Understanding the Rich Potential of Project-based Learning in a Virtual Reality Class for High School Students
This critique will focus on the article A One-year Case Study: Understanding the Rich Potential of Project-based Learning in a Virtual Reality Class for High School Students by Teresa M. Morales, EunJin Bang and Thomas Andre. A summary of the purpose of the study, main goals, the methodology, study participants, data collection, analysis and interpretation will be described. The results, contributions and main findings will be discussed. Strong points, limitations, trustworthiness of the study will be considered and ideas for the future research will be suggested.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the social dynamics and student learning in a project-based Virtual Reality design class. Which corresponds to eternal and internal level of analysis. Project-based learning is a teaching method, which is organized around projects and requires investigations, which involve inquiries and resolution to complex questions. Student motivation and empowerment in the choice and conduct of projects is emphasized sine projects are conducted in realistic, non-school like context. Projects involve collaborations among students, since there is little direct teacher guidance or participation. (Krajcik and Blumenfeld 2006, p. 318)
The two major goals of this study where to explore the interaction of the students during the learning process, which was essential, since no teacher was present, and how it influenced the development of a learning community. The second goal was to describe students’ academic learning, skills, knowledge they acquired and their understanding of science established in the projects and discussions.
The present course described in this study has essential features of Project-based learning. Students were creating authentic artifacts that were meaningful to them in the context of a Virtual Reality system without teacher scaffolding. They carried full responsibility for both learning to program an industrial-level Virtual Reality system and creating educational projects. The base principal was to meet the needs of individual students in the school. (Morales T.M., 2013, p.792)
In the twenty-first century educational world, students become increasingly empowered to create and direct their own learning environment. Educational services must provide significant changes to meet the new needs of students. Nowadays virtual and face-to-face education is gradually more intertwined. Digital technologies, including virtual reality systems, provide much wider opportunities to explore the environment far beyond any real locale.
For this study data from 31 students was utilized. The 31 participants ranged from ages 15–18 and included freshmen through seniors. 8 students for focus group observations and 3 experienced students for formal interviews were chosen. Additionally, data from 8 teachers and 13 parents was collected. They were asked to share their opinion about social dynamics of the class and the effectiveness of their communications.
Likewise any class, students were required to respect each other, cooperate, care for the equipment and learn to program the Virtual Reality system themselves by reading the technical manuals or experimenting with the software. Each student was expected to produce two self-selected artifacts during each quarter, to give public presentations and to demonstrate their projects.
In this research the following data techniques were used: 1) video recordings of 18 class periods; 2) nonparticipant classroom observation of the focus group; 3) formal interviews with semiopen-ended questions with 3 experiences students; 4) online surveys for teachers and parents; 5) samples of student projects. Both groups and individuals were analyzed, as well as incidents that occurred and the projects, that student were choosing to work on.
In order to analyze the data an iterative spiral process was used. It combined indexing and labeling the data, organizing the data into categories by themes, assigning abbreviated codes, subcodes, and subcategories to the identified themes, and discovering, triangulating, and connecting growing categories before stating credible interpretations of the data.
The video recordings of 18 class periods were transcribed and then the recorded conversations were typed with Microsoft Word. Additionally, field notes made during the observations were added when needed. The field notes were checked against the transcriptions for accuracy. Observational notes of the focus group activities were also typed in Microsoft Word. All the data was later coded color-coding system. After the researchers agreed upon the consistency of the themes and patterns, all colored notes were assigned to five different incident groups including play, peer mentoring, collaboration, problem solving, and computer language.
Play incidents were defined as any activities that were separate from work projects. Peer-mentoring incidents were defined as student interactions where one student carried a clear function of teaching. Collaboration was defined as an incident in which students worked together as a team, demonstrating equal technical skills. Problem solving incidents involved either individual students or multiple students working to reach a desired goal or dealing with unexpected results. Computer language concepts were coded as those referring to programming, technical skills and software use.( Morales T.M., 2013, p.797)
Out of 244 coded incidents in total, 116 related to peer-mentoring, 38 of which involved play to enhance creativeness. Incidents of one peer directly teaching other peers in the classroom were present in 24 cases. Collaborative interactions in the class, in which participants were in equal roles, were reflected in 30 incidents.
The main findings of this research are that this learning environment is very student-directed. In this social system knowledge is communal, skill development is socialized and each individual can benefit his/her own knowledge acquisition from the knowledge and skills of the group. Generally, the attitude to this class was positive and only a minority of parents and teacher expressed their concerns about the unstructured and freewheeling nature of this class.
This environment allowed students to develop, exchange ideas, share knowledge without teachers’ guidance and constraints to maintain appropriate behavior. Despite free-flowing social environment, it did have drawbacks. Some students were lost without any directions and feedback about their work or felt very uncomfortable to ask for help when they needed it.
Among the strong point of this study is it’s trustworthiness. It was based on the following factors: the study was conducted using the principles of interpretivism, which postulates that knowledge is established by the perceptions of human beings, and is formed by the interpretations of sensations; multiple sources of data were used; multiple researchers were engaged in data collection, analysis and interpretation. Among the participants there were students, both newcomers and experienced once, teachers and parents, this made results of the study more objective.
The idea for the future research could be to examine the role of teachers in priming potential peer mentors in how to interact with newcomers. In addition, further research could be conducted to identify gender differences between participants of such class.
Morales T.M., Bang E. and Andre T. (2013) A One-year Case Study: Understanding the Rich Potential of Project-based Learning in a Virtual Reality Class for High School Students. Sci Educ Technol 22:791–806
Krajcik JS, Blumenfeld P (2006) Project-based learning. In: Keith Sawyer R (ed) The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 317– 334