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An Ecosystem of Educators: Transitioning The Dome Online

Usually, Karen Lee’s conversations happen in the hallways, offices and meeting rooms of Science World. These labyrinthine spaces wrap around the outer layers of our geodesic dome, hidden from the public who gather at its centre in the interactive science galleries, exhibits and theatres.

Now, only essential workers are allowed inside: those who keep the air, water, power and computer systems running that we can’t shut off, and employees of TRICOM, the company who, over the next month, will give our facilities a methodical and systematized deep clean.

Despite our closure, “All the meetings are still happening,” Karen laughs. She works in our Community Engagement department, delivering professional development to teachers across BC through hands-on workshops.

Since the BC K-12 curriculum transformed in 2015, students have also been expected to learn digital skills such as robotics, coding, and computational thinking. Every year, Science World serves well over 1,000 teachers, equipping them with the resources and material to help support this massive curriculum change, the largest in over thirty years.

“In the beginning, it was a lot of reassurance,” Karen remembers. “We told teachers, ‘You’ve got this. You’re already doing design thinking. You’re already doing inquiry-based learning. You’re already doing computational thinking. There’s just a codified language for it now.’”

Risk Taking in Uncertain Times

When Science World made the decision to close its facility to the public, Karen Lee had been scheduled to facilitate an onsite seminar for dozens of her colleagues the following day. Now, she was told, for her health and safety, she would be required to work from home.

“I didn’t want to cancel,” says Karen.

But the dome’s closure created a new challenge, and Karen decided to approach it using the very tenets of the subject of her seminar: inquiry-based learning.

“Inquiry-based learning promotes creative thinking by encouraging learners to take risks together. It encourages learners to focus on the process of learning rather than the end result.”

In under 24 hours, Karen and her colleagues planned, developed and delivered a complicated seminar remotely, complete with readings, talks, discussions and break-out sessions for focused workshops. Over 35 staff members attended. “It was great,” Karen says.

Now, looking at the weeks and months of school closures ahead, her team is working through the new challenge of transferring all Science World programs online, so they are accessible for the whole province.

A huge project, but one that Karen does not find daunting. “I’m comfortable with ambiguity,” she says.

How Does Learning Adapt?

Being responsive to changing times is at the heart of Science World’s practice.

That’s what we’re up to here, Karen tells me: “We’re helping establish communities of practice.”

In professional development sessions, Science World employees do not present themselves as experts or an authority, but as a resource in support of teachers. “We offer provocations for teachers to think about, and we offer them time to share with their colleagues and to consider how they might integrate new ideas into their teaching practice.”

Karen says the teachers who attend the workshops are resourceful and adaptable. They come because they are committed to their own continuous learning for the benefit of their work and of their students.

Karen herself is trained as a secondary teacher. “We do it to help kids shoot for the stars,” she says. “I rarely meet teachers who pat themselves on the back for a job well done, they're always asking what they might do better next time.”

This week, Karen is attending webinars and learning about how educators in Asia are responding to the crisis.

“There are cities in their eighth week of impromptu online learning. People there are saying there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In these unprecedented times, we need to be agile in responding to the challenge of adapting instruction. We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

The question of how to educate people online is not a new one, Karen reminds me.

“Academics have been musing on the future of education for years. People ask, ‘Do we need teachers in the age of information?’ I argue yes, absolutely.

“The real question is, how does learning adapt? How do we adapt?”

It's an open-ended question that Karen and her team are responding to every day in this new environment. Soon, Science World will offer professional development workshops for teachers online for the first time.

"Teachers still want to learn," Karen says. "And I don't like saying no to teachers."

The Dome is Where the Heart is.

For the first time in 30 years, Science World has closed its doors to the public. Every day, COVID-19 is eliminating our main revenue source and critical operational funds. Give now to ensure that when the virus is gone, Science World is still here.