Turning Transfer Inside Out: The Affordances of Virtual Worlds and Mobile Devices in Real World Contexts for Teaching About Causality Across Time and Distance in Ecosystems

Abstract

Reasoning about ecosystems includes consideration of causality over temporal and spatial distances; yet learners typically focus on immediate time frames and local contexts. Teaching students to reason beyond these boundaries has met with some success based upon tests that cue students to the types of reasoning required. Virtual worlds offer an opportunity to assess what students actually do in a simulated context. Beyond this, mobile devices make it possible to scaffold and assess learning in the real world. Situating learning outside, in the target contexts, bypasses many of the challenges of transfer. A study investigated the learning of fifth and sixth graders (n = 38) while they used a virtual world called EcoMUVE, designed to support learning of ecosystems concepts and complex causal dynamics, and mobile broadband device (MBDs) components, designed to assess and support learning and transfer in a real pond ecosystem. The experiences of two classes were contrasted as reference populations; one class participated in the MBD experience first, followed by the learning components in EcoMUVE; the other participated in EcoMUVE first, followed by the MBD components. Rich and triangulated data was collected to illuminate how students experienced and responded to the curriculum components. Both classes made learning gains in EcoMUVE. Students who completed EcoMUVE prior to their MBD experience transferred concepts to their pond explorations. Both classes made learning gains at the pond following the MBD support and revealed more expert reasoning about the importance of change over time and distant drivers in ecosystem dynamics.

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Notes

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    Accessed at http://gse.harvard.edu/uclab/.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to express our appreciation to the teachers and students who contributed their time to this project and enabled us to collect data on their reasoning patterns. We also thank Maya Bialik, Amber K. Boyd, Maleka Donaldson Gramling, Couger Jimenez Jaramillo, Tim Johnson, Miles Malbrough, Daniel Oh, S. Lynneth Solis and M. Shane Tutwiler for their assistance in data collection, transcribing, and analysis. Thank you to Daniel Hackett, Brandon Pousley, and the Cambridge Water Department for their assistance in developing components for EcoMOBILE. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, Grant No. DRK12 1118530 to Chris Dede and Tina Grotzer. All opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. EcoMUVE was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Grant No. R305A080514 to Chris Dede and Tina Grotzer. All opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Education Sciences.

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Correspondence to Tina A. Grotzer.

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Grotzer, T.A., Powell, M.M., M. Derbiszewska, K. et al. Turning Transfer Inside Out: The Affordances of Virtual Worlds and Mobile Devices in Real World Contexts for Teaching About Causality Across Time and Distance in Ecosystems. Tech Know Learn 20, 43–69 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-014-9241-5

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Keywords

  • Transfer
  • Ecosystems causal dynamics
  • Spatial scale
  • Change over time
  • Multi-user virtual environments
  • Mobile devices