In today’s job market (and tomorrow’s), employers increasingly look for collaborators, critical thinkers, and creative problem-solvers, all key skills for addressing the complex challenges of the 21st century. EcoLearn, a research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is explicitly trying to cultivate these skills within the context of rich STEM learning. The group creates immersive technologies and inquiry-based curricula to teach ecosystem science, while seeding the ground with the kind of deeper-learning strategies that the National Research Council (NRC) endorsed in its 2012 report, Education for Life and Work in the 21st Century. [Read a brief summary here.]
A recent paper [PDF] describes one of the newest EcoLearn projects: EcoXPT, a virtual reality program that gives young people the opportunity to delve into science the way professionals do — by observing and analyzing, conducting experiments, and constructing solutions based on evidence — all while developing skills that are becoming essential across sectors. The paper, by researchers Christopher Dede, Tina Grotzer, Amy Kamarainen, and Shari Metcalf, describes the ways in which EcoXPT can support classroom practices that the NRC connects with deeper learning: case-based approaches; self-directed, open-ended, and collaborative inquiry; apprenticed learning; interdisciplinary learning; and learning that’s embedded with diagnostic assessments based on many sources.