Successful courses are those designed to work in collaboration with learners. Underlying the design of CDL course learning activities is the understanding that our students are adult students, and that it is essential that the activities engage them in meaningful ways. Following current research in the field of adult learning, (Wlodkowski, R. J. 1993), our activities are designed for adult learners who need to:
know why the learning is required;
direct their own pace/style of learning;
contribute their personal/professional/life experiences to the learning environment;
apply what they have learned to solve real-world problems, and
feel competent and experience success throughout the learning process.
For example, the Global Climate Change course engages students in a self-directed project called the “CO2 Calculator”. This activity requires students to directly observe their own daily routines, and then to assess how they might contribute to CO2 reduction by changing their daily behavior. This hands-on activity invites students to contribute to global energy conservation while also developing an individualized and very personal understanding of the effects of climate change.
Screen shots: Students collect data about their location using a handheld GPS and post to the mapblog (left). Then, students calculate the geographic center of everyone in the course (right).
Employing mapblogs with student-created content helps foster class cohesion and collaboration. In GPS and the New Geography as well as several other science courses, the use of Google-based mapblogs provide a visual data platform where students are able to contribute information, images and links related to specific locations. In the GPS course, they find the exact longitude and latitude of their own locale using a handheld GPS, underscoring the importance of accuracy and precision in geographic calculations. Later in the course they calculate the geographic center relative to the location of all students in the course.
According to the National Research Council (NRC), online learning should strengthen science education by providing students with digital content that enables them to gather, analyze, and display data. The mapblog serves this purpose wonderfully and in a hands-on way while adding to the sense of community students experience.
Above is an Everglades National Park virtual tour. We recommend selecting the full screen feature (found on the tool bar) for the best experience.
Students in the Plant Ecology course must participate in ‘virtual field trips’ to better understand the ecology of several national parks. Previously these exercises would entail visiting a park’s website and providing written labs focused on unique aspects of the park, followed by a class discussion about the findings.
Plant Ecology has undergone an upgrade that includes a redesign of the field trips, which now harness the most current web technology. Students are presented with an interactive visual collage that is integrated within the course. The collage presents students with open questions and a learning space in which to explore aspects of the park though audio, text presentations, hyperlinks, slide shows, video, and live web cams. These immersive presentations bring the national parks to life. Students can listen to the tour guide present information on the Florida panther while watching a video or a slide show of the park.
A photo of a lego car built by a student in the Invention by Design course, as part of an online lab.
Laboratory experiments are often considered the defining characteristic of science courses. Engaging CDL students in active scientific experimentation as part of their distance learning coursework not only fosters scientific cognition, but provides evidence for the effectiveness of the design and delivery of online science courses that include a lab component.
Exploring how experimentation can be integrated with content in distance learning courses for non-science majors, a research team comprised of CDL faculty and instructional design staff is currently analyzing selected activities from three online science courses that have been developed by an interdisciplinary team at the center.
Each of these courses - Invention by Design , Contemporary Environmental Issues, and Energy: the Issues and the Science - are designed to promote scientific literacy and provide students with direct, hands-on experiences with science, all while using an online delivery platform.