There is substantial evidence, summarized in publications sponsored by the US National Academy of Education (Bransford, Derry, & Berliner, in press) and US National Academy of Science (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000), that when educators base instructional decision making in discipline-appropriate learning sciences, students of all ages and abilities are more likely to acquire deeper, more meaningful, more useful understandings. However, although virtually every program of teacher education “covers” learning-sciences subject matter in one or more courses, research shows that knowledge acquired during teacher preparation is used by teachers in limited and naïve ways (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 1999; Weiss, Pasley, Smith, Banilower, & Heck, 2003). Moreover, evidence from multiple disciplines shows that transfer of training from classroom to practice is very difficult to achieve (Gick & Holyoak, 1980; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Salomon & Perkins, 1989). Thus, an important question motivating our work is how to design learning environments that can feasibly be implemented on a large scale and that will help teachers acquire useful learning-sciences knowledge from their teacher education programs.
We are especially interested in learning how to exploit the power of Internet technology for “scaling up” good professional development. Instructional approaches with new media can enhance transfer, accelerate learning (Spiro, Collins, Thota, & Feltovich, 2003; Spiro, Feltovich, & Coulson, 1992), and create more seamless connections between formal learning environments and professional practice (Fischer, 1998). Although online graduate programs for educators are proliferating, we believe most current models fail to address the changing demands of professional practice. Like Fischer (2003), we argue for educational programs that encourage students to be life-long, reflective learners who employ new media to conduct research and collaborate with others to solve problems. Unfortunately, most Internet educational programs too closely mimic traditional instructional forms; that is, they are technologically “gift wrapped” (Fischer, 1998) versions of traditional knowledge-delivery systems, too removed from professional practice.
Our alternative to technology “gift wrapping” is a method embodied in a system we have built to support online course design, development and management. Called STELLAR (Socio-Technical Environment for Learning and Learning-Activity Research), this system contains tools to build and manage courses that systematically integrate study of text with study of digital video cases of student work and teacher professional practice, and with activities in which teacher-learners collaborate in creating and critiquing designs for their own practice. The types of assessments that STELLAR courses are intended to impact are evaluations of authentic teacher work, such as justified lesson designs.
A STELLAR Course: eSTEPWEB.org, A Web-Based Course in Learning Science For Teaching
THE KNOWLEDGE WEB
The Knowledge Web is a densely interlinked network that contains Theories (Learning Science content) and Cases
Theories: In this section learning science concepts are linked to facilitate exploration of various theoretical prespectives on teaching and learning. Linking also allows students to discover important relationships among these concepts. These concepts are also linked to problems and cases.
Cases: Course instuctors can utilize this collection of cases and problems independently or in conjunction with the Theories area to support learners as they explore the Learning Sciences and solve problems that arise in teaching practice.
KNOWLEDGE WEB THEORIES
The Knowledge Web Theories section presents essential learning science concepts. Navigating through the site allows students to discern important relationships among the concepts. Inspired by Cognitive Flexibility Theory, this approach is intended to help construct a meaningful understanding of educational theory that can be applied flexibly in practice. These learning science concepts are divided into three theoretical perspective families:
Each of these theoretical families allows students to explore related concepts. With just a click, students are transported to another concept page which appears as a link. For example, the links for Information Processing include Attention, Memory, Metacognition, Knowledge Construction, and Problem Solving. This ability to rapidly navigate among concepts provides a learning opportunity that traditional textbooks are unable to offer.
KNOWLEDGE WEB CASES
The Knowledge Web Cases are a collection of classroom problems and multimedia cases that can be utilized by instructors and students in a variety of ways.
Course instructors have the option of using these cases and problems independently or in conjunction with the Theories section of our site.
Learning with problems and cases enhances students' understanding of learning science concepts by requiring them to use their knowledge in real classroom situations.
PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING (pbl-Online)
Our online, interactive pbl system facilitates individual learning, group collaborative work, and use of the eSTEP Knowledge Web. Through our pbl activities, students encounter problems structured around videocases of actual instruction, collaboratively analyze the instruction from a Learning Sciences perspective, and then redesign or adapt the instruction based on their analyses.
Our goal is more than simple transmission of the latest findings in the Learning Sciences; our pbl activities are designed to improve students' skills in using research and theory to analyze and design instruction.
Research on our pbl system is extensive and ongoing. Some of the questions we're attempting to answer include:
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