Can the idea of 'Balance of Nature' be effectively challenged within a model-based learning environment? Insights from the second cycle of developmental research

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Ampatzidis, Georgios
Ergazaki, Marida
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This paper reports on the second cycle of developmental research aimed at designing a learning environment that can support non-biology-major students in (a) challenging the idea of ‘the balance of nature’ and constructing an up-to-date understanding of ecosystem function, and (b) using this understanding to enhance context-free ideas that underlie systems thinking. Here, we focus on whether and how students’ reasoning about ecosystems’ responses to disturbance or protection has been altered after their engagement with the second version of our learning environment, and whether the problems identified in implementing the first version of it were effectively dealt with. Considering social constructivism and a problem-posing approach, we developed a CSCL environment to highlight ecosystems’ contingent behavior through the idea of ‘resilience of nature’. Thirty-four first-year students were introduced to the assumptions of the idea of ‘resilient nature’ in five 2-hour sessions, by exploring our NetLogo models of protected or disturbed ecosystems with the aid of worksheets. The analysis of students’ responses to certain items of the pre/post-questionnaire shows that the idea of unpredictability as a substantial feature of ecosystems was reached by most students, while the problems identified in the first version of our learning environment were handled rather successfully.
model-based learning, collaborative learning, teaching about ecosystems, ecological reasoning, teaching about nature's resilience