Online Tools Allow Distant Students to Collaborate on Research Projects

The Wesleyan Academy and Moravian School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, recently joined forces with Evergreen Elementary in Fort Lewis, Wash., to collaborate on a research project using My eCoach Online (http://my-ecoach.com) as the primary medium to share information, post ideas and findings, and develop inquiry projects on 10 topics about water.

“Involving students at distant locations encourages exploration outside of their own environment,” says project coordinator and teacher Meredith Blanche, who went to the Virgin Islands for several months along with co-coordinator and teacher Vicki Albrecht to help complete the project. “Through project-based learning and using technology as a tool to complete their projects, the students absorbed so much more knowledge about their subject compared to what they are accustomed to with a textbook alone.”

Coordinators of the project from each school received virtual coaching from My eCoach to develop the goals and design of the project, and then passed that training on to their lead teachers. Each lead teacher worked with 10 teams of two to three students from their schools to guide them as they conducted research and engaged in hands-on investigations. Using the collaboration and communication tools from My eCoach Online, students shared information and discussed their research findings. The teams then used the site’s curriculum builders to create an inquiry project.

“Not only did the students in the Virgin Islands get to learn about the cold water of the Puget Sound salmon habitat as they made their way from local streams to the ocean, but the students in Washington learned what a Conch was,” says James L. Smith, Enhancing Education Through Technology program supervisor for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Smith went on to say that the process, althoughnotperfect,wasagreat opportunity for students of different cultures to share their thinking around a common subject.

Project topics included natural disasters and the effects on water, animals in our watershed,and pollution and its effects on sea life. “The students’ overall response to the program was extremely positive,” says Blache. “They truly learned much more about their topics and enjoyed sharing their understanding through their hands-on projects and demonstrations.”

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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