Discussions started by Gina Bennett

I've been leaving this discussion forum to lie fallow for a week & give us all time to reflect on new ways of teaching science.... OK, ok: actually I've been 'way too busy & just didn't get around to posting a wrap up until today! One of my emerging talents is the ability to make oversights look like strategies blush

I really appreciate the involvement of all the wonderful SCoPE-ers out there. So many of you presented great links, insights, & reflections on what it means not only to re-think the teaching of science, but to generally re-think traditional teaching in a number of ways. As I mentioned at the outset, the teaching of science has been near & dear to my heart since I first set foot at the front of lab classes for Bio. 150 at UVic, many years ago... And especially since becoming involved with our BCcampus- & Inukshuk sponsored Web-based Associate of Science Program Development Project.

If, indeed, you have been reflecting on this thread over the past week, or if some even-marginally-related notion occurs to you later, please post here again!

And once again, thanks for your contributions.


Sooo... what's your opinion? Have we re-thought teaching in the sciences?

In the BC public postsecondary system, we are "putting our money where our mouth is" & attempting to offer a high-quality, scientifically-rigorous Associate of Science program online. The first 2 courses (Physics & Geology) for this program will be available online in the coming academic year. This project has received funding from both BCcampus's Online Program Development Fund & the Inukshuk Wireless Fund.

The project is led by Ron Evans of North Island College. Ron has been offering a first-year Astronomy course online for several years. College of the Rockies (surprise, surprise - MY institution!!!) is a partner in the project.

I've learned a lot from my involvement in this project. It's been most interesting to explore the topic of learning science at a distance with my colleagues. We all agree that education needs to be more accessible but we also agree that the quality of that education should not be compromised. Science learning includes both theoretical & practical/technical aspects; & the exercise & practice of the scientific method has traditionally been done face-to-face, supervised in a lab.

But what else is possible? How far can we go with the concept of an Associate of Science (or a B.Sc.?) online?

While exploring the great collection of links from last week (each link led to many more!) my mind wandered from the teaching of science to the actual practice of science. I don't think this is really 'off-topic': certainly we need to be aware of how science is practised in the 21st century so that we can prepare our students accordingly.

Two areas that are have made interesting (to me) use of the internet are data gathering and results publication.

When you stop & think about it, an awful lot of data acquisition obtained during scientific inquiry is mediated by technology. While googling around I came across a number of examples of remote science conducted using telescopes, microscopes, etc. but what fascinated me most was the rather understated use of the lowly webcam for data gathering & collaboration. These UBC Pharmacy students, for example, were able to access some sophisticated special equipment at Western Washington University to conduct experiments; webcams provided interaction with the technicians at WWU. Grade 7 students at Branksome School used a webcam to gather round-the-clock data about some fish they were studying. And webcams are routinely used for telemedicine & to gather data in severe environments.

Has anyone out there in SCoPE used a webcam for a scientific activity of any kind? or do you know of anyone who has?

This post is already too long --I'll leave the topic of technology-mediated results publication to a later post.

Thanks to everybody who jumped in & got their feet wet in our first week of 'Rethinking Teaching in the Sciences'. While re-reading the posts from last week, I couldn't help but be impressed by all the great links to online science resources & I thought I might summarize these in a list:
If I've missed somebody's link, please feel free to post it here!

A research paper titled Technology in Schools: What the Research Says (Cisco, 2006) found that "the use of simulations and modeling in the natural sciences resulted in increased learning and retention by students." In fact, when a frog dissection simulation was used, Grade 7 "students learned significantly more when only a dissection simulation was used, or when the simulation was used immediately prior to the actual dissection exercises in comparison to dissection only or dissection immediately followed by the simulation." (emphasis added)

The researchers suggest "The power behind the use of simulations in the life sciences is in the opportunity for students to explore “what-ifs” in ways that
enable the student to build schemas of understanding. The visualization of processes and structures reduces the cognitive load, enabling even novice learners to understand academic complexities."

This is a very bold statement: that using a simulation alone can result in a stronger learning experience than the 'real thing'. However, in an earlier post, Estrella pointed out that "simulations or virtual environments just recreate reality following the laws of physics but we should not forget they are NOT reality. They can take into account as much (variables) as the programmer knowledge allows."

So here is the $1000000 questions: At what point does 'real' data become essential to the learning of science?