Education conference at HHMI focuses on th eimpact of new technology on science education in the schools and other settings.
For three days last October, educators meeting at HHMI demonstrated the potential that information technologies have to reshape education.
In Pittsburgh's Mt. Lebanon Senior High School, students are using videodiscs, CD-ROMs, display monitors, and computers to create their own multimedia science lessons. "Technology is not the only answer," said Frank Hinerman, a science teacher at the school who also is technology director in the summer biology institutes held by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. "You still need good teachers. But technology can be tremendously engaging."
Each summer, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation brings high school biology teachers together for an eight-week course in genetics instruction, after which each participant receives a computer to communicate with the other teachers who have gone through the course. "Teachers know that advice, materials, and support are just an e-mail away," said Robbie McCarty, chair of the science department at Altus High School in Altus, Oklahoma.
The University of Nebraska State Museum and Nebraska Educational Telecommunications have put together a series of kits for fourth to sixth graders that use videos, CD-ROMs, and classroom materials to feature women in science and the research they have done. "The idea is for students to observe science the way the scientist does, " said Gary Hochman, the senior science producer for Nebraska Educational Telecommunications.
Access Excellence, which is sponsored by Genentech, Inc., provides a site on the World Wide Web where high school biology teachers can share their teaching ideas, experiences, and lesson plans. "We've been trying to create an electronic conversation rather than a massive archive of data," said Genentech's Carol Morita. The approach "provides a way for teachers to build up an electronic address book."
Information technologies were the focus of the meeting, which brought together representatives of the 93 science museums and biomedical research institutions that have received grants from the Institute's precollege science education program. To date, HHMI has awarded nearly $21 million through the program.
Many participants emphasized that computers are not the only technologies that can be used to engage students in learning science. The New York Hall of Science distributes to schools science kits that include microscopes, telescopes, and materials to model structures. The Imaginarium in Anchorage flies traveling exhibits on insects and arctic ecology to villages in Alaska that cannot be reached by road. Through its Object Lessons program, the Buffalo Museum of Science in New York distributes materials such as real insects embedded in plastic that elementary school children can examine with magnifying glasses.
"Technology can be high-tech like computers or low-tech like simple microscopes," said Barry Aprison, director of science and research at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. "Used in a rich mixture, these technologies can bring 21st-century learning to schools today."
According to keynote speaker Linda Roberts, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education and a former elementary school teacher and university professor, one of the most powerful uses of new information technologies is for teacher development. "There were so many times when I was teaching when I wanted to be connected to others to talk about what I was doing," she recalled. "Teachers have been the most isolated group of professionals in the country. These 2.5 million people don't even have a professional's most basic tool-a telephone. So when we talk about connecting classrooms, we are also talking about connecting educators."
A number of promising models can be used to train future and current teachers in the new technologies, according to meeting participants. Preservice education could include apprenticeship programs under teachers skilled in using new technology. Science and technology centers, universities, and medical schools could sponsor teachers-in-residence during year-long sabbaticals. Teacher contracts could include an extra month in the summer to learn about new technologies.
Such programs can be expensive, noted Donna Sterling, assistant professor in the graduate school of education at George Mason University. Schools should expect to spend as much on training as on hardware and software, she said. But without training, even the best technologies will go unused. "It takes time to learn how to use technology and how to integrate it into teaching. We have to give teachers this time," Sterling observed.
Another prominent issue surrounding the use of information technologies involves assessment. According to Roberts, "Teachers who are using these technologies believe with their heart and soul that this is how kids ought to be learning. . . . We know something is happening. But we need to develop better ways of tracking and evaluating student performance."
Approaches to assessing computer-based learning vary. Orville Chapman, professor of chemistry and associate dean for educational innovation at UCLA, said he no longer attempts to measure simple retrieval of facts. "We assess for what students are able to do," he said. "For example, we might have students design a smooth cap for the end of a carbon nanotube. When students are flat-out challenged like that, they go much farther than they ever did before."
"We need to be accountable for what students are learning," said Anne Bunnell, a science teacher at North Shore High School in Glen Head, New York. "But I'm not sure that the best way to measure that is with a standardized test."