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Making Education Technology Work
Technology is redefining undergraduate mathematical and physical sciences (MPS) instruction. Developments including digital libraries, sensors, databases, and distance learning are reshaping the tools and the boundaries of undergraduate mathematics and science education.
“Our objectives are to promote science literacy and lifelong learning and to develop a diverse, skilled technical workforce,” says UW-Madison Professor Arthur Ellis. Ellis is Meloche-Bascom Professor of chemistry and leads the National Science Foundation-funded National Institute for Science Education (NISE) College Level One efforts to reform mathematics and science education (MPS) at the university level.
Undergraduate MPS education is critically important because it shapes attitudes toward science and influences career trajectories, Ellis says. “Without question, technology is profoundly altering what we can teach in college MPS courses and how we can teach it,” he says. Not only is technology a rapidly moving target, but its introduction into undergraduate MPS classrooms and laboratories involves a complex interplay of technological, pedagogical, political, and economic issues.
To provide a “snapshot in time” of the use of technology in college MPS courses, Ellis helped organize a 1999 workshop held at National Science Foundation headquarters in Washington, DC. The workshop defined a vision for the appropriate role of technology in these courses and developed recommendations for how to achieve this vision.
A snapshot of technology-enriched education
Student-centered learning is enhanced by new forms of technology-equipped classrooms and laboratories. For example, students and instructors can use technology to assess student learning on-line through customized instructional software. Technology permits state-of-the-art research instrumentation and tools maintained at one location to be shared across the nation for use in classes and for original student research. MPS instructors and their students collaborate in coursework and in collecting, analyzing, and sharing data across disciplinary, institutional, and national boundaries using technology.
However, Ellis says, enthusiasm for these powerful new technologies is tempered with concern over their effectiveness and cost. Evidence from cognitive and behavioral sciences suggests that students often do not learn from technologies as well as MPS instructors believe they do. There are indications that many students do not want to use available technologies or may use them inappropriately.
A vision for undergraduate MPS education
Undergraduate MPS education should have the same vitality as that of MPS research, Ellis says. An “integrated research” model for undergraduate MPS education would use technology as the research enterprise uses it — as part of continuous experimentation to identify better ways to create and communicate MPS knowledge and methods.
To support this vision, academic culture must reward the scholarship associated with creating and implementing effective technology-enriched MPS undergraduate education, recognize the importance of multidisciplinary approaches to MPS education, support mechanisms for continuous professional development of current and future MPS teachers throughout the educational system, and promote efforts to share MPS knowledge with society as a whole.
Foster an “integrated research” model for undergraduate MPS education. The MPS community should couple research and technological advances more tightly to its educational missions. These advances create an opportunity to update the curriculum continuously, keeping it perennially fresh and exciting. Technology should be used to expand research experiences so that, ideally, all undergraduates develop an understanding of MPS research methods and tools.
Broaden MPS academic scholarship to include the scholarship of teaching. In partnership with campus administrations, MPS faculty should take the lead in creating and implementing technology-enriched education. Campus administrators and senior faculty can create a culture that encourages faculty to bring appropriate technologies into their courses by publicizing successful technology-enriched courses, by presenting meaningful examples of how well they work, by providing the resources and training to implement these changes, and by valuing these contributions as essential to the academic mission of the institution.
Support teacher professional development. Partnerships of the broad MPS community with K-12 teachers and teacher education programs should be supported, as they provide exciting opportunities for teacher professional development, including the preparation of new instructional materials for the K-12 curriculum based on MPS research and technologies. College MPS instructors need to communicate to MPS majors that K-12 teaching is a valued career choice, and they should work with teacher education programs to prepare students for teaching MPS subjects effectively, using appropriate technology.
Strengthen links to the workplace and community. The MPS community should work with employers to obtain continuous reports on how well their students have been educated in the MPS disciplines and to inform efforts to incorporate technology into MPS undergraduate instruction.
Treat all students as partners, ensuring equity and access. The ability to learn through technology and to use technology is now a core competency. In partnership with the K-12 community, institutions have the responsibility to ensure that all students have the technological foundation to learn in their restructured, technology-inclusive curricula. Women and students of color, who have historically been underrepresented in the MPS disciplines, are especially at risk in that technology may create new barriers to their participation.
Invest in technology wisely. Technology provides almost unlimited choices for investing in undergraduate MPS education. There are many opportunities for partnerships through which funds can be leveraged. Given the high cost associated with many technologies, it is imperative that information about what is and what is not effective be shared quickly and widely so that our limited resources can be used prudently.
For more information, visit the NISE College Level One website, www.wcer.wisc.edu/archive/nise/Research_Programs.asp