COSEE CGOM is reporting great success with their annual Teacher Scientist Institute held each June and July, specifically attributing increased involvement and interaction between teachers and scientists with their implementation of the online portion though the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS).
Moodle, also known as a Course Management System (CMS) or Virtual Learning Environment, is a free and open-source e-learning software platform that can be implemented on a private or public server to help educators create online courses with opportunities for rich interaction. Similar to other software platforms such as Blackboard/WebCT or Sakai, Moodle allows users to login to view their content, and in the process tracks their time online, what they view, automatically grades assignments and offers the ability to feature videos, animation, real time chat, discussion boards, quizzes and RSS feeds just for an example.
This year, the Online Session engaged teachers in two lessons per week for three weeks:
- The Gulf of Mexico: Understanding America’s Sea (Dr. Jessie Kastler);
- Improved Coastal Resiliency Through the Use of Storm Surge Visualization (Mr. Joe Swaykos, Institute for Higher Learning);
- Oyster Reef and Estuarine Landscape Restoration (Dr. Ken Heck, Dauphin Island Sea Lab);
- Marine Ecosystems (Dr. Mike Carron, Northern Gulf Institute);
- Water Quality Issues Around the Gulf of Mexico (Mr. Andrew Barron, Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program); and
- Environmental Stewardship (Dr. Mike Spranger, University of Florida, Florida Sea Grant).
Each lesson included a PowerPoint presentation with notes, additional resources (including videos, news articles, journal articles and glossaries), and four discussion questions regarding the lesson content. The teachers were asked to answer questions, participate in online chats with the presenter and other participants, and upload a lesson plan based on the lesson content aligned to NSES and OLEP&FC.
The course has evolved in the seven years it has been offered through the efforts of Drs. Dan Brook and Brian McCann at Mississippi State University (MSU) to incorporate the most appropriate technology as it becomes available. In 2008, Dr. McCann reformatted the course to utilize Moodle, given the benefits that it offers over just static pages with links. Since that time, Dr. McCann credits it with facilitating a noticeable improvement in the online course. Indeed, for the first time, every single participant noted they interacted with the presenters, the staff, and each other. The trouble-free, easy to use discussion board explains this improvement.
Participants were asked to post at least two (2) questions/comments/observations for each lesson and then respond to one (1) other. This would yield, at the minimum, 63 posts from the 21 participants. However, with a total of 497 posts including comments from teachers, with responses from presenters, other online scientists, other face-to-face scientists, and COSEE CGOM staff members, one can definitely say they have greatly exceeded this minimal level. Indeed, many of the discussion threads were quite rich, and since they are archived on the Moodle system permanently, they are always available for participants to review or for use in evaluation.
Also archived on the course are the lesson plans that were created by the participants, and then uploaded to the system. These are currently being reviewed, and in some cases, field tested for use in the classroom. The “best of the best” will later be included on the COSEE CGOM’s Web site, in their searchable lesson plan database. An optional assignment this year was also offered to create messages for the Earth Gauge/SI-Sant Ocean Hall in Washington, D.C. Two teachers chose this option in lieu of submitting a lesson plan, and these were later sent in for inclusion in the exhibit.
Overall, post-Institute survey responses indicated teacher participants enjoyed the online course and believed the institute was beneficial. But, even presenter-scientists went "out of their way" to comment on their enjoyment of the interaction. Indeed, one scientist, Andrew Barron, even requested a transcript of the discussion for educational use in his water quality program.