Teaching concepts involves providing the learner with examples and non-examples of the concept and then allowing the learner to determine the attributes that describe the concept. This allows the learner to recognize and apply the concept in a variety of different environments. In the archetype of conceptual orienteering, learners are shown a number of different items, examples, or situations which they can mentally compare. Then the facilitator asks the learners to identify the similarities and differences.
The process of side-by-side comparison allows learners to recognize and apply concepts in a variety of different environments. Learners studying to be FDA inspectors could be teleported from one manufacturing line to another to see the difference between inspecting a plant that creates medical devices versus one that creates ingestible drugs.
The goal is to provide a visualization of the differences to the learner who can then determine what attributes apply to the concept and what attributes do not. The learners can visually see attributes and do a mental comparison through the ability to instantly move from one location to another. These do not always need to be physical attributes. For example, you could create a 3D environment to resemble what it looks like to someone who is legally drunk and provide a frame of reference for the person attempting to understand the impairment that occurs when a person has too much to drink. The learner can then get behind the wheel of a virtual car and see and feel the effects of trying to drive while "drunk."
You can take this concept beyond physical items into the mental arena. For example, there is a location in Second Life that shows what the world looks like from the view of a schizophrenic. The idea is to give the learner a conceptual orientation of what it would be like to have the condition. The learner can then better understand the implications of the event or the condition. You can use the same concept to display what it would be like to work in a dimly lit coal mine, a confined space or other unfamiliar environment.
In other types of conceptual orienteering a participant can participate at both the macro and micro levels. You can shrink learners to the size of blood cells and propel them through the blood stream to observe a drug’s interaction with a virus. Or a person can fly over a proposed subdivision to observe the layout and intersection of roads and sidewalks. Or be transported to another time and place to observe customs of the people.
Steps to conducting a conceptual orienteering lesson
1. Introduce the learners to the environment or area that illustrates the concept.
2. Allow the learners to “experience” the concept.
3. Debrief the learners on their experience with the concept.
4. Ask questions to identify misconceptions and send them back to environment to clarify.
One advantage is that a learner can experience a concept which is not otherwise possible because of time and space limitations or because of potential danger. They can stand in the middle of a tsunami or fly around a molecule. The 3D virtual immersive environment can also allow the learner to repeat the experience over and over again so they can really grasp a concept.
Disadvantages include the time it takes to create the environment necessary to convey the concept. It is also sometimes difficult to determine the best environment to create to effectively immerse the learner into the concept. If the design is not established properly, the possibility that the learner may not learn the concept from the environment does exist.
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