Researchers at Harvard University are studying whether middle school instruction about ecosystem science can be made more engaging and effective by combining immersion experiences in virtual ecosystems with immersion experiences in real ecosystems infused with virtual resources. Project personnel are developing a set of learning resources for deployment by mobile broadband devices that provide students with virtual access to information and simulations while working in the field. The EcoMobile project is testing the hypothesis that student engagement, self-efficacy, and understanding of life science standards will be enhanced if students using a four-week inquiry-based curriculum that provides immersion experiences in simulated ecosystems employ smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices to collect and share data, access on-site information, and visit geo-referenced locations while investigating real ecosystems. Target audiences are middle school students and teachers, curriculum developers, and education researchers.
The project is using quasi-experimental methods to collect data on the usability of the blended environment approach, student gains, and relationships between the two modes of learning. Pilot-test middle school teachers are implementing the EcoMobile curriculum and a comparison curriculum that does not employ mobile devices in the field. Using a variety of assessment instruments and methods, researchers are measuring changes in students' knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy.
Blending virtual and mobile device-enhanced real world learning experiences can potentially enhance student-directed inquiry, enhance learning, and students' ability to understand and solve complex environmental problems. EcoMobile encompasses the types of learning strengths and preferences many students today bring to school, based on their use of social media, mobile devices, and games. Employing virtual and augmented reality learning environments in science classes may broaden the pool of science in science careers by enhancing their engagement in science learning, self-efficacy, and knowledge of science and technology.