By Blog Consulting

Created

June 30, 2008

rhadad.jpg
By Roxana Hadad
Roxana Hadad is a Project and Instructional Designer at Northwestern University’s Collaboratory Project in Evanston, iIlinois.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Division of Education has traditionally conducted on site workshops throughout Illinois in order to enhance teacher awareness of biodiversity in the state. IDNR’s goal has been to share information about specific species of plants and animals to supplement existing curriculum. Ultimately though, it proved difficult to reach teachers in many sections of Illinois due to the distribution of the state’s population and the teachers’ crowded schedules. IDNR approached the Collaboratory Project with the objective of conducting its workshops online, thus connecting with teachers and students who were previously unable to access all of IDNR’s Illinois-specific resources.
The Collaboratory Project is a Northwestern University Information Technology initiative that provides project consulting, training, technical advice, and internet- based resources and services to educational and cultural nonprofit organizations who plan to utilize internet technologies. The Collaboratory’s internet-based collaborative environment enables teachers to develop curricular projects in an engaged learning framework that is activity-based, linked to Illinois Learning Standards and Goals, and provides for assessment. See: http://collaboratory.nunet.net
Valerie Keener from IDNR approached the Collaboratory about providing teachers with a chance to earn Continuing Professional Development Units through online versions of the workshops they only offered in person. However, IDNR wanted to do more. They wanted to transform the workshops to do what the Collaboratory was best at doing: offering students the opportunity to create and share their work in engaging real-world projects.
The Collaboratory wanted to design a program that would instruct students to collect data, reflect on it, and then report it to scientists. The first workshop we were given to transform was a creepy one: spiders. Spiders are not very well studied in Illinois (or anywhere else) because of the lack of full-time arachnologists. We approached Dr. Petra Sierwald of the Field Museum of Natural History and Dr. Michael Draney of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay with an offer to provide them with a large statewide team of motivated and low-cost future arachnologists (4th-6th graders) willing to collect data. Our idea appealed to the scientists. We found six species that would be relatively easy for the students to monitor and collect data on.

Putting the Project Together

Next came the hard part, how to put the project together, promote it, and have participants within just a couple of months all without a lot of staff. We definitely needed the help of Adobe’s Illustrator, Flash Paper, Contribute, and Connect to get the project done effectively and on time.
The students needed to learn quite a bit about spiders before being asked to monitor them. So we needed to create a set of “SpiderDocs” that would make identifying the seven spider species easy. We did not have a lot of time to create these documents; also, we needed illustrations that would clearly demonstrate the difference between the spiders. Because of Adobe Illustrator, we were able to create a wireframe of an average spider and adjust it in shape and color for each species in a short amount of time. The illustrations were placed alongside information about the spiders’ anatomy and habitats and then exported as Flash Paper, allowing us to create printable documents without requiring students to download them onto school or library computers. For an example see: http://collaboratory.nunet.net/documentation/IDNRSpiderDocsFP/SpiderDoc-Agelenopsis_GrassSpider.swf
Spider.jpg
We then linked these documents from a Cybrary, which is the Collaboratory’s social bookmarking tool for students and teachers. For an example see: http://collaboratory.nunet.net/CollabJump/jumpToCybrary.cfm?libID=2366
The students were able to study the species remotely that they would later find and monitor. After locating the target spiders, they used the Collaboratory’s Survey Studio to record data on the spiders and their habitats. See: http://collaboratory.nunet.net/CollabJump/survey.cfm?id=1641
At the end of each month, students looked at the results and created reports in the Collaboratory’s Nexus. The Nexus is a document-based collaboration space for students to share writing, graphics, audio and text and exchange comments and peer review. In their reports, students reflected on what the data meant and compared it to other classrooms across the state engaged in the same data collection program. The scientists looked at their reports, commented on them and answered questions For an example see: http://collaboratory.nunet.net/CollabJump/gallery.cfm?id=1386
Because the Collaboratory is a secure community for students and the educational community, we needed to promote the project to the public on a web site that was outside of our Collaboratory community. We wanted newcomers to understand the activities and resources that made up the project. This task also needed to be done quickly and in a way that everyone working on the project could easily edit. Contribute allowed us to create a promotional site that looked good and was informative in a short amount of time. With an Illustrator-created logo, we had the site up and running in little more than a day. See: http://collaboratory.nunet.net/sponsoredprojects/idnr/spiders/
SpiderStudyPage.jpg
Ms. Van Hoveln’s class in Milford Grade School did an excellent job of collecting data, creating reports, and interacting with Dr. Draney. So Dr. Draney offered to visit the class on a trip to the Chicago area while doing research at the Field Museum. It was a generous offer because Milford is a two-hour drive from Chicago, so the trip would have taken up a lot of Dr. Draney’s research time. Instead we took a laptop to the Field Museum and set up a Connect conference between the students, Dr. Draney, and Dr. Sierwald. The students had access to the Field’s spider lab and were able to ask questions and speak to actual spider scientists. By using Adobe Connect, we avoided four hours of travel time, and the session was recorded for future participating classrooms. See: http://mm.eduadvisory.adobe.acrobat.com/p98097539/
ConnectMtg.jpg
The IDNR Illinois Biodiversity Study is being expanded to include a project offering students the opportunity to collect data on frogs and toads and another project on squirrels. We hope to continue adding species, allowing students to gain a better understanding of the scientific process and to interact with the natural world around them. The added benefit students receive from communicating with professional scientists in the field has greatly expanded the original scope and rewards of the initial IDNR workshops, while Illinois students have gained the satisfaction of knowing that the work they have done could contribute to our understanding of the biodiversity in our communities. Thankfully, we have Adobe products like Illustrator, FlashPaper, Contribute, and Connect to help create engaging, real-world projects that help students learn science by doing science.