Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Designing and Implementing Web-Based Scaffolding Tools for Technology-Enhanced Socioscientific Inquiry

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Designing and Implementing Web-Based Scaffolding Tools for Technology-Enhanced Socioscientific Inquiry

Article excerpt

Introduction

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) has long been considered important for promoting the understanding and retention of concepts, skills and attitudes that are required for solving ill-structured problems. Recently, socioscientific inquiry (SSI) has been emphasized as a curricular model that engages students in scientific topics while considering associated ethical or social issues. In SSI, students develop their understanding of fundamental aspects of science through a question-driven and open-ended process, which includes inquiry activities, planning and managing investigations, and analyzing results (Edelson, Gordin, & Pea, 1999). Specifically, SSI processes include authentic activities designed to motivate learners to acquire and apply new knowledge. Despite the learning benefits of SSI, students often feel frustrated due to a lack of certain assets, such as (1) domain specific knowledge (Bell, Blair, Crawford, & Lederman, 2003), (2) analysis and argumentation skills (Krajcik et al., 1998), (3) the ability to manage information and determine relevance (Hogan, 2002), and (4) the ability to monitor and reflect on their own learning processes (Quintana et al., 2004).

Many researchers have argued that scaffolding provides the framework for assisting students with these challenges. Scaffolds are tools, strategies, and guides that help individual learners to accomplish tasks that are beyond their ability to complete alone (Vygotsky, 1980). Scaffolding can appear in multiple forms depending on the various types of support provided to engage students in an inquiry-based learning activity. Saye and Brush (2002) conceptualized two forms of support: hard and soft. Hard scaffolds are static supports that can be planned in advance in anticipation of potential difficulties with a task. These support structures can be embedded within learning environments to provide students with support while they are actively engaged with a problem (Krajcik et al., 1998; Simons & Klein, 2007). For instance, prompts designed to give definitions or background information for concepts can help students better understand a specific issue during the problem-solving process (Simons & Klein, 2007). In contrast, soft scaffolds are dynamic, situation-specific supports provided by a teacher to help with the learning process. This includes teachers' clarification of tasks or monitoring of students' progress (Kim & Hannafin, 2011a), which requires teachers to continuously diagnose learners and provide timely support based on student responses. This type of assistance is generally provided "on-the-fly," where the teacher monitors students' progress while engaged in a learning activity and intervenes when support is needed (Saye & Brush, 2002).

Given that hard and soft scaffolds interact in dynamic ways in a classroom context (Kim & Hannafin, 2011a), it is essential to investigate what supports can be provided by scaffolding tools and what supports can be offered by the teacher to optimally facilitate problem-solving among students. For example, as students generate problem solutions, opportunities to assist students with integrating discrete fragments of evidence into a broader problem context may be incorporated into an inquiry-based unit via additional small-group discussion sessions with the teacher (Saye & Brush, 2004), which would be difficult to provide as a "hard" scaffold.

Scaffolding research typically has focused on certain features and affordances of technology in various settings rather than on the holistic use of scaffolds to support the overall learning experience (Kim & Hannafin, 2011a). Little is known regarding how students experience different types of scaffolding in SSI classrooms. Furthermore, as a relatively new curricular model, few studies have documented the roles of soft and hard scaffolding during SSI activities in classroom practice. Therefore, investigating different types of scaffolding and how they function in different contexts may expand our understanding of how to support and facilitate learning during SSI instruction. …

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