Knowledge Construction, GLOBE, and Virtual Field Trips

From the article by Driver, Asoko, Leach, Scott & Mortimer (1994), knowledge in science is constructed at an individually and socially. Specifically, students learn as an individual when previous knowledge schemes are modified after encountering disequilibration (Driver et al., 1994). For example, when students’ misconceptions (e.g. informal science ideas, commonsense knowledge) are challenged, they learn by changing their previous knowledge about a topic based on information that contradicts or conflicts with what they know. Furthermore, at the social level, scaffolding opportunities encourage individuals to engage socially in discussions about phenomena. Classrooms are the most typical environments where this “process of conceptual change” (Driver et al., 1994, p. 8) occurs because they provide a place for students to be actively engaged and where social interaction with peers offer different perspectives for them to reflect upon. That is, students become introduced to science concepts and rules of the scientific community. A summary point of the article, “Scientific knowledge is socially constructed, validated and communicated” (Driver et al., 1994, p. 11) resonated with me because it shows that science is not a “top-down” or “teacher-directed” learning process. Rather, scientific knowledge is learned through a collaborative effort involving exploration, discussions and reflections. As well, the role of the teacher is to inspire new ideas and inquiries to support students. Collectively, this view also reminds me of PCK because it emphasizes the pedagogical knowledge of teachers (e.g. facilitator, guide, provide scaffolding opportunities, etc.) and the delivery of content knowledge (e.g. socially constructed) I chose to explore GLOBE and Virtual Field Trips as my two networked communities to validate and further expand on Driver et al. (1994)’s article on knowledge construction in science.

GLOBE is an educational resource aimed at strengthening students’ understanding of math, science and geography as well as expanding their environmental awareness (Butler & MacGregor, 2003). One of its main features is the student-scientist interaction component where they exchange data, and communicate with each other to study problems. At the individual level, students construct knowledge by contributing data to the GLOBAL database. Knowledge is socially constructed through “active participation of scientists as research collaborators with students” (Butler & MacGregor, 2003, p. 9) where the scientists also act as mentors. The benefits of this aspect is that students’ learning is enriched, their commitment to science education is strengthened and they receive training for future career endeavors. In terms of PCK, both pedagogical and content knowledge are supported. Teachers are provided with quality training through a GLOBE Teacher’s Guide that emphasizes hands-on, inquiry-based pedagogy. As for content knowledge, there are a variety of investigation areas such as the atmosphere, soil, land cover, water, etc. and teachers are able to reach out to other educators as well as scientists to provide information.

Virtual Field Trips (VFTs) is another learning resource for students to connect with scientists. In Adedokun, Hetzel, Parker, Loizzo, Burgess, & Paul Robinson (2012), researchers explored how VFTs can be utilized to connect scientists and enrich students’ views of science, careers in science and scientists. The study was based on three limitations regarding VFTS: the use of VFTs to explore careers in science, characteristics of effective VFTs, and benefits of building student-scientist interactions through VFTs (Adedokun et al, 2012). Specifically, the VFT focused was using Purdue zipTrips, which were real time 45 minute interactive programs with 4 aspects: audience’s, interaction with scientists, pre-recorded segments, and integrated activities. Through current literature on VFTs, the researchers collated 8 guidelines of effective VFTs and applied a VFT like zipTrip to them. One of the guidelines that highlights the construction of scientific knowledge are the constructivist elements where zipTrip respects students’ prior knowledge but supplement structured tasks to provide opportunities for students to alter their beliefs. This reflects Driver et al. (1994) and the individual level of knowledge construction. As well, the interactivity aspect of zipTrips also supports Driver et al. (1994)’s social construction of knowledge where students interact with scientists to see their work environments, for instance. Furthermore, PCK is integrated in VFTs in general because it emphasizes authentic learning environments (e.g. inquiry-based pedagogy) and clear learning outcomes (e.g. curriculum-linked content).


Adedokun, O. A., Hetzel, K., Parker, L. C., Loizzo, J., Burgess, W. D., & Paul Robinson, J. (2012). Using Virtual Field Trips to Connect Students with University Scientists: Core Elements and Evaluation of zipTrips™. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21(5), 1-12.


Butler, D.M., & MacGregor, I.D. (2003). GLOBE: Science and education. Journal of Geoscience Education, 51(1), 9-20.

Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational researcher, 23(7), 5-12.


  1. Hi Gloria,

    I think that the connection to practicing scientists is certainly a key factor in enculturating students to the discourse of science. As many of us are generalist and few, if any, are practicing scientists, we lack a certain fluency and credibilty when it comes to accurately representing the real-life work of scientists. Providing students with models, through connections to practicing scientists and projects in progress, seems like a powerful tool for helping them to developing discipline specific skills, attitudes, knowledge, and language.

    – Dan

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dan! It’s also very resourceful as an educator to integrate a variety of these sources of knowledge for our learners!

  2. Hi Gloria and Dan,

    I agree that the opportunity for students to engage with and interact with scientists is an incredibly important aspect of the online learning environments and communities created for today’s learners. While I currently teach in a grade 4/5 classroom, I was originally trained as a secondary English teacher. Not only do I not have a science background, but I do not even have whatever science integration course(s) may have been provided in order to teach science to elementary students. My last science courses were earth science and geology 100 at UBC nineteen years ago. I am, of course, completely capable of researching to prepare myself for the concepts that I teach my students; however, I will be the first to admit that I have been asked questions by my students that I simply do not know the answer to. I have, on more than one occasion, told my students that I do not know and will have to look up the answer and get back to them; or sometimes we will look the answer up together, depending on the question and the time we have available. To provide students with the opportunity to ask questions to a “real scientist” is giving students an opportunity they would not have had access to in the past. While I can research and give an answer based on what I’ve read, a scientist can provide an answer based on their background knowledge on topics they are both experienced and comfortable with. What an incredible experience for students, especially for those from rural areas who would not otherwise have the opportunity to go to a science-based museum, or to engage in a discussion with a scientist. I really like the fact that by engaging students in a dialogue with a scientist mentor, the science experience is being transferred across the curriculum as well, as students, in addition to expanding their learning of specific scientific concepts and developing communication and collaboration skills, are also given the opportunity to gain technological and writing skills through their online interactions.

    1. To further your comment, Mary …

      The GLOBE program also offers in depth training for teachers prior to facilitating the program with their students. This speaks to your need of developing CK, which is likely the case with many of of us who focused on the Arts rather than the Sciences in acquiring our degree. Relating to TPCK, the opportunity of teacher training that GLOBE offers develops both the pedagogical and content knowledge required to equip teachers in moving forward. However, in spite of the training, I would suspect that a significant amount of learning for the teacher occurs through the actual implementation of the program – when the teacher does tech-rich science right alongside the students.

      I also wanted to address your comments related to not knowing some of the answers in science. I think it is OK to not know the answer and to simply allow the question to be asked. There is a time and a place to pursue the answer in order to gain understanding, but the fact that the question has been asked indicates that the student is thinking and considering further possibilities. The answer may not get answered immediately {nor does it need to be}, but upon further investigations {days, weeks, years later} the student may find their question responded to. One provision that I have made for my students is to keep a question journal. This is a place to record their amazing questions. If an answer is found, then they can make an additional entry, but the simple asking of the question is sometimes “enough”.


  3. HI Gloria,

    Thank you for your review of Driver who remains one of the largest influences on the “guided discovery method.” She addressed the issues with discovery learning before putting forward the importance of scaffolding in terms of meeting objectives in the classroom. In terms of the technology that connects individuals, how do you see zipTrips as different than Globe? In terms of knowledge mobilization potential, do you see them as similar/different? Thank you for starting this discussion and sharing your analysis, Samia

    1. ZipTrips and Globe are similar with one another in terms of providing students with opportunities to interact with real scientists. However, zipTrips are real time interactions, which can be a memorable experience for students. Also, it seems like ZipTrips’ emphasis is not just on the interaction with scientists where they have the opportunity to interact with pre-recorded segments as well. I don’t see them as different in terms of knowledge mobilization because they both contribute to enriched learning for students because of it’s interactivity aspects with real scientists, which makes the knowledge authentic.

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