Chris Quintana, from the Center for Highly Interactive Classrooms, Curricula and Computing in Education (hi-ce) at the University of Michigan explores ways in which constructivist theories can inform what we mean by “online interactivity” and how learning theories can have an impact on the development of science education Web sites. A discussion by WDIL conference participants follows.
Is Informal Science Education all about learning science concepts and content from experts? To reexamine this “sacred cow” we take a closer look at two citizen-science Web sites developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: the Great Backyard Bird Count, presented by Rick Bonney and critiqued by Dan Barstow; and Nest Box Cams,, presented by Tina Phillips and critiqued by Andrea Bandelli. During a group follow-up discussion by WDIL participants the citizen-science approach is further examined, with a focus on transferability to other domains, the educational value of student participation in real science, and how these projects benefit scientific researchers.
What is Success? (pdf)
WDIL conference participants begin to codify the criteria for successful Web sites, from establishing clear goals, to assessing success from the Web site visitor's perspective, to evaluating impact. Julie Johnson, on loan to the National Science Foundation from the New Jersey Aquarium, pushes the envelope a bit further with thoughts and questions about how we define success; how we determine impact; and how we identify, exclude, include, and accommodate our audiences.
Does informal science learning require a body of expert-sanctioned content with which users interact? Without that expert content, is there a danger that a community of users will develop misconceptions or provide each other with erroneous information? Does establishment of a social community enhance or hinder the learning? Two Web sites serve as case studies for a closer examination of these questions. The first is Whyville, presented by James Bower and critiqued by Brian Foley. The second is Backyard Jungle, presented by David Witzel and critiqued by Bryan Kennedy.
How does an atmosphere of freedom, openness, and user-ownership really work on a collaborative Web site? What are the social and organizational characteristics of Wikipedia that contribute to its sense of community, its ability to function effectively, and its success? Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, addresses these questions as he delves into the origins and operation of this innovative Web community.
Is the Web all about niche audiences? Is it a mistake to design an informal learning site for the widest possible range of uses by a wide range of users? How do we identify our audiences? When and how should we expand our audiences? Two Web sites serve as case studies to help us explore these questions. The first is the Animal Diversity Web, presented by Tricia Jones and critiqued by Susan Gallagher. The second is Ancient Egypt Science & Technology, presented by Sonja Hyde-Moyer and critiqued by James Harold. A group discussion follows, with a focus on audience issues and economics.
Who forms our work? Who informs our work? Who benefits from our work? Eric Jolly, pursues these questions, beginning with a review of the crisis the nation faces in meeting work force demands in the STEM disciplines. He then offers an outline of the factors required for success in STEM education: engagement, capacity, and continuity. Jolly concludes by demonstrating how to weave a “sparrow’s nest” basic as he recounts the teachings of the best physics teacher he ever had, his Cherokee grandmother, which interweave basket making, spirituality, science, and math.
WDIL conference participants identify and begin to address some of the key issues related to effective practice in interactive online informal education. Topics include: mapping the online world in relation to contemporary learning theories; goal setting and evaluation; multicultural perspectives; social use of the Web; reexamining the language we use and what that language implies; and paradigms for the nature of the experience.
Interactive Storytelling (pdf)
Storytelling can motivate visitors to become engaged with the subject matter, linger longer, and explore content in depth. It can enable visitors to see the same event from multiple perspectives. Those who have successfully used storytelling as the basis for development of online interactive informal learning experiences share their stories of Web site development. Presenters include Brad Johnson, Lynn Spichiger, and Sesh Kannan.
David Schaller examines the key characteristics of effective learning games. Brent Lowrie offers a sampling of projects that demonstrate how games are currently being used for online informal learning? Coe Leta Stafford reviews the conventions of video gaming easily recognized by kids who are gamers and ways in which these conventions can be adapted for educational Web projects. Jake Cressman outlines ways in which a non-game site might be reworked to feature gamelike qualities. During an ensuing group discussion, participants raise questions concerning the difference in the learning that occurs in a user-directed, open-ended game versus a curriculum-based game with a set educational objective.
Web Site Evaluation (pdf)
Saul Rockman reviews the procedures for assessing the outcomes of interactive informal learning Web sites. Minda Borun compares the processes used to evaluate museum exhibits with the processes used to evaluate online programs. Rob Semper challenges our complacency by questioning just how much we really know about our Web site audiences and what they are doing on our Web sites.