EXPLORING AND CATEGORIZING DIVERSITY IN THE TECHNOLOGICAL AND PEDAGOGICAL APPROACHES OF VIRTUAL FIELDWORK EXPERIENCES
The authors have engaged in VFE development for more than a decade. This includes two currently NSF-funded projects: the Eastern Pacific Invertebrate Communities of the Cenozoic (EPICC) Project; and the Critical Zone Observatory Network. The discussion will highlight advances in media that are relevant to VFE creation and use; explore pedagogical advantages that can come from these advances; raise questions as to whether or not VFE use improves learner outcomes; and suggest characteristics of design that may be useful in the development of a VFE taxonomy. It will also reflect a research-informed bias that one the best things that VFEs do is catalyze actual fieldwork.
Much of the structure of schooling is poorly aligned with what research indicates about how people learn. Does the use of virtual fieldwork more closely align with understandings of how people learn than traditional approaches? What makes one VFE more effective than another? There are several VFE characteristics, both pedagogical and technological, that vary as a product of design, use or both.
- Directedness: Does the user have autonomy in what and how to explore or is the VFE highly directed?
- Immersiveness: How deep a sense of place is given by the VFE?
- Resolution/Scale: At what scales can the site be investigated?
- Interdisciplinarity & Systems: Field sites are shaped by the interplay of rock, water, soil, air and life - with humans often having profound effects. Does the VFE invite exploration from a systems perspective?
- Technological adeptness: What technological skills and knowledge are needed for users and creators?
- Transferability: Can what is learned from exploring a VFE be transferred and applied to investigating other real and virtual sites?
What important attributes are missing from this list? How do VFE components relate to what we understand about how people learn? In what ways can features, both individually and collectively, be optimized to enhance learning particular topics and skills?