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Center for Innovation in Teaching & Research
Member, Texas Tech University System The Princeton Review - 373 Best Colleges, 2011 Edition

Do Instructional Activities - Discovery

Description: Discovery activities lead learners to make discoveries. Use discovery activities for exploratory learning, to reveal principles, trends, and relationships, and to inspire curiosity about a topic. Discovery activities include virtual laboratories, case studies, and role playing activities (Horton, p. 125).

Types of Discovery Activities

Virtual Labs and Field Trips. Virtual labs and field trips include the testing and evaluation information through experiments and examination (UMUC, 2011). Learners can try all kinds of experiments without the risk of damaging equipment or injuring themselves and others in a virtual lab. They can also conduct experiments not possible in even the most generously funded real laboratory (p. 128).

Best Practices

  1. Challenge learner’s assumptions. Design experiments to challenge what learners believe to be true.
  2. Prescribe experiments. Do not just give learners a laboratory and assume they will make up their own experiments. Assign experiments to perform.
  3. Reuse your virtual laboratory. Developing a simulated laboratory is a lot of work. Consider using the same laboratory in multiple activities or courses.
  4. Use virtual laboratories to prepare students for real-world laboratories by beginning with simple, limited representations of the real lab (Horton, p. 128-129).
  5. Approaches to teaching labs resource: http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/labsstudios.html
  6. Suggestion: Second Life is a resource for virtual labs and field trips where numerous worlds have already been designed for students to explore. Also, Second Life allows students to collaborate online. (Refer to Section Three: Online Learning Tools/Second Life for more information and resources on Second Life).


Example of a Virtual Genetics Lab

Case Studies. Case studies involve the evaluation of systems by observing and analyzing simulated situations or processes. Case studies provide relevant, meaningful experiences in which learners can discover and abstract useful concepts and principles (Carnegie Mellon, “Case Studies,” para. 1). Case studies are effective discovery activities when learners must actively apply analytical and problem-solving skills to the events cited in the case study. “Cases are the building blocks of problem-solving learning environments,” and can also be categorized as a Connect activity (Jonassen, 2011, p. 184). Case studies are especially well suited for “teaching judgment skills required to cope with ambiguous situations commonly faced in real life” (Horton, p. 131).

Best Practices

  1. Provide a rich mixture of case materials such as reports, contracts, instruction manuals, drawings, blueprints, spreadsheets, charts, graphs, diagrams, video or audio interviews.
  2. Guide study of the case by prompting discovery of critical principles of the case study. Mayer (as cited by Reiser et al.) found “people learn better with guided discovery methods in which the instructor imposes some structure on the task than with pure discovery methods in which students are free to interact as they please” (p. 321). Provide learners with:
  3. What the case study shows.
  4. What to notice.
  5. Questions to answer. They direct learners’ searches and control what discoveries they are likely to make.
  6. What to think about. Ask questions that guide learners to think about how the case relates to the subject of the lesson or course (Horton, p. 134).

Role Playing. Just as children learn how to be an adult through playing to be an adult. Similarly, adult learners can learn by playing the role of someone else requiring the learner to view events from a different perspective. The instructor must state the goal and assign each student with a role to accomplish that goal. Learners must research their roles and collaborate through online discussion forums to play out their roles (Horton, p. 135).

Best Practices

  1. Introduce the scenario fully
  2. Assign roles related to the subject or use generic roles
  3. Match the role to the personality and skills of the learner
  4. Require learners to use their assigned role names in messages (pp. 138-140).