Education Through Exploration: Evaluating the Unknown

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Ariel D Anbar, Arizona State University, School of Earth & Space Exploration, Tempe, AZ, United States; Arizona State University, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Tempe, AZ, United States and The ASU Center for Education Through eXploration (ETX) Research Team
Mastery of the peculiar and powerful practices of science is increasingly important for the average citizen. With the rise of the Internet, most of human knowledge is at our fingertips. As content becomes a commodity, success and survival aren’t about who knows the most, but who is better able to explore the unknown, actively applying and extending knowledge through critical thinking and hypothesis-driven problem-solving. This applies to the economic livelihoods of individuals and to society at large as we grapple with climate change and other science-infused challenges.

Unfortunately, science is too often taught as an encyclopedic collection of settled facts to be mastered rather than as a process of exploration that embraces curiosity, inquiry, testing, and communication to reduce uncertainty about the unknown. This problem is exacerbated by the continued prevalence of teacher-centric pedagogy, which promotes learning-from-authority and passive learning. The initial wave of massively open online courses (MOOCs) generally mimic this teaching style in virtual form.

It is hypothesized that emerging digital teaching technologies can help address this challenge at Internet scale in “next generation” MOOCs and flipped classroom experiences. Interactive simulations, immersive virtual field trips, gamified elements, rapid adaptive feedback, intelligent tutoring systems, and personalized pathways, should motivate and enhance learning. Through lab-like projects and tutorials, students should be able to construct knowledge from interactive experiences, modeling the authentic practice of science while mastering complex concepts. Freed from lecturing, teaching staff should be available for direct and intense student-teacher interactions.

These claims are difficult to evaluate with traditional assessment instruments, but digital technologies provide powerful new ways to evaluate student learning and learn from student behaviors. We will describe ongoing experiences with such technologies, and future plans, drawing from the experiences of > 2500 students who have taken the Habitable Worlds fully online general education class at ASU, and as part of the new Inspark Science Teaching Network.