The EvoRoom project was designed and conceptualized by my colleague, Michelle Lui, for her PhD project.  For my MA research, I supported the final design iteration and implementation of EvoRoom in two Grade 11 Biology classes, and used this data as the basis for my research on epistemic cognition (i.e. students’ ways of knowing, and their beliefs about the nature of knowledge and science) in knowledge communities.

EvoRoom was a 10-week curriculum designed to fulfill the Ontario curriculum expectations in evolution and biodiversity. The EvoRoom design included activities that occurred within a number of different contexts, including at home (i.e. online), in a traditional science classroom, on a field trip to a local zoo, and in a unique “smart classroom” environment.  The “smart classroom” was a specially constructed room within the school that included an immersive simulation of the Borneo-Sumatra rainforest.  This immersive simulation allowed students to make first-hand observations of evolutionary phenomena (a notoriously difficult topic for students to grasp) in ways that would otherwise be temporally or geographically inaccessible to them.

The design of EvoRoom was informed by a theoretical model called Knowledge Community and Inquiry (KCI).  In KCI, students work collectively as a learning community, creating a knowledge base that serves as a resource for their ongoing inquiry within a specific science domain.  From an epistemological perspective, KCI represents a key shift from the notion of self-as-learner, where an individual is potentially in competition with peers, to one of collaboration and cooperation in which shared knowledge advancement is favoured over individual gains.

To analyze EvoRoom, I used a two-stage approach called Model-Based Design Research (MBDR)—first mapping the epistemic commitments of KCI onto the design, and then analyzing how the epistemic elements of the design were actually enacted by students.  The mapping of the epistemic commitments of KCI to Chinn et al’s (2011) EC framework revealed epistemic gaps in two key areas: The “justification of knowledge” and “epistemic stance.”  These analyses informed a series of design recommendations for future iterations of this curriculum, as well as insights to contribute to the refinement of the KCI model itself.