Authentic Learning using Networked Communities

by Jasmeet Virk ~ March 17th, 2012. Filed under: Module C. Emerging Genres of Teaching, Learning and Digital Technologies.

I shake my head in amazement at the educational content present on the Web. I look back at my barren education – limited to text books, libraries, and the “word” of the teacher. I wonder if I would have better understanding of science and math concepts if these multimodal online resources and networked communities were available then.

 However there is a strong consensus among education pundits that affordance to support meaningful learning is not inherent in content but the pedagogical processes applied. Therefore the challenge is, as Siemens (2003) puts it, to select the media type [sites] that most effectively presents the learning material in order to achieve intended learning outcomes.”

 This emphasizes the need to customize online activities and embed networked communities in sound pedagogical processes to facilitate construction and diffusion of knowledge.  So as I examine the Exploratorium and the VFT, two of the suggested online resources with awe and excitement, I realize that the fabulous resources present there needs to be implanted in sound pedagogical practice, or the learning will be lost.

 The Exploratorium successfully attempts to provide real experiences to its online audiences. Falk (2010) establishes in his study that learning and entertainment are complimentary and not conflicting goals. Online museums like Exploratorium present content in a visually appealing and entertaining manner.  It broadcasts live video and audio from the museum or from locations. It provides multimodal presentations of special events and museum resources. Its digital library provides for hundreds of webcasts, video clips, podcasts, and slideshows. Hsi states that such digital libraries provide multiple views of the structure of a domain, an approach that has been found to be important for learning (2008).

Virtual field trips is a powerful source for education. Bitner et al. (1999, as cited by Spicer & Stratford, 2001) found that use of VFT increased the ability of students to solve ‘real world problems’. In the same study it was established that VFT strengthened the learning that happens at a real field trip. Students also stated that VFTs were more effective when a discussion with classmates and experts was involved. This definitely suggests that the VFT is an effective tool when embedded within a community of learning which include novices and experts.

 Examining the affordances of both tools, I believe both can be effectively embedded in an inquiry based learning model in which students are actively involved in their learning through questioning, discussing, and investigating to build new knowledge. Content from Exploratorium can be used to allow students to examine authentic science issues if examined collaboratively with not just teacher facilitation but modeling as well. Sugar & Bonk (1998) found that students had difficulty transferring skills and synthesizes even after a collaborative learning process, probably, in the absence of teacher modeling. Exploratorium itself promotes inquiry based learning on its site.

 I believe activities and content of Exploratorium and VTF can be embedded easily within constructivist learning models like the LfU and T-GEM. In T-GEM ,activities could be used in the evaluation stage to help students examine their generated ideas and modify them.  In the LfU model they could be used for refinement of knowledge constructed. T-GEM where the activities could be used in the evaluation stage to help students examine their generated ideas and modify them. Mindful engagement with electronic collaboration – might lead students into cognitive processes of writing & communicating that they would not have done independently and also challenge them to new levels of growth and understanding (Sugar & Bonk, 1998).



Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2010). Science learning in a leisure setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 194-212.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

Spicer, J., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.

Sugar, W. A., & Bonk, C.J. (1998). Student role play in the World Forum: Analyses of an Arctic adventure learning apprenticeship. In C.J. Bonk & K.S. King (Eds.), Electronic collaborators: Learner-centered technologies for literacy, apprenticeship & discourse (pp. 131-155). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers


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