Building Environmental and Educational Technology Competence and Leadership Among Educators: An Exploration in Virtual Reality Professional Development

This project will bring locally relevant virtual reality (VR) experiences to teachers and students in areas where there is historically low participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM. This exploratory project will support the professional growth and development of current middle and high school STEM teachers by providing multiyear summer training and school year support around environmental sciences themed content, implementing VR in the classroom, and development of a support community for the teachers.

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Many of the nation's most vulnerable ecosystems exist near communities with scant training opportunities for teachers and students in K-12 schools. The Louisiana wetlands is one such example. Focusing on these threatened natural environments and their connection to flooding will put science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts in a real-world context that is relatable to students living in these areas while integrating virtual reality technology. This technology will allow students in rural and urban schools lacking resources for field trips to be immersed into simulated field experiences. This exploratory project will support the professional growth and development of current middle and high school STEM teachers by providing multiyear summer training and school year support around three specific areas: (1) environmental sciences themed content; (2) implementing virtual reality (VR) in the classroom, and (3) development of a support community for the teachers. Findings from this project will advance the knowledge of the most effective components in professional development for teachers to incorporate new knowledge into their classrooms. This project will bring locally relevant VR experiences to teachers and students in areas where there is historically low participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM. Through new partnerships formed with collaborators, the results of this project will be shared broadly in informal and formal education environments including public outreach events for an increase in public scientific literacy and public engagement.

This project will expand the understanding of the impact that a multi-layered professional development program will have on improving the self-efficacy of teachers in STEM. This project will add to the field's knowledge tied to the overall research question: What are the experiences of secondary STEM teachers in rural and urban schools who participate in a multiyear professional development (PD) program? This project will provide instructional support and PD for two cohorts of ten teachers in southeastern Louisiana. Each summer, teachers will complete a two-week blended learning PD training, and during the academic year, teachers will participate in an action research community including PD meetings and monthly Critical Friends Group meetings. A longitudinal pre-post-post design will be employed to analyze whether the proposed method improves teacher's self-efficacy, instructional practices, integration of technology, and leadership as the teachers will deploy VR training locally to grow the base of teachers integrating this technology into their curriculum. The findings of this project will improve understanding of how innovative place-based technological experiences can be brought into classrooms and shared through public engagement.

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