Year 2000 New Learning Environments Proposal
Paul R. Sheppard
WEB-BASED EDUCATIONAL MODULES
ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE ISSUES
The proposed project will allow the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research of the University of Arizona to significantly add to the technological learning tools that it provides to both university learners and others through outreach programs. This project will result in the creation, utilization, and assessment of web-based education modules using dendrochronology data, that pertain to environmental topics that include a demonstrable link to the Southwest; in particular, we will begin with forest fire management, precipitation variability and water supply, and global warming. The initial target outlet for these modules will be the UA English Composition course, which has the highest student enrollments of all courses and which improves abilities of critical thinking and written argumentation skills in its students. Each web-based module will open with a statement of the issue and a series of questions, most of which have no easy answer, about the chosen environmental topic. From there, hyperlinks will go to presentations and explanations of tree-ring data as well as to scientific and news articles. Assessment of the modules will involve at least two levels of objectives: their effectiveness in teaching the scientific materials and their effectiveness within the specific context of instruction in English Composition.
The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (LTRR) of the University of Arizona (UA) offers a curriculum of upper division and/or graduate level instruction, as well as lower division General Education courses, covering applications of dendrochronology--the study of tree-ring growth--and environmental sciences. It also has an active outreach and extension program that serves local K-12 and other distance learners. The LTRR has already developed instructional technologies targeted at this diverse group of learners, but what is currently available to non-specialists represents only a small portion of the LTRR knowledge resources. The project proposed herein will allow the LTRR to significantly add to the technological learning tools that it provides to both university learners and others through outreach programs.
The LTRR currently uses instructional computer technology primarily by providing information about the environmental applications of tree-ring data. Its home page (http://www.ltrr.arizona.edu/) includes a link to a web presentation that uses an interactive Java-language simulation game to provide learners with in-depth experience and training in crossdating--a key method in dendrochronology. The LTRR also has an enormous collection of tree-ring data that are in digital form and therefore are accessible via computer technology. However, that database is accessed and used mostly by researchers who are leading specific and often highly technical investigations. The project proposed herein will use that database, or at least the part of it that is pertinent to the Southwest, for instruction at the general education and K-12 levels and thereby to increase its exposure to more people. In so doing, large numbers of students will become well-informed about acute environmental issues.
A similar project is underway at the UA, one in which historical data, photographs, and other information about the Santa Rita Experimental Range (SRER) are presented in a web-based module. The SRER presentation, developed in the School of Renewable Natural Resources, has been tested as an instructional module in English Composition to engage students in concepts of multiple land-use management schemes and their impacts on natural resources. The SRER project was sufficiently successful to warrant the creation of additional educational modules covering environmental issues pertinent to the Southwest. The objective of the project proposed herein is to apply the web in additional teaching/learning modules on selected environmental topics in which tree-ring data apply. These modules will be used at many educational levels with students from all backgrounds and interests.
Humankind is facing a number of environmental issues at spatial scales ranging from local to global and on temporal scales ranging from seasonal to decadal. These issues include increasing atmospheric pollution, possible shifts in either the mean condition and/or variability of climate, and the effects on land-use management strategies on the health of life sustaining natural resources. An overriding concern of these issues is the human policy response to environmental issues: can we carry on with the status quo and hope to be able to react sufficiently in the future (e.g., population migration or changing resource utilization) if these issues begin affecting quality of life? Or should we attempt to alter societal trends now (e.g., reduce pollution or intensively manage natural resources to promote desired conditions), hopefully to avoid difficult decisions in the future?
At first glance, these issues are so overwhelming that they would seem to be germane for study and debate only at the college-level and only by environmental science students and researchers. However, because of their overarching impact on virtually all of society, perhaps other segments of society besides college science majors should have at least a passing awareness of these issues so as to make informed decisions about them. Indeed, Jonathan Overpeck, the Director of the UA Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, and Julia Cole, UA Geosciences professor, recently called for increased literacy in science and participation in societal issues that require such awareness (Arizona Daily Star Viewpoints, February 13, 2000).
The environmental topics of this project will be those that include a demonstrable link to the Southwest, which is a central theme underlying technology-based instructional initiatives of the UA Southwest Project (SWP). The chosen topics will also be those to which dendrochronology has played a role because the UA is home to the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, which has an enormous collection of tree-ring data, results, and environmental interpretations. These topics and their related societal questions will include the following:
- Forest fire management: the tree-ring record shows that the behavior and occurrence of fire have changed dramatically in virtually all forest ecosystems of the Southwest since the late 1800s. Why and how did this change occur? Should we intervene now and actively manage forests back to some natural condition? If so, what are the options for restoration strategies?
- Precipitation variability and water supply: Southwesterners live in a semi-arid environment and rely in part on current rainfall to supply water to survive here. The tree-ring record shows that precipitation in the Southwest has varied at many temporal scales in the past. Assuming similar variability in the future, how should we plan to manage other water sources (e.g., groundwater) with rainfall to supply adequate water?
- Global warming: the Southwest is not apart from the rest of the globe with respect to temperature change. Recorded weather data indicate a slight global warming since the 1800s, but has that warming been outside the range of natural variability? The tree-ring record provides a long retrospective view of past climate and therefore plays a key role in the grand debate about global change.
The educational impact of applying dendrochronological data to current environmental issues could be broadened substantially by incorporating web-based education modules to serve as teacher-facilitated units in general education university courses as well as in K-12. With suitable organization, such modules could also effectively serve self-learners away from any organized course work. Both of these strategies could capitalize on the unique database of tree rings of the Southwest by extending their information to far more people than just college science seniors and graduate students, and both strategies could increase the environmental awareness of a large portion of society. Furthermore, skills learned through the study of environmental issues should transfer to other issues of public importance such that these modules will teach students how to learn about issues and how to participate effectively in public decision making processes.
This project will result in the creation, utilization, and assessment of web-based education modules using dendrochronology data, selected relevant scientific and press readings, and interactive simulations. The initial target outlet for these modules will be the UA English Composition course, which has the highest student enrollments of all courses and which improves abilities of critical thinking and written argumentation skills in its students. A research specialist senior from the LTRR will collaborate with an instructional specialist and a graduate teaching associate from English to present the tree-ring and other data in an educationally useful manner to accommodate the diverse learning levels and styles of the masses of students who take English Composition. Additionally, these modules will be used in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) K-12 and general outreach educational activities at Pima County Community College (PCCC) and its Pasqua Yaqui tribal outreach program.
Each web-based module will open with a statement of the issue and a series of questions, most of which have no easy answer, about the chosen environmental topic. From there, hyper-links will go to presentations and explanations of tree-ring data. A specific link will lead to a web presentation of how tree-ring data are developed; several explanatory pages about dendrochronological sampling and dating lead up to a Java-based applet simulation game whereby students can actually crossdate hypothetical tree rings by the process called skeleton plotting, which was developed at the UA. Other links will go to a collection of PDF format articles from the scientific literature explaining the creation, application, and interpretation of the data. These articles will come with summaries and rankings of scientific difficulty so that learners may choose from them according to their current level of understanding. Yet other links will go to a collection of digitized newsprint articles that pertain to the environmental topic. These articles will help students connect the environmental issue with real societal concerns and reactions.
The web-based modules will reside on the internet server of the LTRR, which currently has ample space and technical support for this project. As new data and technical or popular articles arise about any of the chosen environmental topics, the LTRR specialist will incorporate them into the module. Access to the modules for English Composition will be easy via computers in labs or in classrooms, or even in students' dorm rooms or homes. A Java-capable browser and a PDF reader are the only special software requirements. A video projection unit would be useful for instructing large groups of students at once. This equipment and software already exist in the appropriate buildings of the UA.
The following is a timetable of activities:
Initial gathering of digital information Spring, 2000 Final development of modules Summer, 2000 Initial use in classroom Fall, 2000 Assessment and revision Spring, 2001
Early development of these modules is ongoing now (http://tree.LTRR.Arizona.EDU/~sheppard/swland/swfire.html). With funding for this project the final development will take place in early summer 2000 in preparation for initial use and testing in limited sections of English Composition during the Fall 2000 semester.
Assessment of the modules will involve at least two levels of objectives: their effectiveness in teaching the scientific materials and their effectiveness within the specific context of instruction in English Composition. On the first level, we will establish whether or not students become sufficiently well-informed on the topics so that they can intelligently evaluate the issues involved and constructively contribute to their public debate. On the second level, we hope that the modules provide students with somewhat more general levels of understanding that can be transferred to other areas of concern. Specifically, the materials will be used to teach specific aspects of scientific knowledge making (e.g., the role of methodology in the creation of knowledge, or the ways in which the choice of methodology can affect the specific results of inquiry.) We hope that students will be able to use these understandings as the basis for a variety of critical thinking strategies as they write in many areas of research unrelated to the specifics of the module.
To assess the effectiveness of the materials on both levels, we will use both survey methods and strategies of textual analysis. As students work with the materials, they will be asked to complete questionnaires concerning the organizational and conceptual clarity of the materials, the appropriateness of the data and readings, the overall effectiveness of the materials in improving their ability to discuss and debate the environmental issues, and the effectiveness of the materials in achieving the more general application goals of the course.
In addition to such self-reporting, we will develop scoring procedures to assess the extent to which students' writing reveals their ability to employ the kinds of critical thinking fostered by the materials. A variety of procedures have been developed for operationalizing critical thinking and other cognitive processes as they surface in written language (Cooper and Odell, 1977, 1978; Hillocks, 1986; White, 1994.), and related processes of text evaluation have been used for many years in the Composition Program as the basis for evaluating placement essays. A scoring team of experienced graders can be recruited to help develop and apply the necessary rubrics.
Following initial testing and assessment of each module, teacher observations and resulting assessment data will be used to revise the materials, and the revised modules will be proposed for further testing with a broader sample of students in English Composition (pending approval by the Composition Program Advisory Committee.) Results of the studies will be reported to the Composition Program, and an article describing the modules and their assessment will be submitted for peer review and possible publication in the Journal of College Science Teaching.
Item or Activity
Summer stipend for LTRR research specialist: Paul R. Sheppard $5,000 $10,000 Two semesters (10 hours/week) for English graduate associate teaching: Sharon Sandgathe $7,500 English lab space for GAT (CCIT 236) $1,000 Curriculum consulting: Roxanne Mountford $1,000 Assessment consulting: Ty Bouldin $1,000 For traveling outreach
Video projection unit $5,500 Carrying case $200 CD writer $1,000 Compact disks (100) to leave $350 LTRR outreach specialist
total $18,550 $15,000
Financial Commitment of the LTRR
The LTRR has already paid several months of salary to develop its Web presentation on crossdating, including a Java-based simulation game that was created from scratch. This web presentation is freely available on the internet and already has been used in many educational settings throughout the U.S. The LTRR is continuing its financial support of instructional computing by encouraging the research specialist of this proposal to carry on with the initial development of the proposed environmental issues modules. The LTRR will also contribute in-kind use of its facilities to create the modules and of its outreach specialist (Mr. Rex Adams) to present them in TUSD K-12 and other educational settings.
Financial Commitment of English
Roxanne Mountford, Assistant Professor in English, will advise about the curriculum and Ty Bouldin, Associate Writing Specialist in English, will advise about the assessment of that curriculum.
Cooper, C. And Odell, L. (Eds.). Evaluating Writing: Describing, Measuring, Judging. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1977.
---. Research on Composing: Points of Departure. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1977.
Hillocks, G. Research on Written Composition. Urbana Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1986.
White, E. Teaching and Assessing Writing. 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994.
Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, The University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA
Main Office: (520) 621-1608, Fax: (520) 621-8229
Comments to Paul Sheppard: email@example.com
Copyright © 2000, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, The University of Arizona
Revised -- April, 2000