Lessons Learned by Leading Researchers in Science and Education | Conceptual Framework


Creating an Integrated Science Learning Environment, Dr. Rebekah Nix

Influence of Personal Experience


Here’s where I’m coming from… and how I typically work in my UTD office.

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I received my Master of Arts in Teaching degree (MAT) in Science Education with the full benefit of several incredible field trip experiences. That’s where all of the classroom preparation and laboratory research came together, making natural sense, in the field. I could practice my observation and learned skills, exercise my logic and reasoning, and demonstrate my understanding of complex processes in a real-world, systems-based environment.

This unique background developed and encouraged my individual abilities that proved exceptionally valuable in a variety of work environments, including retail sales, international petroleum exploration, technical documentation, corporate training, and business marketing in diverse arenas. I applied my knowledge and skills with great satisfaction in each of those settings. Personally, I do not particularly care for information technology in and of itself, but I do love the wonderful things it has enabled me to accomplish. This was the perspective on information technology that I saw lacking in most settings. Education was the perfect area in which to maximize this advantage, as there are so many benefits to be gained through the appropriate application of information technology by both teachers and students. So, I returned to continue my work in my multi-favored field of science education.

Virtual field trips have always been a dream career for me. Even as a child, I designed a ‘Teachers’ Video’ program that would take me all over the planet to see – and share – the wonders of the real world. But, it had to be much more than just a sensationalized travel brochure. The goal was to show how each of the parts works together to create the whole. (This is the same approach that I chose to nurture my personal wellness. By mixing a variety of physical, intellectual, and emotional techniques, both the body and the mind can be treated as a single functional unit.) To complete my Texas state teacher certification in 1986, I produced a series of 35-millimeter slide presentations based on the same idea, calling them ‘Friday Field Trips’. As a Master’s candidate in 1996, a similar format was developed as an electronic presentation and finally labeled as a ‘Virtual Field Trip’. With the recent advances in technology and reform movements surfacing in education, the timing for this doctoral thesis could not have been better.

I first investigated the feasibility of using the World Wide Web as a delivery mechanism for such a resource. The results were encouraging. Next, I looked at what similar products were already available on the Internet. Classroom materials – specifically, science-related virtual field trips – were not being created by classroom teachers. Were they used by classroom teachers? I suspected not, simply because of how teachers were being trained, particularly their introduction to information technology and their conditioning to ‘teach to the test’. Indeed, a computer kiosk could certainly replace a teacher if you are willing to settle for rote memorisation of millions of bits of information. I expect more for my niece and nephew. So, I sought a way to bring the two seemingly disparate worlds together. In 1998, as a university instructor, I found that this endeavour would be even more complex than I imagined.

Changing the way in which I talked about information technology in the light of science education did change the teachers’ attitudes toward new tools and techniques. In fact, by not talking about it, the teachers became interested in the potential and were motivated to explore new options and experiment with innovative ideas. They simply needed to see anyone teach something that effectively integrated any technology. In essence, the ISLE program showed teachers how a field ecology instructor, information technology assistant, and educational researcher teamed to create, deliver, and assess an effective model. The end product, a comprehensive web-based virtual field trip, offers a useful resource to many teachers, not just those who actually experienced the field trip. The joint implementation of the latest trends in science teaching (modeling constructivism), information technology (developing the virtual field trip), and educational research (combining qualitative and quantitative data) effected a change in the teachers that will ultimately affect their students.

You can take a look at the entire thesis later if you want; it’s in the digital library at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia.

The next pages link my research to your coursework!

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