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Designing a green city through the internet
a teacher's experience in a semi-virtual course

By Yorum Orad / June 2004

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Learning About Ecology and the Environment Online

Ecological and environmental issues are ideal subjects to teach in a classroom environment since they require taking part in experiments, observing, smelling and touching living and non-living items, and discussing the experiment. Can these topics be learned online as effectively as in classroom learning? The course "Jerusalem—Human and Nature" demonstrates that they can. The course was conducted during the academic year 2001-2002 for grammar school teachers teaching science in Jerusalem and its suburbs.

Educational guides, teachers, and curriculum developers commonly use traditional means to teach ecological and environmental issues, including educational tours, experiments, lectures given by specialists, and more. This course was an experiment in using online methods to teach about such issues, especially the environmental issues of cities.

The city is one of the masterpieces of humankind. It is a common place where people live in dense populations. Cities have developed much through the ages and have had huge and comprehensive advancements in a variety of areas, such as art, science, technology, and economics. But with development comes many hazards, including contamination of water, air, and ground, as well as a feeling of alienation—a psychological effect that is unique to large gatherings of people.

Contaminating the environment—a global problem—is a consequence of overusing earth's resources much too rapidly. Global contamination of the environment also leads to rising temperatures on earth, a phenomenon known as global warming.

A Green City on the Net

The semi-virtual course "Jerusalem—Human and Nature" was developed by Ruth Mendelovich, Michal Asheri, Dorit Harush, and me as a way to introduce and promote to teachers and students an awareness of some global and local environmental issues.

The course was constructed and conducted within the Center for Developing Teaching Teams in Jerusalem. The local environmental case in this course focused on the city of Jerusalem and its suburbs. The course was constructed in such a way that it incorporated the use of the Internet so that those using it would learn the course issues as effectively as possible. The main channel for discussing and collaborating between students and their guides during the course was the virtual forum. Students used it to raise awareness of problems, pose questions, offer insights, and conduct an effective and rich collaboration with each other.

As a member of the development team, I developed the virtual component of the course, guided the students through the net, helped them through the forum, and modified an appropriate use of the Internet for all of the students so that it would help them in their assignments.

In the course's main assignment, called "My Green City," students were required to design an environmentally-friendly metropolis. I conducted the assignment with the students via the Internet by using various computerized and Internet tools. The course was developed on the basis of an educational program called "On the Wings of Science Imagination" (a program developed by Rakefet Danay and me within the Curriculum Center of the Ministry of Education of Israel). It is an educational program intended to teach science and technology using imagination and futurism.

The assignment consisted of five sub-assignments, which I presented gradually during the course. I asked students to share what they learned through all the sub-assignments. The students were also asked to work in groups of two to four students; every group had to submit all of their sub-assignments as one collaborative product.


  1. Designing a Green City: Students designed the features of a green city from their own point of view; they were allowed to choose any place they wished to build their city in, including the desert, the North or South Pole, and even outer space. After carrying out their assignment they had to present it in the students' forum online.
  2. Summarizing the Design of the Green City: The essence of this sub-assignment was to summarize the main points of the design. The summary included possible problems and compared the design of the green city to that of a city that wasn't environmentally friendly.
  3. Questions Raised Along the Duration of the Assignment: The students presented questions raised throughout the designing of the green city and tried to answer them by using applicable Internet sites, among other resources.
  4. A Collection of Questions: The guides presented various questions to the students concerning ecological and environmental issues. The students had to choose at least three of them and try to address them using proper Internet sites and other means.
  5. Presentation of the Green City in Front of the Class: This was the culmination of the course. The students presented their designs of the green city, this time in the classroom. They were allowed to carry out the presentation in any way they wished, including a power point presentation, a poster, or an Internet site they constructed.

Students' Attitude and Behavior in Using the Internet During the Course

The use of the Internet in this course was wide and profound. To prevent as many problems as possible, I guided the students at the beginning of the course to use the Internet in a way that fit their needs. Since the forum was the main channel in this course, I also guided and monitored the students so that they would use it wisely and effectively.

In general the students reacted very positively to the guidance. Some already had basic knowledge of the Internet, but it usually involved using e-mail and surfing through the Internet in a non-effective way. Students also lacked the proper attitude for using the Internet for educational purposes. The guidance was usually very exiting for them and most of them felt it paved the way for them to properly use the Internet for their educational needs.

Learning virtually was a new experience for the students, a fact that caused some difficulties, worries, and fears. Nevertheless, the students adopted it quite fast and assimilated it in their work throughout the course. In addition, they did it enthusiastically and with a sense of discovering something new and fascinating. The enthusiasm became even stronger after they discovered that the virtual environment allowed for more convenience, more flexibility, and enabled them to be more profound in their work. For example, it was possible for them to collaborate with each other without the need to leave their homes. One expression of their enthusiasm was the numerous messages and responses in the online forum. These messages, which became more and more frequent during the course, not only concerned the class itself, but also included social talks and more.

Benefits of Using the Internet in the Course

Gradually, the forum became a self-evident tool for most of the students. The use of the Internet throughout the course helped the students in several aspects:

  • Eased their learning throughout the course. Learning online allowed the students to study without leaving their homes; gave them access to large amounts of information over the Internet; and made it convenient to communicate and submit assignments.
  • Made their learning much more profound than in a traditional learning environment. For example, virtual learning increases the quality of studying, since it allows one to gather information from a variety of sources on the Internet. Also, online learning enables easy collaboration among students. By allowing them to exchange beneficial insights and reflections so conveniently, students work harder and think of their work in ways they never did before.
  • Exposed them to the variety of ways of obtaining information—including presentations and forums—through the Internet, which they may not have known about before. The Internet also provided educational possibilities not available in a traditional environment. These included e-mail, online forums, and chat rooms.
  • Trained them to carry out intelligent use of virtual tools as a part of their educational work.


The wide use of the Internet and virtual tools was intended to intensify the effectiveness of online learning. Despite some misgivings on the students' part, using the Internet in their online course proved much more convenient, flexible, and profound than in a traditional learning environment. The ongoing performance of the main assignment of the course, "My Green City"—conducted online—demonstrated that it was possible to learn about protecting the environment through virtual means.


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