EcoLEARN Projects

Below is a list of EcoLEARN Projects that the "Cognition in a Complex World" Team has collaborated on with Chris Dede and other HGSE colleagues.  Please note that the main EcoLEARN website with up-to-date publications is available at:

EcoMOD: Integrating Computational Thinking in Ecosystem Science Education via Modeling in Immersive Virtual Worlds (9/15/2016-8/31/19), NSF #DRL1639545, PIs: Chris Dede, Tina Grotzer and Karen Brennan.

The EcoMOD (Model/Modify, Observe, Design) project will explore the power of immersive virtual environments to support computational thinking and ecosystem science learning in elementary grades. Research shows that, with appropriate scaffolding, even young students can begin building complex causal concepts and understandings of systems dynamics. Developing more advanced scientific and computational thinking in later grades depends on creating a strong foundation in elementary school. However, important questions remain unanswered about how young learners think about models. EcoMOD engages learners in observation and exploration of a complex systems model based on a simulated forest building upon assets developed in an earlier project called EcoMUVE. EcoMOD’s learning goals, related to ecosystem science topics like food webs, will be taught using a systems perspective, and will shift the focus from comprehension of static representations to student interaction with dynamic computational models. Students will explore model elements through a programming sandbox, and will see the effects as they modify the properties and behaviors of the system through programming. EcoMOD will link multiple representations to help connect visual models to dynamic representations of ecosystem relationships. The curriculum will provide a highly supported, object-oriented programming environment customized to focus on ecosystems modeling and designed specifically for younger children.

EcoXPT: Affordances for Experimentation in an Immersive World to Support Learning of Ecosystems Science and Complex Causality (9/1/2014-8/31/17), NSF #DRL1416781, PIs: Tina Grotzer and Chris Dede

Understanding how ecosystems work is important for citizens in making decisions and for students who aspire to become scientists. It requires understanding of complex causality, possible unintended consequences, and the strengths and limitations of various investigative approaches. Ecosystem concepts are difficult to learn and to teach due to the amount of information, many interacting components, and non-linear patterns involved. They are particularly difficult to teach in classrooms because ecosystems involve complexities such as large-scale problems, populations of organisms, and change over extended time frames. Learning when and how ecosystem scientists employ different approaches can help learners understand the content and process of science, yet it remains challenging to meaningfully teach these concepts in schools. EcoXPT builds upon earlier work with EcoMUVE, but goes beyond observational inquiry to explore the diverse investigative strategies practiced in the field of ecosystems science, through adding tools modeled on modern approaches and integrated with iterative cycles of experimentation, reflection, and revision.

The simulation and teaching materials for EcoXPT are available on the EcoLEARN website:

EcoMOBILE: Blended Real and Virtual Immersive Experiences for Learning Complex Causality and Ecosystems Science (9/1/2011-8/31/15), NSF DrK121118530, Co-PIs: Chris Dede and Tina Grotzer

EcoMOBILE (Ecosystems Mobile Outdoor Blended Immersive Learning Environment) was an extension of an earlier project called EcoMUVE and the resulting curriculum, developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education with funding from the Institute of Education Sciences. In EcoMUVE, students explore a virtual representation of a pond ecosystem. In EcoMobile, funded by the National Science Foundation and Qualcomm's Wireless Reach initiative, students use the EcoMUVE software and also extend their learning with mobile technologies through one or more field trips to a local pond environment. Two forms of technology for science education enhanced their experience in the real world.

Advancing Ecosystems Science Education via Situated Collaborative Learning in Multi-User Virtual Environments 
(07/01/08- 06/30/11) IES#R305A080514, Co-PIs: Chris Dede and Tina Grotzer

Ecosystems science, an important strand of the life science content standards, requires an understanding of complex causal relationships. However, even after instruction, students often retain inaccurate interpretations about ecosystems’ structural patterns and systemic causality. With the research team of colleague Chris Dede, an expert in virtual worlds, we developed a Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE)-based ecosystems science curriculum called EcoMUVE to address these problems. EcoMUVE includes two ecosystems science curricular modules (pond and forest) for teaching various aspects of ecosystems science, These MUVE modules complement and extend the current curriculum of the Understandings of Consequence Project’s Causal Patterns in Ecosystems curriculum.


The work on this site has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Institute for Education Science IES). All opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF and IES.