Malcolm shares experiences and reflections from a project to develop e-learning materials which support students' learning about climate change.
An enquiry-based learning resource exploring the potential of broadband technologies certainly sounded to me like a project to be involved in.
Having been heavily involved in writing the Climate change ~ local & global publication with other teachers for Tide~, the idea of producing an online resource to further extend these ideas was very appealing.
Entitled Thinking through climate change, the project, with Tide~ for the West Midland Broadband Network, took a cross-curricular focus, emphasising enquiry learning, ICT, critical thinking and informed argument. Our remit was to use the internet imaginatively to support independent and group learning.
Involving children in critical thinking about climate change can be a bit of a minefield for teachers. There is indeed already a mass of information on the internet, but it varies greatly in content, and some of the game-based sites are somewhat cheesy to say the least. Many teachers lack confidence where this subject is concerned, and the potential for web-based learning from an enquiry standpoint could appeal as all those involved can learn at the same time … and there is no "right" answer as it were.
The group of teachers that were involved in this project were from primary and secondary school backgrounds, and from varied areas of the West Midlands. We were determined that our resource should have strong links to the Geography, Science, D&T and Citizenship curricula whilst exploiting the potential of using ICT to present information and encourage independent learning.
We felt a hook was needed to gain the attention of prospective learners and to guide them through what we hoped was going to be an interesting enquiry. A connection with Shismaref, a small village in Alaska, enabled us to adopt the plight of an endangered walrus in order get learners thinking about the possible - but real - effects of climate change on a global scale.
The advantage of web-based resources is that learners can to an extent plan and choose the direction of their learning. We soon realised that the possibilities were wide, and ideas began flowing quickly. The danger can be to widen the scope too far, and a degree of "reining in" is required to make the task manageable. How far do you take an interactive world map with pop-up hotspots, for example? The potential for providing data, graphs, national anthems(!) and suchlike is huge. It became clear that educational and teaching ideas needed to be embedded at the fore, with electronic wizardry and design ideas to follow at a later date. Users would soon see through a fun but shallow resource.
We decided that a series of modules focusing on four key areas was the most manageable approach: what's going on worldwide; changes taking place; what are the causes; and what are the responses. Each of these sections we supported with detailed teachers' notes. Learners might work their way through each section in turn, or they may decide to focus on a certain area for their enquiry.
Throughout the resource, learners are asked to record findings, useful weblinks and references, in a learning log. This can be added to at various points and serves as a useful reminder when concluding the tasks. Learners could also be asked to evaluate the sites they have linked to, in order to build up a balanced picture of the information that is available on the web.
Key areas in which ICT can benefit learners' thinking about climate change include the ability to alter images of landscapes in order to reflect possible future change due to the altering climate; the chance to re-design an existing product or design a new invention that takes account of future changes in resource-use or consumption; and an ability to link to many external websites.
One issue overriding the whole resource was how best to get learners to communicate their findings in a meaningful manner. Again, ICT lends itself to a variety of exciting and wide-reaching responses. Weblogs (blogs) can be set up whereby learners from within the same school or between different schools can share findings, opinions and questions. Findings can be uploaded to an internal or external shared area and to schools' own websites. Learners can create their own newspaper for either use within the classroom or externally to the wider school community. There is potential for radio and television news-style presentations.
The on-line resource has now been developed by a web design company, and the material looks very exciting. There will be possibilities to update and add to the site in the future, which is a huge advantage over a paper-based resource.
As one of the project leaders I found the whole editing process really interesting - if challenging. It was great to work with teachers from a range of settings and to see how initial ideas were developed through to the finished product. As well as widening my own knowledge about issues around climate change, being involved has given me an insight into the process of producing teaching and learning resources using web-based technology.
WMnet Climate change in the curriculum programme
The Thinking through climate change materials are available via http://climatechange.wmnet.org.uk
West Midlands Regional Broadband Consortium
Resources - projects - information Illustrated video conferencing guide: www.wmnet.org.uk