Learning about Ecosystems Science and Complex Causality through Experimentation in a Virtual World

This project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, and will develop ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments.

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Comprehending how ecosystems function is important knowledge for citizens in making decisions and for students who aspire to become scientists. This understanding requires deep thinking about complex causality, unintended side-effects, and the strengths and limitations of experimental science. These are difficult concepts to learn due to the many interacting components and non-linear interrelationships involved. Ecosystems dynamics is particularly difficult to teach in classrooms because ecosystems involve complexities such as phenomena distributed widely across space that change over long time frames. Learning when and how experimental science can provide useful information in understanding ecosystems dynamics requires moving beyond the limited affordances of classrooms. The project will: 1) advance understanding of experimentation in ecosystems as it can be applied to education; 2) show how student learning is affected by having opportunities to experiment in the virtual world that simulate what scientists do in the real world and with models; and 3) produce results comparing this form of teaching to earlier instructional approaches. This project will result in a learning environment that will support learning about the complexities of the earth's ecosystem.

The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, developed as part of an earlier NSF-funded project. A MUVE is a simulated world in which students can virtually walk around, make observations, talk to others, and collect data. EcoMUVE simulates a pond and a forest ecosystem. It offers an immersive context that makes it possible to teach about ecosystems in the classroom, allowing exploration of the complexities of large scale problems, extended time frames and and multiple causality. To more fully understand how ecosystems work, students need the opportunity to experiment and to observe what happens. This project will advance this earlier work by developing ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments. The project will work with ecosystem scientists to study the types of experiments that they conduct, informing knowledge in education about how ecosystem scientists think, and will build opportunities for students that mirror what scientists do. The project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The resulting program will be tested against existing practice, the EcoMUVE program alone, and other programs that teach aspects of ecosystems dynamics to help teachers know how to best use these curricula in the classroom.

Publications:

Reilly, J., Grotzer, T.A., & Dede, C.J. (submitted). Learning from log files: Novel uses of student log file data in immersive virtual environments for science education.  Journal of Science Education and Technology.

Gonzalez, E., Grotzer, T.A., McGivney, E., & Reilly, J. (in press). Details matter: How contrasting design features in two MUVEs impact learning outcomes. Technology, Knowledge, and Learning.

Kamarainen, A. Grotzer, T., Thompson, M., Sabey, D. & Haag, B. (in press). Teacher views of experimentation in ecosystem science, Journal of Biological Education.

Grotzer, T.A., Gonzalez, E., & Schibuk, E. (in press). Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Prediction. In J. Nordine & O. Lee (Eds.) Crosscutting Concepts: Strengthening Science and Engineering Learning. NSTA: Arlington, VA.

Grotzer, T.A., Gonzalez, E., & McGivney (in press). Teaching students to grasp complexity in biology education using a “Body of Evidence” approach. In O. Ben-Zvi Assaraf & M.C.P.J. Knippels (Eds.) Complexity in Biology Education, NY: Springer Nature.

Reilly, Joseph, M. (2020) Dynamic Feedback as Automated Scaffolding to Support Learners and Teachers in Guided Authentic Scientific Inquiry Settings. Doctoral Dissertation, Harvard University.

Grotzer, T.A. (April 2020). Beyond wonder and care – Becoming a green thinker. Tomorrow’s Earth Stewards. https://sites.tufts.edu/earthstewards/2020/04/08/beyond-wonder-and-care-becoming-a-green-thinker/

Kamarainen, A. M., & Grotzer, T.A. (2019). Constructing causal understanding in complex systems: Epistemic strategies used by ecosystem scientists, BioScience, 69(7), 533–543.

Dede, C., Grotzer, T., Kamarainen, A., & Metcalf, S. (2019). Designing immersive authentic simulations that enhance motivation and learning: EcoLearn. In R. Feldman (Ed.), Learning science: Theory, research, practice. New York: McGraw Hill.

Metcalf, S.J., Chen, J. A., Kamarainen, A M., Frumin, K., Vickrey, T.L., Grotzer, T.A. & Dede, C.J. (2019). Transitions in student motivation during a MUVE-based ecosystem science curriculum: An evaluation of the novelty effect, In K. Becnel. (Ed.) (pp 96-115) Emerging Technologies in Virtual Learning Environments, IGI Global.

Cuzzolino, M.P., Grotzer, T.A. Tutwiler, M.S., & Torres, E.W. (2019). An agentive focus may limit learning about complex causality and systems dynamics: A study of seventh graders' explanations of ecosystems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching.  56(8), 1083-1105.

Dede, C., Grotzer, T., Kamarainen, A., & Metcalf, S. (2017).  EcoXPT: Designing for deeper learning through experimentation in an immersive virtual ecosystem.  Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 20(4) 166-178.

Presentations:

McGivney, E, Gonzalez, E., De Los Santos, S., Kamarainen, A. & Grotzer, T.A. (2019, April). Improving understanding of teaching practice for student learning: A holistic measure of fidelity of implementation. Presented to the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), April 2, Baltimore, MD.

Reilly, J., Kamarainen, A.M., Metcalf, S., Dede, C. & Grotzer, T.A. (April, 2019). The importance of time and sequence on learning in mobile augmented reality. Presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) conference, April 2, 2019, Baltimore, MD.

Metcalf, S., Reilly, J., Studwell, J., Kamarainen, A.M., Grotzer, T.A. & Dede, C. (April, 2019). Linking evidence and concept maps in virtual environment for ecosystems science learning.  Presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) conference, April 2, 2019, Baltimore, MD.

Kamarainen, A.M., Thompson, M.M., Metcalf, S.J., Grotzer, T.A., Tutwiler, M.S., Dede, C. (2018, June). Prompting Connections between Content and Context: Blending Immersive Virtual Environments and Augmented Reality for Environmental Science Learning.  In Beck, D., Allison, C., Morgado, L., Pirker, J., Khosmood, F., Richter, J., & Gütl, C. (Eds.). (2018). Immersive Learning Research Network: Fourth International Conference, iLRN 2018, Missoula, Montana, June 24–29, 2018. Proceedings (Vol. 840). Springer.

Grotzer, T.A, Gonzalez, E., Kamarainen, A., Metcalf, S. & Dede, C. (2018, March). Moving from Exploring Patterns to Causal Explanations in Ecosystems Science Reasoning. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Atlanta, GA. March 12, 2018

Grotzer, T.A., Metcalf, S.J., Tutwiler, M.S., Kamarainen, A.M., Thompson, M. & Dede, C. (2017, April). Teaching the Systems Aspects of Epistemologically Authentic Experimentation in Ecosystems through Immersive Virtual Worlds, National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), San Antonio, TX.

Cuzzolino, M.P., Tutwiler, M.S., Torres, E., & Grotzer, T.A. (2107, April). How Problem Features Interact with the Ways that Seventh Graders Frame Agency in Ecological Problems. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), San Antonio, TX.

Kamarainen, A., Grotzer, T.A., Metcalf, S.J., & Dede, C. (2017, April). Using Expert Perspectives to Inform the Design of Instruction about Ecosystem Science Practices. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), San Antonio, TX.

Metcalf, S.J., Kamarainen, A. King, J., Grotzer, T.A., & Dede, C. (2017, April). Inquiry-Based Ecosystem Science Learning in Virtual Environments – Comparing Virtual and Physical Concept Mapping. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), San Antonio, TX.

Dede, C., Grotzer, T.A., Metcalf, S.J., Kamarainen, A., & Tutwiler, M.S. (2017, April) EcoXPT: Learning Through Experimentation in an Immersive Virtual Ecosystem. American Educational Research Association, San Antonio, TX

Metcalf, S.J., Kamarainen, A., Grotzer, T.A. & Dede, C.J. (2017, April). Changes in Student Experimentation Strategies Within an Inquiry-Based Immersive Virtual Environment. American Educational Research Association, San Antonio, TX

Thompson, M., Tutwiler, M.S. Kamarainen, A., Metcalf, S. Grotzer, T., & Dede, C. (2016, April). A blended assessment strategy for EcoXPT: An experimentation-driven ecosystems science-based multi-user virtual environment, American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference, Washington D.C.

Metcalf, S.J., Kamarainen, A., Thompson, M., Sedney, P., Grotzer, T., Dede, C. (2016, April). Ecosystem science learning through simulated experimentation within an immersive virtual environment, American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference, Washington D.C.

Kamarainen, A., Metcalf, S.J., Grotzer, T.A., Thompson, M.M., Tutwiler, M.S., & Dede, C. (2016, April). Supporting ecosystem science knowledge and practices using immersive virtual environments and mobile augmented reality, American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference, Washington D.C.

Tutwiler, M.S.,Grotzer, T.A., Thompson, M., Kamerainen, A., Metcalf, S., Dede, C. (2016, April). Validation of an instrument measuring student complex causal assumptions. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Conference, Baltimore, MD.

Kamarainen, A.M., Sabey, D., Grotzer, T.A., Thompson, M., Shultis, E. (2016, April). Viewpoints on experimentation from the perspectives of teachers and students. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Conference, Baltimore, MD.

Thompson, M., King, J., Kamarainen, A., Tutwiler, M.S., Metcalf, S., Sedney, P., Grotzer, T., & Dede, C. (2016, April). Examining middle school students’ pathways through experimentation via a virtual simulation. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Conference, Baltimore, MD.

Project Materials