Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Power of Real World Scenarios: Loop Back Scenario #1- "Global Warming and Escalating Extreme Weather Events"

The purpose of the "loop-back"scenario is to give students as a collaborative group the opportunity to apply new knowledge and skills obtained from the moon colony planning exercise to a more current real world issue or problem. The following describes the setup for the loop-back scenario as well as the scenario itself.

Instructions to Students Team:
"As a team you were faced with a very challenging scenario in the design of the moon colony and your instructor introduced confounding events throughout the collaborative scenario to test your abilities as members of a team to use your abilities to solve problems posed to ensure that your plan would be feasible. Through this simulation, you acquired new knowledge in your designated area of expertise, new skills for approaching problems and acquired some very valuable contacts within the professional communities who agreed to mentor you when dealing with some of the more challenging aspects in this cross disciplinary simulation.


Now it is time to take stock of what you have learned from having designed the domed structures, the life support systems, the power systems and the specialized medical research on the growing field of Nanotechnology. Each member of the team is to present a report from his or her area of expertise in the design of the colony. Remember that the report must be presented from a science, technology, engineering and mathematics perspective. The report should be irresistibly engaging to those viewing it. You may make use of whatever multimedia digital tools found on the Internet, with one exception. No PowerPoint should be used for our purposes here."

Introduction and Set Up for Loop Back Scenarios:

" Our challenge for you as a team is to tell you that we have two real world scenarios that currently are ongoing on the planet. In order to address these scenarios, we are splitting you up into the following two teams:

Team Alpha: Two members who were those responsible for the design of domed structures and power generation will make up this team.

Team Bravo: Two members who were responsible for the medical research dealing with Nanotechnology and life support systems will make up this team. Team Bravo you are on standby.

It should be obvious to you that your teams will be lacking certain skill sets and contacts that may be vital to your mission. After the scenario has been described to you, you are to do a needs assessment based upon two factors: skill sets required for the successful completion of the scenario and skill sets lacking based on you own self-assessments. Your first task is to recruit other students by exchanging information with them and studying bio information that they have made available after having registered for this course. Upon finding two suitable members you are to invite them to join the team pending final approval from your instructor. Like you, they will receive the appropriate credit and recognition for having participated. Now, on to the scenario:

Scenario #1: "Global Warming and Escalating Extreme Weather Events"

"Latest satellite data and imagery compared with past data indicates that the frequency of extreme weather events on the Earth is increasing and is now threatening the infrastructure, ability to produce food for populations and the ability of people to provide the very basics of life in some areas of the Earth. If this allowed to continue it will have a domino effect and we will see the break down of civil law and order in those societies affected. It has not yet reached the point of crisis.

You are being called upon to come up with an innovative solution using the skill sets, mentor contacts and knowledge that you have gained from the design of the moon colony. Improvisation will be required as you receive live reports from the target region detailing changing conditions.The changing conditions will not only be meteorological but also changes in societal, political and fresh water and food production in the region.

Your target area is the country of Bangladesh for your simulation.

As a team you will collaborate to learn as much as you can about the following:

  • the meteorological data for this region over the last century in order to establish a baseline by which to measure change by
  • positions held by environmentalists on the contentious issue of whether or not global warming is the cause of an increased frequency of extreme weather events in different areas of the Earth. You will need to discern bias in the presentation of facts on both sides of the issue through collaborative discussion with your team members and with other professional mentors whose expertise lies in this area. As a team, through intense collaborative discussion, you will have to weigh the arguments on both sides of this issue and come up with an agreed upon position supported by verifiable evidence. You must be prepared to state your group's position and defend it on this issue when called upon.
Your tasks are as follows:
  1. Gather data on the geography and the agricultural restoration potential  of the region. Choose an area of Bangladesh to conduct your test.
  2. Determine whether a domed area to re-construct a sustainable agricultural potential is feasible and draw up a plan to develop an agriculture sanctuary to re-establish viable growth of sustainable crops to feed the target population. You must be able to defend your decisions from an meteorological, hydrological, agricultural and engineering perspective.
  3. Identify the life-support systems needed in the domed enclosure to support the mission. You must be able to explain and defend the usefulness of domed structures in extreme weather events.
  4. Use Internet resources to design a detailed diagram of the domed sanctuary and be able to explain your design from a science, technological, engineering and mathematical perspective.
  5. Present an extension of your research and plan to a professional panel which discusses the issue: " Could Extreme Weather Domed Habitats Be Used to Create Domed Cities?"

Image Courtesy of Victor Hobbick/FreeDigital
 The learning outcomes for this scenario will be detailed along with those of scenario #2 after the presentation of scenario#2.

Next: Loop-Back Scenario #2 and Team Bravo

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Power of Real World Scenarios: Application and "Loop-Back"-Part II

In earlier descriptions of real world scenarios, especially their use in assessment, I suggested to you that starting from real world problems and then moving to a novel scenario to test the students' skills and understandings was the way to go. In the scenario I am going to describe to you, I am going to detail the power of the "loop-back" scenario. The described scenario below is meant  for an online course but could be adapted for a "brick and mortar" classroom. The approach here is starting with a collaboration on a real world problem in the future and then looping-back to real world issues that are current.

Planning a Moon Colony

Scenario Description to Students:

" As a team, you have been selected based upon your personal academic skills and aptitudes in the needed skill sets for this mission. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk of the Space X Corporation have joined forces to put together a mission that you and your team must complete within a given time frame. You will be constantly made aware of the time frame from the countdown digital clock which will appear on all of your screens. In the first phase of the mission, you have the following objectives which you must complete before we go onto to phase#2. Your teacher will act as the project director but it will be your collaborative skills that will determine the success or failure of this mission. Your work will take place in a 3d lab in which you take on avatar character profiles. You may create your own individual profiles by using You Tube or any other video presentation tool.

 The objectives for this mission are as follows:
  • establish a suitable site for the building of a moon colony. You must be able to defend your choice by explaining your position from a geophysical, mathematical, and planetary physics point of view. You must determine who among your group members is best suited to collect data, interpret the data and make a case from each perspective on the choice of site. Your teacher will introduce variables and direct you to potential sources for online professional mentors and online data sources. You must evaluate the usefulness and validity of the data.
  • Sir Richard Branson and Mr. Elon Musk have decided that the colony is to be composed of domed, self-contained components. You must research the value of domed structures on the moon and be able to defend your choice from a mathematical, technological and engineering perspective. Your teacher will during your collaboration, introduce "what if" style variables to test your adaptability to sudden change. As a collaborative team, your flexibility of reasoning will be one of the outcomes that will be assessed. You must be able to defend the suitability of using domed structures as part of colony infrastructure.
Shackleton Dome Concept--Pat Rawlings
  • you must establish crucial life-support systems in which a source of sustainable power, heat, light and a method of producing a breathable atmosphere within the domed structure must be identified. You must be able to defend your choices from a technological, physiological and physics perspective.
  • develop a medical module for ensuring the physical health of the colonists. Within this module, you will also carry out research involving the use of nanotechnology in medicine.
When you have collaboratively arrived at a solid plan for the establishment of this colony, you must present your plan to a review panel made up of professionals on the leading edge of their disciplines who will have the opportunity to question you about all aspects in regards to this plan. As a team, it is your task to defend your plan using solid , verifiable evidence. If the review panel finds your plan unacceptable, you will be directed back to the identified issues to collaboratively discuss the problems and come up with defensible alternatives.
If your plan is deemed to be a good plan, you will receive a news bulletin that your team is being re-routed to a current new scenario which is a "loop-back" scenario that will require everything that you have learned and the skills that you have developed in the moon colony scenario to apply to the loop-back scenario. Your moon colony development plan will be posted in some professional blogs and news items with all feedback being directed back to you, the authors of the plan.

Next.... the amazing loop back real world scenarios

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Power of Real World Scenarios: Application and the "Loop-Back" Scenario

Transformational teaching requires that we educate students in such a way that they become agents of change in our society and that our educators become the ones who guide and mentor them in the art of critical thinking in which we go beyond the limits of Bloom's Taxonomy to help students develop the mindset and skills of an innovator. Teachers and students together help develop and nurture a culture of innovation within the "brick and mortar" school and even more importantly within the online school. In fact within the developing synchronous environments, time is no longer a barrier to online collaborative work with teams of students from across the globe.

How we design learning experiences and the accompanying learning objectives and learning outcomes must precede from a new vision of education that re-defines the purpose of education to be an agent of systemic change within our societies. In the design of learning experiences we substitute irresistibly engaging real world scenarios for the static, lifeless in-school exercises of the past. In my last post I described to you the need to move away from the compartmentalized format of teaching subjects as isolated entities and to move to a format that emphasizes cross disciplinary learning.

What we are really talking about is interdisciplinary project based learning with the focus on real world issues. In the online environment, we can now take this approach beyond its original restrictions. Research from the past has pointed out that PBL has been shown to improve students' understanding of science as well as their problem-solving and collaboration skills to a greater extent than traditional methods (Geier et al; 2008; Gordon, Rogers, Comfort, Gavula, and McGee, 2001; Kolodner et al.,2003; Lee, Buxton, Lewis, and LeRoy, 2006...). The list, which was compiled by Vanessa Vega, 2012, goes on. It is not my intention to do a research review but I would like to point out that online education has advanced greatly since the date that the above research was done.

One of the ways we come close to the use of cross disciplinary learning is through the STEM curriculum where we see the harmonization of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I would suggest to you that this is not the only possible grouping but for the purpose of the scenario I will describe to you, I will use it to to illustrate the power of real world scenarios that make use of new immersive virtual technologies and serious gaming principles......

Next posting I will describe a sample scenario and explain the value of what I call the "loop- back" scenario in building a culture of innovation within education......

Monday, July 7, 2014

Real World Simulations: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Learner

When we design real world simulations we need to remember a very important point, that being, we are in battle for the hearts and minds of learners. The problem with simulations designed for training people for business tasks or for educating students of the past is that they were coldly clinical in their approach. They focused on emphasizing the cognitive but they forgot a very important part which makes us human, that being our emotions. When you watch young people play video games, you will notice that the focus of the game is not just on the mind of the student. It also focuses on the emotions of the young person. When you have a balance of both parts, the mind and the heart, then you have the irresistible engagement you desire for the learner. Passion for what they are engaged in results in the rise of intrinsic motivation in the learner. Under such circumstances, the educator or trainer truly becomes the " guide on the side" instead of the "sage on the stage". The educator or trainer now is able to fit into the new role in which they perform like a conductor leading an orchestra. The benefit for the educator or trainer is now they experience the excitement of the learning that their learners are involved in and they too, perhaps for the first time since they first began their career, are irresistibly engaged in the learning experience not just on an intellectual level but also on an emotional level.

Credit: Mikko Lagerstedt
The nature of the construction of the real world scenario should be that it appeals to as many of the senses as is possible. The technology that is available to us allows us to use the visual, the auditory and even the sense of touch in the real world simulation(remember the sensory feedback in Wii?). The learner receives sensory feedback which helps him or her see, hear and feel the consequences of decisions that they have made. For example using the auditory sound of counting down to zero hour when a specific event within the simulation will occur will provoke an emotional response from the learner. Again, we have learned this in watching how stimulation of the senses in a video game results not only in cognitive decisions made by the learner but also emotional responses. The result is a rise of engagement of the learner in the activity. Unlike in the past when the learner had only an intellectual stake in what was happening, in the scenarios we are describing, the learner has an intellectual and emotional stake in the activity. In other words, commitment of mind and heart.

Credit: Dani Candil 

Minecraft is a program that gained increasing popularity because of the ability of the learner not only to construct an immersive environment but also to move about in it. This is one of the first steps in designing a real world simulation. You have to ask yourself what will the world of the simulation look like? Will it be made up of multiple scenes or will it be a single immersive scene in which the learners will collaborate with each other while being able to access information, streamed or otherwise from outside the scene. For example, in the Manhattan project simulation, all the action would take place in a single scene, the Los Alamos lab. Just because it takes place in a single scene does not mean that it can't be as intense and appeal to a majority of the senses, much like as what happens in a video game scene. Mapping out the real world simulation involves not only diagramming cause and effect trees but also mapping out the story being told. Even in a training exercise, mapping out the story in which the learner must interact provides the needed information that the learner uses to make decisions. Feedback both cognitively and emotionally fuel the intrinsic motivation in the learner which leads to a deeper sustained learning. You can test this by asking any student what from their class in a particular subject they still remember. Most often, they will remember when the teacher or trainer provided a learning experience that engaged their mind and their heart.
One of the central concepts that the learner should quickly grasp is cause and effect. What they will come to recognize is that in the real world scenario, a single cause can cause a chair reaction of effects which in turn precipitate other events, some expected and some not expected.

This is the first step to writing a real world scenario. In the next posting, I will describe how sometimes presenting students with a hypothetical scenario can have what I call the "loop back effect" resulting in application to pressing real world issues......

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Power of Real World Simulations: Rationale for Irresistible Engagement

When I was a full time classroom teacher teaching History, I was always looking for ways to make History seem as something that was vital and alive for students. I found that methods that I had learned in the Faculty of Education just weren't accomplishing what I wanted to see happen with my students. Too often these methods treated the learner as passive objects or even "sponges" who were commanded to absorb whatever I put out there and then be able to reproduce it on command in a test or an assignment. For me this was not good enough, even though many of my students were able to achieve high evaluations on exams they were still not thoughtfully engaged with the subject matter.
SO, I  REBELLED !! I changed what I did and made it my goal to make History much more interactive and engaging to students. I discovered that students loved to imagine what it would be like to live life in someone else's shoes. Therefore, I combined Drama with History and started engaging students in Historical role-plays. At first, I thought that shy students would recoil from such an activity. I was wrong! Somehow, they drew on inner strengths that I had never seen in them before. It got to the point where students started talking to other students in the school and they put pressure on their teachers to do the same thing.

So this would not be simply be social interactions, I re-designed the role plays to challenge their decision making abilities, to have them consider the merits of alternative points of view, to introduce confounding variables such as changing circumstances within the event that they were recreating and then have them examine the thoughts and decision making of the actual historical figures as shown in actual diary accounts and historical journals.

Later, when I coupled this activity with the use of technology, my students soared. Not only were they engaged in the thoughts of History but they were also making connections with Historical events in their own times, without my prodding. You can understand how exciting this was for me as a teacher. In the past, what often had taken me weeks through Socratic lectures, assignments and repeated testing, I was able to accomplish in a week. Extrinsic motivators were replaced by intrinsic motivators offered up by the students.

My point is this. Students when they start school come to their classes with active and healthy imaginations and for a time we support them but by the time they reach junior high school we have dutifully regimented them and have conveyed to them the message that their imaginings are only meaningful  if they fulfill our mandate. Otherwise they are to suppress these unrealistic ideas.
The creation of real world simulations using the powerful technologies that we have available to us presents us with a great opportunity to once again kindle a deep, sustained desire to be re-engaged with learning. It starts with creating a hybrid learning experience that is a combination of real world scenario and an interactive simulation.

In my own meager efforts, I have started creating such scenarios and I will suggest how to lay such scenarios out in the next posting.....