Similar approaches have been used in astronomy, ornithology, language arts, and other fields (Bonney and Dhondt, 1997; Riel, 1992; University of California Regents, 1997). These collaborative experiences help students understand complex systems and concepts, such as multiple causes and interactions among different variables. Since the ultimate goal of education is to prepare students to become competent adults and lifelong learners, there is a strong argument for electronically linking students not just with their peers, but also with practicing professionals. Increasingly scientists and other professionals are establishing electronic “collaboratories” (Lederberg and Uncapher, 1989), through which they define and conduct their work (e.g., Finholt and Sproull, 1990; Galegher et al., 1990). This trend provides both a justification and a medium for establishing virtual communities for learning purposes.
Through Project GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment), thousands of students in grades kindergarten through 12 (K–12) from over 2,000 schools in more than 34 countries are gathering data about their local environments (Lawless and Coppola, 1996). Students collect data in five different earth science areas, including atmosphere, hydrology, and land cover, using protocols specified by principal investigators from major research institutions. Students submit their data through the Internet to a GLOBE data archive, which both the scientists and the students use to perform their analyses. A set of visualization tools provided on the GLOBE World Wide Web site enables students to see how their own data fit with those collected elsewhere. Students in GLOBE classrooms demonstrate higher knowledge and skill levels on assessments of environmental science methods and data interpretation than their peers who have not participated in the program (Means et al., 1997).
Emerging technologies and new ideas about teaching are being combined to reshape precollege science education in the Learning Through Collaborative Visualization (CoVis) Project (Pea, 1993a; Pea et al., 1997). Over wideband networks, middle and high school students from more than 40 schools collaborate with other students at remote locations. Thousands of participating students study atmospheric and environmental sciences—including topics in meteorology and climatology—through project-based activities. Through these networks, students also communicate with “telementors” —university researchers and other experts. Using scientific visualization software, specially modified for learning, students have access to the same research tools and datasets that scientists use.
In one 5-week activity, “Student Conference on Global Warming,” supported by curriculum units, learner-centered scientific visualization tools and data, and assessment rubrics available through the CoVis GeoSciences web server, students across schools and states evaluate the evidence for global warming and consider possible trends and consequences (Gordin et al.,