Dynamics of Scientific Engagement in a Blended Online Learning Environment

Abstract

We investigate in-service teachers’ scientific engagement in a blended online science inquiry course. We analyze a shift from teachers following instructions to doing science themselves, and we characterize it at two levels: first, in how teachers engaged in individual sense-making; and second, in how they oriented to the online community as a space for collaboration and collective knowledge building. This progress, we show, was made possible by a shift in how the teachers framed the course—how they understood and interpreted the purpose of the activities—a shift that entailed both epistemological and affective dynamics. This shift in framing was supported by the instructors’ efforts to attend to and address participants’ epistemology and affect, both in face-to-face and in online interactions. A key implication of this study is the importance of instructional attention to epistemology and affect to create online learning environments that promote productive framings of scientific inquiry.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    InterLACE (Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment) was designed in close collaboration with teachers to create a classroom communication system where students post their ideas and questions to an online board (in multimodal forms including text, audio, video, drawing), access and evaluate each other’s thinking, and revise their ideas accordingly. This allows the teachers to track student thinking during instruction and make in-the-moment moves in response to that thinking (Author and colleagues 2013). To see InterLACE, navigate to the following URL: https://visualclassrooms.com/ (note: the name of the platform changed since the course ended.)

  2. 2.

    The 100 word-unit measure is simply to represent the number of codes within a portion of text data. Regardless of the number we choose as the word-unit, the week-to-week trend does not change. We also acknowledge a limitation in our measure: the stages of scientific inquiry might impact the number of words needed to communicate meaning. For instance, in an exploratory stage, the nature of thinking might be more divergent, which might result in less focused, longer posts. This might also apply to advanced stages of inquiry, where more words might be needed to express nuances, complexities, and idiosyncrasies in the reasoning process.

  3. 3.

    A helium balloon rises because the weight of the total number of molecules occupying the space inside the balloon is less than the weight of the molecules in the same volume of air surrounding it. For this reason, the surrounding air is pulled down harder and displaces the balloon upwards until the density of the surrounding air matches what’s on the inside. To be clear, this question can be treated at multiple levels, and explanations can become increasingly complex and nuanced. For an introductory treatment, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon#Air_pressure.

  4. 4.

    The same principles governing a helium balloon rising in the atmosphere apply to a helium balloon in a braking car. As the car brakes, the more dense air within the car continues to move forward and displaces the helium balloon backwards. It was a challenge to the participants to explain this behavior in terms of pressure and the underlying molecular collisions defining it.

  5. 5.

    A typical siphon apparatus consists of two reservoirs at different heights connected by a tube that can drain water from the upper to the lower reservoir under the right conditions. Whereas some fine points are still debated, the basic mechanism is well established to involve both gravity and pressure: gravity pulls water down into the lower reservoir fed by one side of the tube, which reduces pressure in the water at the apex of the tube. The greater pressure in the upper reservoir then drives more water into the tube, and then up and over the apex. For an introductory treatment of the siphon, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siphon. For one perspective on the ongoing debate, see Binder and Richert (2011).

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank David Hammer for invaluable feedback on the design of the course and the development of the manuscript, as well as Lily Withington who assisted with coding and transcription.

Funding

This work was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation under Grant No. GBMF 3475, “Dynamics of Learners’ Persistence and Engagement in Science,” and by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL 1119321, “InterLACE: Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment.” The views expressed here are those of the authors and are not necessarily endorsed by the foundations.

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Correspondence to Vesal Dini.

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Appendix

Appendix

Instances Related to Participants’ Engagement in Individual Sense-Making

  1. 1.

    Coming up with real or thought experiments (excluding the ones we asked them to do): for example, “The result of this experiment encouraged us to extend our investigation to see if liquid will flow from an unsealed container into a sealed container”; “I tried a mini experiment in class. I filled a water bottle with water capped it then poked a hole in the side toward the bottom with a push pin. The water did not flow. But when I took the cap off the water flowed”; “Your discussion did get me wondering, however, what would happen to your second experiment an environment where there was gravity but no atmosphere.”

  2. 2.

    Generating new questions: “Why does water enter the tube passively as the tube is lowered into the water? Does the water enter because of the air above the surface of the water is pushing, or does the water enter because gravity is pulling on the water and the tubing is a “new” place for the water to enter into?”

  3. 3.

    Noticing inconsistencies: “If gravity is pulling down, how can it push the liquid up the tube? This doesn’t make sense to me.”; “I could not see gravity pulling the water from the upspout over the apex. It just didn’t register with my common sense compass. Gravity pulls down, not over (the voice in my head).”

  4. 4.

    Articulating confusion and identifying a lack of understanding: “I just can’t wrap my head around the water not coming out. I don’t see the mechanism behind it and I saw it for my own eyes! [...] I can’t understand WHY it stays in the tube. I understand the whole equilibrium, I just don’t get why. It makes sense for it to come out to me when there is more on one side or the other, but I just don’t understand how it stays in. [...] I just don’t get it!”

  5. 5.

    Revising and refining ideas: “I think I may have actually discussed the “pull” of suction also and I wish to back off that assertion- in other words, there is no “pull” […] “suction” is a condition of pressure differential also described as a vacuum.”

  6. 6.

    Drawing upon and connecting to prior life experiences: “If I had a very large straw, it would take me quite a while to suck on it to reduce the air pressure to the point where the water would start moving up the straw and offset the pull of gravity down on the water”; “When I siphon water, I don’t always use suction to start the cycle. I fill a hose with water and lead it over the side of the main tank, in my case the side of the pool. The siphon begins without me sucking the water through the hose.”

Instances Related to Participants’ Engagement in Collective Knowledge-Building

  1. 1.

    Attending to and building upon each other’s ideas: “Love the experiment. I think you are correct in stating there is a correlation between the height of the apex and the flow rate due to friction. I myself have not considered this.”; “The other paper I read also introduced the concept to have one glass higher than the other. I didn’t think about that until now. I thought that as long as the end of the tube in the empty cup was lower than the one in the liquid filled cup would allow the siphon to continue. I now want to go back and play around with some of these ideas.”; “Donna, I agree with you when you say there is a void to be filled. But in my mind, I’m not so sure of the pressure being greater at the end of the tube. Consider this: if pressure is greater at the end and lower at the beginning, then wouldn’t water be pushed up the hose and not down? Just a thought.”

  2. 2.

    Expressing disagreement and offering an alternative view: “We disagree with the argument that it is the gravity pulling down on the water in the reservoir which is creating pressure at the bottom, which pushes water into the siphon tube at the end.”; “This does not make sense to us because how can the pressure of air (without an extreme pressure) be enough to push water into the siphon tube.”

  3. 3.

    Soliciting clarification or help: “How would gravity be responsible for this model not working? And is there a direct correlation with gravity at all in your model? Asking for your input. What’s your take on this matter?”; “I find myself struggling with a mechanism dilemma – initially your results made sense to me. [...] It is now day 2 of my pondering... I am having trouble with the time and rate columns. The water reached the bottom in much less time from 60 cm, but the flow rate was much slower for the 60 cm distance. Help me.”

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Dini, V., Jaber, L. & Danahy, E. Dynamics of Scientific Engagement in a Blended Online Learning Environment. Res Sci Educ (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-018-9802-z

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Keywords

  • Epistemology
  • Affect
  • Framing
  • Scientific inquiry
  • Engagement
  • Online learning