I chose the article Describing Learning in an Advanced Online Case-Based Course in Environmental Science because it addresses differentiation for gifted students and problem-based online activities in the context of a science classroom (Missett, Reed, Scot, Callahan, and Slade 2010). In my own classes I spend quite a bit of time trying to improve differentiation for my students that find material or concepts too challenging. However, I can greatly improve in the area of offering better differentiation for students that need additional challenges.The opportunities for differentiation and adaptive learning using online classrooms appears to have endless possibilities. This article was based on a study that “examined the learning outcomes of an online environmental sciences course using a case-based and problem-based model designed for academically advanced learners.” The project was titled “Project LOGgED ON (the Project)” and was developed by the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and the Department of Environmental Science. It’s proposed purpose was to address the problem of “access to highly challenging science curricula for economically disadvantaged, rural, or otherwise underserved gifted and academically advanced learners”(Missett, Reed, Scot, Callahan, and Slade 2010). The study was designed to offer an alternative to the AP examinations for students that did not have access to these programs. The goals of “The Project” were to:
(a) prepare students for advanced science studies by increasing knowledge and skill acquisition, (b) provide students with opportunities to communicate with peers, (c) write about advanced science topics, (d) work as independent learners, and (e) provide authentic experiences in studying science online.
Course designers used a case-based approach to teaching content by developing 16 cases, assigning students roles using genuine scientific organizations and were intended to give students a “perspective on the environmental problem at hand, to enable them to participate as one who endeavors to solve environmental problems, and to expose them to the role of an actual scientist grappling with environmental issues and problems”(Missett, Reed, Scot, Callahan, and Slade 2010). Content was presented in a variety of ways (access to an expert video library, primary source references, and the use of open-ended questions) and “students were required to apply new knowledge to evaluate the issue presented, to explain why it presented a problem, and to use their scientific understanding to defend and support a proposed solution to the problem”(Missett, Reed, Scot, Callahan, and Slade 2010).
The sample population included 138 self-identified students, from 14 states, ages 12 to 17 years old. However, only half came from rural school districts, from school districts comprised predominantly of minority students, and/or from school districts with a significant population of students receiving free and reduced lunches. Of these, 60% were female and 40% were male. Students were encouraged to take the AP exam at the end of the course, free of charge to serve as a comparison. Only 30% of those that chose to take the exam received a 3 or higher on the AP exam. Not surprisingly, the study reported that “students who were independent learners with strong time management skills and were more active on the discussion boards had the most success with the course” while students that were weak in these skills were most likely to drop the course (Missett, Reed, Scot, Callahan, and Slade 2010).
The study concluded it was a success because students who participated in the Project’s environmental science course “experienced learning, engagement, and challenge”.
Course work promoted “inductive thinking and the use of problem-solving skills as it called upon students to interpret data, analyze case studies, and solve complex real-world science problems.” While these are noteworthy and desirable outcomes the Project did not serve its ultimate purpose of studying the effect of access to rural and minority populations, because the authors did not confine the study to those specific students, nor did they collect the necessary demographic data from the students that would make it possible to compare these populations.
I believe that this article serves as an excellent starting point for further inquiry. The need for alternative challenging coursework for advanced learners is an area that deserves attention. The curriculum design of this course used best practices from both science and the National
Association for Gifted Children and it appears that it had successful learning outcomes for the participants in the study. The AP exam data did not indicate that it could be used as a direct substitute for an AP course with positive outcomes on the exam, but this was not the intention of the researchers. I think one of the most interesting quotes in this paper was found in the conclusion and stated that “an interesting impression derived from this study is that the instructors played little, if any, role in the overall success or failure of the students. That is, learning and engagement resulted principally from student-to-student interactions, and without significant instructor facilitation”(Missett, Reed, Scot, Callahan, and Slade 2010). If learning success is primarily dependent on student-to-student interactions, perhaps it is the facilitation of student interaction between academically advanced students in remote, rural and underrepresented populations that should be the focus of further research.
Missett, T. C., Reed, C. B., Scot, T. P., Callahan, C. M., & Slade, M. (2010). Describing Learning in an Advanced Online Case-Based Course in Environmental Science. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(1), 10–50.