Integrating K-12 Hybrid Online Learning Activities in Teacher Education Programs: Reflections from the School of Rock Expedition

Integrating K-12 Hybrid Online Learning Activities in Teacher Education Programs: Reflections from the School of Rock Expedition

Matthew Niemitz (Adobe Systems Inc., USA), Scott Slough (Texas A&M University, USA), Kristen St. John (James Madison University, USA), R. Mark Leckie (University of Massachusetts - Amherst, USA), Leslie Peart (Consortium for Ocean Leadership, USA) and Ann Klaus (Texas A&M University, USA)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-897-5.ch002


The School of Rock (SOR) expedition was a unique at-sea teacher education workshop that sought to introduce inservice teachers to scientific ocean drilling and collaborate in developing ways to extend this science content to K-12 classrooms. During the workshop teachers used an expedition website to communicate their learning and the “results” of the expedition to an onshore audience of students. While adventure learning/hybrid online learning is common in K-12 classrooms, the SOR expedition was unique in that teachers were the explorers and the workshop sought to use technology to enhance both the learning of students onshore and the learning of the participants of the workshop (Niemitz et al., 2008). Here, the authors examine how the SOR expedition website enhanced the teacher education goals of the workshop and compare and contrast their reflections with the literature on integrating technology into teacher education programs. The SOR experience identifies two new elements to consider as teacher educators design ways to integrate technology into education programs: 1) situations where pre- or in-service teachers can use technology to communicate narratives of inquiry can lead to engaging and formative learning experiences for both teachers and students; and 2) using technology to communicate new content knowledge to students in real or near real-time can reinforce a mindset for applying this knowledge to student learning needs as the teacher learning is in progress. The authors identify two examples of how to scale this model for integrating technology into teacher education and provide recommendations on appropriate technologies for doing so.
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The Theoretical Basis For Integrating Hybrid Online Learning Activities Into Teacher Education Programs

The Adventure Learning Model

To consider the theoretical basis for coupling teacher education activities with real-time teacher-to-student communication, we must first examine the concept and qualify the effectiveness of hybrid online learning for student learning. We need not examine the entire landscape for online learning, other than to qualify hybrid online learning as that online learning which occurs in conjunction with face-to-face classroom instruction. This model may take many shapes, but differs from situations where online learning and face-to-face learning are separate pursuits (a model more common in higher education). In hybrid online learning, teachers assist, scaffold, and supplement student learning experiences that are delivered online.

One form of hybrid online learning is characterized by the term adventure learning. Doering (2006) defines adventure learning as “providing students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments” (p. 198). The rationale for learning of this type is that it is experiential, inquiry based, authentic, and motivating (Doering, 2006, 2007; Niemitz et al., 2008). When students follow real-time exploration or adventure activities, they can create knowledge through a collaborative, constructivist, and transformative experience. Through transformative experiences, a student’s conceptions of the world around them are synthesized and then transformed in relation to the new knowledge they are gaining (Mezirow, 1990, 1991; Palloff & Pratt, 1999).

Adventure learning also focuses on creating an inquiry-based learning environment. In science education in particular, creating situations for inquiry-based learning is critical (NRC, 1996; Duschl, Schweingruber, & Shouse, 2007). Adventure learning seeks to provide authentic, participatory environments for inquiry-based learning. Through their interaction and collaboration with explorers via the Internet and their participation in an expedition, students are able to learn in an authentic context. Participation opportunities allow learners to join the inquiry in a very real and timely way, by playing a role in an exploration community. While adventure learning does not afford learners a direct physical role in an exploration, it is designed to allow for academic and social participation. The learner’s involvement – even at the rudimentary level of virtually asking a scientist a question – can be said to be part of the scientific inquiry experience (especially if the scientist has yet to or has only just discovered the answer to the question) (Niemitz et al., 2008).

Finally, the adventure learning model is highly motivating. By connecting students in classrooms with active scientists or explorers, students gain a picture of what it means to be a scientist or explorer and they form a mentorship connection (Niemitz et al., 2008). Both of these aspects of adventure learning have been shown to positively affect a learner’s enthusiasm for learning science, satisfaction with the practice of science, attitudes about science as a career, and a more social (versus intellectual and academic) view of scientists (Abraham, 2002; Knox, Moynihan & Markowitz, 2003; Markowitz, 2004; Templin, Doran & Engemann, 1999).

With this theoretical background in mind, Doering (2006) has developed a framework for the design of adventure learning environments. This framework consists of seven, interdependent principles:

(a) a researched curriculum grounded in problem-solving, (b) collaboration and interaction opportunities between students, experts, peers, and content, (c) the utilization of the Internet for curriculum and learning environment delivery, (d) the enhancement of curriculum with media and text from the field in a timely manner, (e) synched learning opportunities with the adventure learning curriculum, (f) pedagogical guidelines of the curriculum and online learning environment, and (g) education that is adventure-based. (p. 200)

The extent to which the adventure learning model has impacted student learning has yet to be comprehensively quantified or qualified. However, early results indicate that adventure learning has a positive impact on students, across a number of metrics. Doering and Veletsianos (2008) have examined student responses to the way teachers integrated the GoNorth! adventure learning environment into their classrooms. Student reactions were generally positive – students were “excited, engaged, and motivated with the authentic and problem-based tasks employed within the adventure learning environment” (Miller, Veletsianos & Doering, 2008, p. 257). Additionally, the methods used to connect the students in the classroom to the explorers in the field were transformative in their ability to foster collaboration.

Bazler, Spokane, Ballard & Fugate (1993) conducted a small study of the student and teacher attitudes towards science after an early JASON project expedition, an early example of adventure learning. They concluded that participation in the JASON experience lead to positive emotional reactions towards science and intentional attitudes about science. A full scale evaluation of the JASON program revealed that students in classrooms participating in the JASON program achieved gains in scientific literacy – both in understanding key scientific concepts and in the process of scientific inquiry – that were not seen in classrooms where the JASON program was not used (Ba, Martin & Diaz, 2001; Ba, Admon & Anderson, 2002; Goldenberg, Ba, Heinze & Hess, 2003).

The previous work of the authors in the field of adventure learning has been largely reflective and theoretical. Niemitz et al. (2008) describe their SOR expedition as an interactive virtual expedition – a means of virtual communication that enables learners of all ages to experience and interact with the process of scientific exploration, in real or near real time and from a distance. Teacher-to-student interaction was made possible via a Q&A forum, teacher blogging, and interactive online activities all delivered using a simple website. The SOR expedition website was a unique example of an interactive virtual expedition, as it was coupled with a professional development workshop. The SOR expedition followed the adventure learning framework (Doering, 2006), but also differed from it in that the teachers were the explorers (along with active scientists) and were not in the classroom moderating the interaction between their students and distant third party explorers (this moderation was conducted by substitute or other teachers). Niemitz et al. (2008) argue that this model, while difficult to scale and implement, provides for a customized adventure learning experience that is most advantageous to the students of the participating educators. Who better to deliver adventure learning experiences from a distance than the teachers who spend nine months of the year in the classroom with their students?

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