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Conditions for Establishing and Promoting Collaborative Research in STEM Learning Ecologies

Rationale, Theoretical Framework, and Objectives Recent publications by the National Research Council (NRC 2000, 2005, 2007, 2008) have focused on cognitive and communication skills learners need to function effectively in 21st century STEM contexts. While these skills are articulated differently in different reports, current systemic reform of STEM education seeks the integrated understanding of science (Kali, Linn, & Roseman, 2008) and improvement of learning through student-centered, inquiry-based approaches (NRC, 2007). NRC (2007) identifies four strands of proficiencies for students and, by extension, teachers: understand, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world; generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations; understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge; and participate productively in scientific practices and discourse (p. 334). Achievement of proficiencies can be facilitated through participation of diverse disciplinary experts in learning ecologies that helps teachers coordinate a set of programs to link authentic questions of interest (Chinn & Malhotra, 2002; Schielack & Knight, 2012) and through the use of information technology as a vehicle for inquiry (Pellegrino, 2000). Although some evidence exists for the effectiveness of interdisciplinary learning ecologies for 21st century STEM education goals (NRC ), we have less understanding of conditions needed to promote the kind of collaborative research that enables participants to cross traditional boundaries of research and practice. Therefore, the purpose of this symposium is to advance our understanding of aspects of learning ecologies that facilitate or impede interdisciplinary collaboration. More specifically, objectives include to: (1) characterize the processes and outcomes of five National Science Foundation (NSF) projects from three universities emphasizing collaborative research and incorporating information technology; (2) identify conditions within and across projects that impact interdisciplinary STEM learning ecologies; and (3) examine the extent to which these conditions can be utilized to develop transportable models of successful interdisciplinary collaboration. Format The proposed symposium is divided into three parts. The first part (50 minutes) features brief presentations of five papers. Four of the five papers describe NSF-funded STEM education projects and lessons learned about conditions for developing and sustaining interdisciplinary STEM learning communities. The fifth paper outlines lessons learned from projects they have been involved with as external evaluators. Next, Richard Duschl, who has been active in work associated with NRC reports, will provide integrative comments to synthesize and advance our thinking (15 minutes). The discussant will pose questions for the audience to consider in relation to papers presented and their own work. Finally, the Chair, Presenters, and Discussant will engage the audience in dialogue about the extent to which these conditions can be used to develop transportable models for interdisciplinary collaboration and contextual features that may constrain the models. Educational Significance Findings from this symposium can inform strategies for the 2013 AERA theme that addresses education and poverty. STEM degree attainment and career goals are related to factors associated with

parents’ SES (Chen, 2009). Involving K-16 students and teachers in interdisciplinary learning ecologies has the potential to alter learning conditions that embrace the four strands and increase 21st century STEM proficiencies and interest in science - possibly increasing the number of low-income students with STEM degrees. Paper #1: Sustaining the Creative Tension to Support a STEM Learning Ecology. Stephanie L. Knight, Penn State University; Jane F. Schielack, Texas A&M University This paper describes the design, development, and implementation of an NSF-funded STEM leadership program that promotes collaboration among scientists and science educators, provides authentic research experiences for educators, and facilitates adaptation and evaluation of these experiences for students in secondary and postsecondary classrooms. Beginning in 2000, a group of people from a variety of disciplinary perspectives came together to brainstorm ideas for addressing the need for a new generation of science education leaders. The expectation was that university scientists and education researchers, graduate students, and grade 7–16 practitioners would embrace a common goal of doing research and engaging students within Science Learning Communities, thus adding to the pool of 21st-century science education leaders. This collection of researchers and graduate students in the physical, life, and earth sciences; researchers and graduate students in science education and educational psychology; and grade 7–16 science teachers created an environment of distributed expertise resulting in a set of interactive experiences known as the Information Technology in Science Center. ITS strives to transform the culture and relationships among scientists, education researchers, and education practitioners by engaging them in the use of information technology to learn about how science is done; how science is taught and learned; how science learning can be assessed; and how scholarly networks can be developed. The information technology targeted visualization, simulation, modeling, and analyses of complex data sets. Practitioners participating in the scientists’ research enhanced their classroom practice through the design, implementation, and investigation of authentic science lessons based on their experiences working with scientists. IT-based instructional interventions incorporated the use of information technology and scientific inquiry to enhance K-16 learners’ understanding of the natural world in the same way that scientists use these tools to do their research. Participants adapted and used the interventions in their own classroom research studies to examine the effects of their interventions on students’ learning. The paper summarizes program outcomes, including analyses of resulting classroom implementation and impacts on science and education faculty, graduate students, and secondary science students and their teachers. Building an environment incorporating creative tension was a key aspect of this project. Creative tension was the driving characteristic of the ITS program as a learning ecology. Creative tension arises from disequilibrium and novelty—when tasks or goals require individuals to reconfigure themselves to act in roles that are unfamiliar to them and to adaptively change course when necessary. Creative tension provided the energy needed to solve the complex problems associated with the learning communities as they worked toward their commitments to doing research and engaging students in authentic research. Teaching and learning within the ITS environment led to the identification of conditions necessary to support the creative tension needed to initiate and maintain the learning ecology, including diversity, the ability to reform structures and roles, new understandings of identity and community, and appropriate incentives. Paper #2: Exploring the Effect of Virtual Ecologies on Student Learning Processes – A Collaborative Endeavor of Science and Education Scholars. X. Ben Wu, Texas A&M University; Stephanie L. Knight, Penn State University; Jane F. Schielack, Texas A&M University; Aubree Webb, Penn State University

This paper describes an NSF-supported collaborative project between sciencists and education researchers in developing a Virtual Ecological Inquiry (VEI) learning environment in Second Life (a 3-D virtual world); implementation of the VEI in large, introductory ecology classes; and examination of the behaviors and learning of students using the VEI. VEI is based on an earlier collaborative project between members of the NSF-funded Information Technology in Science (ITS) Center for Teaching and Learning at Texas A&M University and colleagues at the Computer Network Information Center (CNIC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The VEI design was based on the landscape ecology of the Wolong Natural Reserve to enable inquirybased learning and assessment of student learning. In VEI, students can observe ecological patterns, generate testable hypotheses, design and conduct virtual field investigations, analyze the data, and make ecological interpretations. Main activities and spatial locations of individual students in VEI are recorded for analysis of learning process and behavior. VEI was tested in Fall 2011 in an introductory ecology course with over 400 students. Making appropriate graphical settings in various computers turned out to be challenging for some students and caused considerable frustration. With appropriate graphical settings, students improved their efficiency in navigation and performing sampling tasks quickly. Despite the challenges, many students reflected in a student survey that they liked the virtual world experiences, being able to interact with others in VEI, and learning about the ecology in the museum and sampling in virtual plots of Wolong. They perceived learning through the VEI project with improved ability to formulate a testable hypothesis and improved understanding of how ecologists conduct research. Based on comparison to student reflections on another web-based inquiry project in the course, more challenging experiences due to technical difficulties appear to have negatively influenced student perceptions on their learning gain. An important lesson learned is that we must balance the desire for realism in the virtual inquiry and the critical consideration of widely variable computing capabilities and skills of individual students. VEI represents a complex collaboration among groups with diverse expertise (technology, ecology, educational research) as well as diverse cultures (China, U.S.). The presentation discusses the processes, challenges, and benefits of interdisciplinary STEM collaboration within this context. In addition, the paper highlights the importance of prior working relationships to the development of successful complex collaborative projects. Paper #3: The Bio-engineered Model System: Interlocking Physical and Mental Models on the Laboratory Bench Top. Wendy Newstetter, Georgia Tech University Over the last twelve years, we have investigated the cognitive and learning requirements for engaging in interdisciplinary work in university laboratories. The research settings we studied were designed to transcend the traditional model of collaboration among engineers, biologists, and medical doctors to a new kind of integrative biomedical engineering that will shorten the span between laboratory research and bedside application. In our research, we attempt a shift in analytical approach from regarding cognitive and socio-cultural factors as independent variables to regarding cognitive and socio-cultural processes as integral to one another. To make that shift towards integration, we construe cognitive processes as comprising more than what takes place in the head of an individual scientist, and analyze scientific thinking as occurring within complex cognitive-cultural systems comprising humans and artifacts. We started with two questions: What is the nature of reasoning and problem solving in interdisciplinary practice? How is learning accomplished in complex sites of interdisciplinary work? To begin to address these questions, we undertook a two-year investigation of a neuro-engineering laboratory, a hybrid engineering and science environment. This lab investigates learning or neural plasticity to create aids for neurological disabilities or, more notably, “to make humans smarter” (Lab D Director). We conducted an extended ethnography employing participant observation, informant

interviewing and artifact collection. This was complimented by cognitive-historical analysis, in which we collected and analyzed data from traditional publications, grant proposals, laboratory notebooks, and technological artifacts to capture the diachronic dimension of the research by tracing the intersecting trajectories of the human and technological components of the laboratory, conceived as an evolving cognitive-cultural system, from both historical records and ethnographic data. This human system comprises neuroscientists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, biochemists and artists in the United States and Australia. We found the hybrid nature of the laboratories under investigation most clearly instantiated in the bio-engineered model-systems developed in the laboratories and in the characteristics of the researcher-students who are part of a program aimed explicitly at producing interdisciplinary, integrative thinkers in bio-engineering. The particular focus in this talk will be a bio-engineered model system in Lab D, referred to as the “living artistic robot” or hybrot (hybrid robot for short). This system comprises a “brain-in-a-dish”, a computer and specially developed software, and a “body”, which is physically distributed and capable of drawing (primitive) pictures that goes by the name “MEArt.” The Dish is the lab’s central model-system: the physically constructed embodiment of the Lab’s selective model of the brain, an in vitro model of basic in vivo neurological processes. We maintain that MEArt is a complex model-system involving several different physical and mental models, instruments, and devices, which converge and interlock around the MEArt hybrot. A central claim of our research is that inference is performed through interlocking mental and physical models and that the devices serve as hubs for interlocking cognitive and cultural facets of laboratory research. The presenters will discuss how these devices also serve as socio-cognitive-cultural anchors and accelerants for interdisciplinary collaboration. Paper #4: STEM Integration in a Research Based Engineering Curriculum Using Enacted and Prescribed Frames. Anthony J. Petrosino, Katharine A. Gustafson, University of Texas Recent calls from both educational leaders and researchers have emphasized that technical education and academic subject areas be integrated so students can develop both academic and occupational competency as well as be more motivating and interesting to students. In response to this national call, engineering and K-12 pre-engineering curricula are being developed and redesigned to invigorate the engineering pipeline and to provide an integrated program of STEM education (Prevost et. al, 2009). This paper explores the contrasting ways in which integration is articulated in the prescribed curriculum and how integration is translated into the enacted curriculum as certain organizations, individuals and artifacts become enrolled through networks of school and college. The current study looks at a prescribed 12 week secondary engineering unit which was designed with significant input from a university-based team including content experts, learning scientists, master teachers, classroom teachers and school district administrators as part of an NSF grant focused on the creation of a high school engineering course (UTeach Engineering MSP). The unit was enacted in a rural/suburban school by a group of average students by a teacher with high content knowledge in engineering (a former civil engineer) as well as 10 years of experience as a classroom teacher. The teacher was also part of the same NSF grant and was in the process of obtaining a Master's degree in STEM education during the time period. Using grounded theory, action research and ethnographic case study methodology this research explores the contrasting ways in which a prescribed curriculum is translated into an enacted curriculum. The current study looks at a 12 week secondary engineering unit (helmet design) which was designed with significant input from a university-based team including content experts, learning scientists, master teachers, classroom teachers and school district administrators as part of a grant focused on

the creation of a high school engineering course. Five thrusts were identified for analysis including Assessment, Activities, Apparatus, Technology and Standards. Findings indicate much alignment with Apparatus, Standards and Technology thrusts and disparity within the Assessment and Activities thrusts. Additionally, we found many areas in the unit where the intended and enacted curricula were not aligned, so that topics emphasized in the course were not assessed, while concepts and skills on some assessments were not especially supported by the course materials. While these findings seem at odds with claims by the curriculum developers, we attribute the different interpretations to an example of the Expert Blind Spot (Author, 2003), the psychological phenomenon that those highly knowledgeable in their own fields more readily see the deep conceptual underpinnings than novices do. Finally, we use the results of these analyses to illustrate how STEM concepts can be explicitly integrated with high school engineering activities, and increase the possibilities that learning will be deep and foster transfer to new tasks and settings. Paper #5: Evaluating Educational Collaborations. Ruth Anderson, Jim Minstrell, Facet Innovations For at least two decades, efforts to improve science education have emphasized the support of formal collaborations between K-20 practitioners and researchers. Underlying the support of these efforts is the belief that interdependence among collaborators leads to greater intellectual exchange and the creation of more innovative products, approaches and practices. What’s more, there has also been the implicit expectation of “cultural change” for participants and their respective institutions, which in turn would promote greater alignment of K-16 science education research and practice. Whether they are inter-institutional or inter-departmental, educational partnerships are complex multicultural endeavors involving several professional communities and requiring participants to negotiate cultural boundaries, learn to communicate and to share resources and rewards. Successful interdisciplinary collaborations are obviously challenging to build but perhaps even more challenging to evaluate in terms of quality and viability as they grow and evolve. After all, evaluation is interested not only in the partnership’s “destination” (specific short term products or outcomes) but also the journey to success (or failure) so that successful examples might be efficiently replicated in future contexts or that fatal mistakes might be avoided. In this paper, we will look at key components in the development of interdisciplinary educational partnerships as participants evolve from a loose confederation of diverse individuals engaged in “parallel play,” to a collaborative and productive interdisciplinary network. To do so, we will rely on evaluation data and findings from four STEM interdisciplinary partnerships, funded by NSF in the last decade, for which we served as external evaluators. We will examine the data through two frameworks. The first is based on concepts within the field of organization development (OD), which has commonly been drawn upon to describe school-university partnerships and to organize important “lessons learned.” However, while the principles of organizational theory help to tell the particular hows and whys of the successful development of a specific collaboration, they don’t easily present a blueprint from which to engineer future groups within a new and unique context. The second framework, which draws on principles of complexity science, is more conducive to predicting and documenting the viability and development of a complex learning system over time. This working framework is informed by Davis and Simmt’s (2003) research on complex learning systems in formal and informal mathematics learning environments. We will explore the principles of internal diversity, redundancy, decentralized control, organized randomness and neighbor interactions in light of the educational partnership data and explore some ways in which they might be used in conjunction with methods such as social network analysis (SNA) to both predict and explain the viability, development and ongoing health of these collaborations.

The two frameworks are complementary and potentially useful in documenting the development and outcomes of interdisciplinary educational collaborations. The first is most useful retrospectively in presenting a specific project’s “story” and the particulars of its relative success or failure. Meanwhile, the second framework potentially provides a generalizable approach to measuring the evolution of emergent complex systems that are educational partnerships.

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