particularly for getting the science content needed for the development of an artifact. They explained that it was the only information resource that included concepts and evidence accompanied with well articulated details and examples (with the pictorial examples being the most favorite). In contrast, the students held a negative attitude towards the size of the text included in some websites and SCY-Lab text, which in a way contradicts the fact that they wanted well articulated details and examples. In terms of the other resources of information available on SCY-Lab, students showed preference in using videos and simulations. They mentioned that the videos were useful because it provided them with an overview of the task under study (e.g., what the task is about), whereas the simulations were useful because they enabled them to identify the variables involved in the phenomenon under study. In a way both of these information resources were supporting students to focus on what directions to follow in their quest to address the mission at task. For instance, after using the videos and simulations they were more capable on identifying the relevant science content from the SCY-Lab websites afterwards.

DISCUSSION From the results of the study, it is evident that the information resources provided the students with ample of good information in order to produce the artifacts needed in order to complete the “Design a CO2-friendly house” mission. Overall, the student showed preference in information resources that enabled them to orient themselves in the mission (what the mission is about and what directions I might take to address the mission’s problem/task), such as the videos and the simulations, and to information resources that provided the science content and evidence in relatively satisfactory level of detail, such as the SCY-Lab websites. Such findings are particularly important for researchers and educators aiming to design science learning environments for their students. From this study it appears that secondary school students, first, need information resources that provide a sense of orientation and, second, information resources that provide the science content and evidence needed to address the task under study. Of course, further research is needed to reach to solid conclusions and to check whether these findings hold for larger samples and across K-16.

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