PIs: Ruth Kermish-Allen, Heather Deese, Anne Bardaglio, Karen Peterman
The PIs are studying and refining use of infrastructure support for an online learning community that engages local students, teachers, fishermen, and scientists in rural communities in a non-hierarchical learning environment. The team is testing the efficacy of and refining an online platform that supports inquiry in the context of place-based education. They are investigating how these different populations learn together with each other and seek to determine what influences their understanding of STEM concepts and dialogues, and they are working towards a pedagogy that combines the best elements of each population’s needs and potential contributions so that a true learning community can develop. The technological innovation is an infrastructure for community learning. Research looks at information diffusion, emergent communication networks, learning among each of the communities, and participation, with the aim of understanding affordances and challenges that must be addressed in making such learning opportunities work effectively for all. The effort will be carried out in a variety of locales — six in Maine and two in coastal Alaska. Each of these is rural and in many ways disconnected, and each is experiencing shifts in weather and climate that are affecting the local ecosystems and livelihoods of residents.
The endeavor looks at the ways technology can be used to foster sophisticated learning and access to resources that is otherwise unavailable in these detached and often impoverished communities. The project aims to show how to bring science home to a community, using its issues and resources to make science relevant, hopefully leading to renewed interest in science among older residents and interest and understanding among students and teachers. Over the long term, PIs are seeking to develop a model for place-based non-hierarchical learning communities that might be put to use in a variety of places, each with its own community issues and resources. Several populations of learners are addressed: school children (K-8), who can learn about science in the context of enterprises going on around them in the community; fishermen, who contribute their experiences and wisdom but may not know the science behind what they experience; other community members with similar roles; parents; and teachers. Added in will be scientists, who may or may not come from the same community, who comment on the data collection and analysis and interpretations being done by the community. Scientists, too, will be learners, as they will need to learn how to communicate well with the target populations.