Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Collaborations for Learning: The Experience of NASA's Classroom of the Future

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Collaborations for Learning: The Experience of NASA's Classroom of the Future

Article excerpt

The convergence of several factors make it a good time to be teaching science at the high school level. The new National Science Standards and emerging educational technologies promise significant changes in science education. Certainly, in an age of change, knowledge transfer becomes an important issue. Many government agencies are committed to helping educators with the extension of theory and expertise into modern, dynamic classroom applications. This article reports on a NASA-sponsored project at the Classroom of the Future (COTF) that transfers research on human exploration of space to the high school biology classroom.

The work we report on came about through NASA's support of an educational outreach project for Advanced Life Support (ALS) scientific research being carried out at several NASA Centers. Sustaining humans in colonies beyond earth's environment requires a balance among components, resources, and systems. Since this project targets the high school biology curriculum, NASA research into plant-based regenerative systems provides the core content for this COTF multimedia product.

Critical issues in a bio-regenerative system include: (1) plant production, (2) human requirements, and (3) resource recovery. The original proposal to NASA was to create a unified scenario in which high school students are provided with a context and the means to actively participate in the intellectual inquiry and the creative excitement associated with leading-edge science.

BioBLAST (Better Learning through Adventure, Simulations and Telecommunication) is an "educational environment" -- built on a framework of scientific inquiry and rich content representation -- delivered on a CD-ROM. The focus of the activities is to design and balance a classed biosphere to support a crew of six living on the lunar surface. Virtual Reality (VR) multimedia increases motivation by presenting a high-fidelity walk-through of the lunar base in which the students are "virtually" living and working. Additionally, a variety of simulation-driven workspaces provide opportunities for students to extend the empirical activities of the lab and background knowledge to the challenging final exercise of creating and managing complex biosphere for a lunar base.

An Interdisciplinary Team of Experts

Now in its third year of development, the BioBlast project represents the collaboration of an interdisciplinary team of experts:

* NASA Personnel: Scientists and engineers who make the domain of ALS research accessible by providing concept papers, data from ongoing experimentation, video footage Of space habitat mockups, taped interviews, lab tours, and a human context; and by providing their genuine commitment to promoting student interest in science and engineering careers.

* Instructional Designers, Curriculum Writers and Software Engineers: Practitioners who take the wealth of materials contributed by the experts, with an emphasis on active learning through exploration and collaboration.

* A Cadre of Teacher-Leaders: Educators who serve as an advisory group during the development phase, and who field-tested the first version of the materials. (Organized near the end of 1995, the group currently includes 24 teachers from 15 states.)

We focus here on the innovative qualities of BioBLAST as a learning environment and the indispensable role the teacher-leader group has had in the project. Many multimedia educational products available today are conceived of as "super-books." They present students with multi-model representation of materials and explanations, but their "pedagogy" is primarily didactic and their assumptions about learning are fairly static.

The National Science Education Standards call for a different pedagogy and a more effective use of instructional technology.[1] In essence, these reform guidelines suggest project-based and inquiry-driven learning systems that feature an engaging context from which learners can generate authentic questions for in-depth inquiry. …

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