Theoretical Perspectives on Instructional Technology Use in Inquiry-based Science Education: An Annotated Bibliography Margaret Thayer Ed Tech 503

Spring 2010

Introduction Inquiry-based instruction is widely held as the most desirable goal in science education today, particularly since the U.S. National Science Educational Standards (NSES) were published in 1996 with an emphasis on the inquiry-based approach. Inquiry-based science instruction is generally considered to reflect constructivist teaching principles. Yet some educators question the efficacy of constructivist practices in general and inquiry-based science instruction in particular, generating much debate in the science education community. The difficulty of assessing student performance in inquiry-based environments, particularly with escalating demands for fact-based standardized testing, has further complicated the issue. Some researchers assert that emerging technologies are uniquely capable of enabling inquiry-based constructivist science environments, and perhaps more importantly, to engage students in science learning. All of the researchers in this collection of papers from 2000 to 2010 explore the ability of educational technologies and constructivist pedagogies to produce the inquiry-based instruction called for by the NSES.

DeHaan, R. L. (2005). The impending revolution in undergraduate science education. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 14(2), 253-269. doi:10.1007/s10956-005-4425-3 In this paper, DeHaan makes a strong case for the pursuit of constructivist ideals in undergraduate science education. The paper provides a substantial body of evidence to support three major assertions: (1) instructional strategies based on “scientific teaching,” which require students to be actively engaged in their own learning, are more effective than the traditional lecture/lab format; (2) information technologies can provide the tools to support inquiry-based, active-learning educational experiences; and (3) numerous strategies (which are outlined) can be used to encourage the adoption of scientific teaching principles in higher education institutions. An impressive list of references, most dated 2000 or later, support the author’s assertions. The paper is rather one-sided with no consideration of other theoretical perspectives, but that would defeat the paper’s purpose as a “call to arms” for this pedagogical “revolution.” As such, the paper serves as a nice springboard for educators seeking ideas to transform their institution or department, or their own teaching.
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Ketelhut, D. J., Nelson, B. C., Clarke, J., & Dede, C. (2010). A multi-user virtual environment for building and assessing higher order inquiry skills in science. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 56-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.01036.x The authors of this intriguing two-year study took a classic research approach to analyze the effectiveness of a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) for middle-school science instruction. The researchers collected quantitative and qualitative data from three “experimental” learner groups (three virtual curriculum variants) and one paper-based control learner group to assess the MUVE’s effectiveness for inquiry skill-building and adherence to national science standards and testing. The three variant groups—guided social constructivist (GSC), expert modeling and coaching (EMC), and legitimate peripheral participation (LPP)—varied with the amount of realworld and virtual expertise and assistance. The MUVE is a 19th-century virtual town called River City in which students adopt interactive avatars to study bacterial disease and ecology. Students develop hypotheses, collect and analyze data, write lab reports, and compare findings with other groups. This study included 2000 students in eight schools and 61 classrooms from three different regions of the U.S. The complex results show differences between girls and boys and between low- and high-ability students, but generally indicate that virtual-world curricula can teach standards-based biological content and inquiry skills as well as or better than traditional approaches while generating greater student motivation and engagement. The paper also succinctly frames the difficulty of creating curricula that both develop inquiry skills and teach content for fact-based standards testing. This is a must-read paper for every educator interested in science education, standards compliance, virtual curricula, and constructivist learning environments. The comprehensive study can serve as a model for additional studies in these areas.

Klopfer, E., & Squire, K. (2008). Environmental Detectives—The development of an augmented reality platform for environmental simulations. Educational Technology Research & Development, 56(2), 203-228. doi:10.1007/s11423-007-9037-6 This paper reports on the pedagogical design implications derived from four case studies of the Environmental Detectives augmented reality simulation game. The goals of the study were to explore the educational potential of augmented reality technology and to test the researchers’ design process for augmented reality games. In the four case studies, high school and first-year college students used handheld computers to participate in the game’s simulated toxic spill scenario. The participants were given 90 minutes to engage in collaborative problem-solving and inquiry to identify the cause of the toxin. The researchers describe the students’ observed behavior and discuss the design changes suggested by those observations. They report that the participants enjoyed the game’s combination of real and virtual worlds, but later assessments showed little evidence that students were engaged with the scientific content. However, the researchers were able to identify numerous game design factors from this educational “failure.”
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For example, the researchers describe differences in problem-solving approaches between the high school and college students, and between girls and boys. They also discuss the importance of classroom culture and context for shaping the participants’ use of the software. Although the scope of this study is limited and highly preliminary, it contains important information about the contextual analysis factors of designing educational simulation games.

McWilliam, E., Poronnik, P., & Taylor, P. G. (2008). Re-designing science pedagogy: Reversing the flight from science. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 17(3), 226-235. doi:10.1007/s10956-008-9092-8 To prevent students from “fleeing” science education and careers, the authors of this paper argue for a shift in the pedagogical culture of undergraduate science education. Instead of offering only linear knowledge transmission from educator to student, science educators should encourage value creation through the mutual engagement of educators and students in “creative capacity building.” Thus, educators should foster a learning environment with creativity at its core, in which students actively engage in constructing information through dynamic discourse and thereby develop the skills for innovative thinking required in today’s workplace. This pedagogical transformation is prompted by the popularity of today’s social networking media and the mutable nature of knowledge exchange in a wiki-enabled world. Since social media form the learning networks of today’s youth, science educators should utilize the learning community concept in their teaching. This pragmatic suggestion might find agreement with educators who are acutely aware of 20-year-old college students’ affinity for their digital social network. Unfortunately, the paper lacks specific suggestions for practice and would benefit from successful real-world examples. Such examples might be found among the paper’s plentiful and recent references.

Rodrigues, S. (2000). The interpretive zone between software designers and a science educator: Grounding instructional multimedia design in learning theory. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 33(1), 1-15. In this case study, Rodrigues examines the difficulties of accommodating constructivist views in the design of multimedia science instruction that will be applied in objectivist instructional environments. Cognition research was intentionally applied in the design of a multimedia CDROM covering middle-school-level chemistry lessons. Two significant difficulties are described: (1) the differing interpretations of terminology between the software engineers and the science educator, and (2) the technological limitations of essentially linear multimedia software for fostering nonlinear constructivist learning. Rodrigues details the communication and interpretation issues between the science educator and software engineers. For example, she points out that scientists tend to arrive at understandings of common terminology that differ
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greatly from the meanings understood by nonscientists. In the study, the word “construct” had a much different meaning for the software engineers than the science educator. Although the paper considers only one case study and reflects on technology that is now more than 10 years old, it still offers considerations that are applicable today. It would be interesting to examine a similar situation in which an instructional designer acted as a liaison between the engineers and educator. Other papers in this bibliography consider more current technologies that may provide some solutions to the technological limitations discussed in this paper.

Squire, K. D., & Jan, M. (2007). Mad City Mystery: Developing scientific argumentation skills with a place-based augmented reality game on handheld computers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(1), 5-29. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9037-z The instructional technology described in this paper was designed to create a “post-progressive” pedagogy based on game theory in which the instruction both immerses students in authentic scientific inquiry and requires them to develop scientific argumentation skills. The researchers considered three case studies involving the place-based augmented reality game Mad City Mystery set near Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin. In the game, students adopt one of three team roles (medical doctor, environmental scientist, or government official) to investigate the mysterious death of a fisherman near the lake. Each student is given only some of the information needed to form a hypothesis about the death, so the students must collaborate and consider multiple factors and causes of death. The researchers observed the behavior and dialogue of the game participants to assess their use of inquiry and argumentation skills. The authors concluded that “combining game structures with physical space created a hybrid ‘third space’ that was neither completely fantastic nor completely real, enabling students to engage in plausible scientific investigations that (1) have significance (or authenticity) to them while (2) serving as cognitive scaffolding for activity” (p. 24). The authors acknowledge four limitations to their study: the game’s short duration did not correspond to that of a real science investigation; the students were not engaged in a real-world problem, which constrained the inquiry; the assessments did not yield data that could be used to judge student performance (learning); and because the investigators and game facilitators role proved integral in these three cases, supervision may be a necessary condition to support learning with this type of instruction. Finally, the authors suggest that this type of augmented-reality game could be used as a springboard for deeper inquiry-based activities. Because of the significant study limitations described by the authors (and others that readers might identify), it would be an error to draw any conclusions about student learning from this paper; however, the participants of this game were actively engaged in inquiry and collaboration, and future studies could be designed to discover whether those skills transfer to real-world problems. van’t Hooft, M. (2005). The effect of the “Ohio Schools Going Solar” project on student perceptions of the quality of learning in middle school science. Journal of Research on

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Technology in Education, 37(3), 221-243. In this study, van’t Hooft uses Newmann’s framework for authentic intellectual work to analyze the effect of the Ohio Schools Going Solar (OSGS) project on middle school students’ perceptions of learning science. The OSGS project connects solar panels outside the school building with computing and other technologies inside the classroom to encourage inquiry-based science learning. Newmann’s constructivist-based framework has three parts: disciplined inquiry, construction of knowledge, and application beyond the classroom. Data on students’ perceptions of the OSGS project were gathered via surveys. The results indicate that the OSGS project had a positive effect on students’ perceptions of learning science in the first two parts of Newmann’s framework (disciplined inquiry, knowledge construction), but not in the students’ application beyond the classroom. Not surprisingly, students were the least enthusiastic about the lecture segments of the project and the most enthusiastic about hands-on activities. van’t Hooft concludes that technology provides a more hands-on learning environment that motivates students to have a more positive view of science learning. Although the results are limited by the use of self-reported survey data (which the author acknowledges) and the absence of learning measures, the study does address technology’s important role in motivating students to engage in science education. Since the students did not consider the project’s application beyond the classroom, one might question whether the technology had more of a novelty than educational effect on their perceptions. A more objectivist treatment of the project might evaluate whether student motivation translates into learning.

Yager, R. E., & Akcay, H. (2008). Comparison of student learning outcomes in middle school science classes with an STS approach and a typical textbook dominated approach. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 31(7), 1-16. This study compared the instructional approaches of two middle school science teachers for one year. One teacher followed the constructivist Science-Technology-Society (STS) approach, and the other followed a traditional textbook approach. The STS approach emphasizes current issues, local situations, and personal relevance in which students initiate questions, participate in discussions and research actions, and make decisions through social interactions. The teachers in the study collaborated on content decisions and used the same pre- and post-assessments. The study analyzed the students’ concept mastery, general science achievement, use of concepts in new situations, and attitudes toward science. The findings indicate that the STS and textbook students learned basic concepts and general concept mastery equally well, but the STS students were better at applying science concepts to new situations and developed more positive attitudes about science than the textbook students. The paper provides scant attention to the actual instructional strategies used by the STS teacher; the “technology” aspect appears to be part of the subject matter rather than tools used for science instruction. Nevertheless, this study provides

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compelling evidence for constructivist teaching approaches in general and the STS approach in particular. Although only two classrooms are compared, the use of identical pre- and postassessments provides more compelling evidence for the constructivist approach than that provided by van’t Hooft (2005).

Yerrick, R., & Johnson, J. (2009). Meeting the needs of middle grade science learners through pedagogical and technological intervention. Contemporary Issues in Technology & Teacher Education, 9(3), 280-315. In this paper, researchers report on a year-long study to asses the effect of increased technology use and new pedagogical strategies on science students in one New York middle school. The researchers sought to connect specific technology tools and constructivist pedagogical strategies with prior research suggesting teachers should orient their teaching practices around their students’ learning styles. All of the school’s science teachers were offered a year of access to technology tools, technology support, and professional development so they could infuse more technology tools, such as laptops and probeware, into their instruction. Two of the ten science teachers agreed to participate for the full year, which essentially created a control group out of the remaining eight science teachers’ students. In this school, standardized test scores are important and students tend to achieve higher scores than in other New York schools. The researchers assessed student learning by collecting data on test scores and self-assessments from more than 500 students and the ten teachers. The results indicated a strong correlation between technology use and student performance, engagement, and positive attitudes toward the instruction. The participating teachers indicated that they spent less time reviewing content yet their students still performed better on the standardized tests, which led them to conclude that “teaching for the test” was a flawed strategy. Since learning styles have been largely discounted as a factor in teaching, the authors’ implication that learning success was connected to the students’ self-assessments of their learning styles should be considered flawed; nevertheless, this study provides some intriguing evidence that technology use and constructivist practices can produce not only greater student engagement in science education, but also the highly coveted improvement in test scores. The authors did acknowledge that the two teachers who self-selected for participation in the project may have skewed the results. Readers may also wonder whether the regular professional development and targeted technology support made available to the project teachers during the study year may have done more to advance the program’s success than other factors.

© 2010 Margaret Thayer

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