The University of Tartu (UTE) is the oldest and largest university in Estonia with about 13,000 students and 1,700 academic staff members. Teacher training and educational research at the University of Tartu is coordinated by Pedagogicum. The Centre for Educational Technology and Centre for Teacher Education and Higher Education at the Institute of Education of UTE are involved in the educational research, promoting teachers’ professional development in Estonia and East-European countries. Furthermore, UTE participates in the research projects co-founded by the European Commission, Estonian Science Foundation, and others. The results of these projects are distributed among teachers in Estonia and other countries, as UTE has direct connections to the local and international teacher organizations.
In the Next-Lab project, UTE is represented by the Learning Design Workgroup of the University (UTE-LD) focusing on R&D and teaching in technology education and educational technology. The previous studies of the research group concentrated on improving learners’ problem solving and inquiry skills by applying web-based learning environments and educational robotics. Special attention has been given the adaptive support mechanisms to enhance learners’ self-regulation and reflection using learning environments “Hiking across Estonia”, “Young Scientist”, and “Young Researcher”. Recently, the research focus has shifted towards the questions related to conceptual principles of technology education, technological literacy, and designing learning applications improving skills needed in a technological world, also those needed to develop new products by solving design problems.
In Next-Lab, UTE is the National Expertise Centre in Estonia being responsible for scaling up the use of Next-Lab laboratories and Inquiry Learning Spaces in Estonia and other Baltic countries. Furthermore, UTE is involved in the design of Next-Lab's innovative extensions.
“Young scientist” and “Young researcher” learning environments
UTE has implemented web-based problem solving and inquiry learning environments in about half of Estonian schools. As a result, several learning environments that have been developed (see http://bio.edu.ee/) have already been applied in lessons according to the national curriculum or in all-over Estonian competitions for small teams of three to five learners. The “Young scientist” and “Young researcher” environments allow learners to run scientific projects, where they have to formulate problems, research questions, and hypotheses, plan and run experiments, analyse and communicate results. In these projects virtual or real laboratories are applied. The implementation and evaluation of the learning environments has been related to several master’s and PhD works.
One of the most recent developments is the learning environment Ark of Inquiry (http://arkportal.eu) which is a repository for inquiry learning activities collected and disseminated in a EU 7th Framework project of 13 partners from 12 countries (see http://arkofinquiry.eu).