Williamson Shaffer Awarded $2 Million from the National Science Foundation

October 17, 2017

David Williamson Shaffer has been awarded a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop and study a tool to let STEM teachers generate models of social, economic, and environmental issues in their own communities. The system will use national geographic information systems data and optimization algorithms to let teachers select the area they want to model and choose a set of issues important in their community. The resulting Local Environmental Models will let students explore the complex interactions of human concerns and the natural environment by proposing changes in land use -- for example, turning factories into open spaces or parks -- and seeing the projected impact of these changes as they try to meet the needs of stakeholders in their community.

Shaffer's prior research shows that the effects of such simulated planning exercises are stronger when students are investigating issues in a place they know well. The grant proposes to test this theory at a larger scale by incorporating Local Environmental Models into Land Science, a virtual environment in which students work as urban and regional planners to understand how environmental and social issues are part of a complex and interdependent system, as well as learning about key topics in ecology and environmental science.

This work is part of a series of studies by WCER's Epistemic Games Group on virtual internships and the impact of teacher customization of immersive digital learning environments. The project, "Local Environmental Modeling: A Toolkit for Incorporating Place-Based Learning into Virtual Internships - A Scalable, Informal STEM Learning Environment," will continue through August 2021.