What's Out There? A sampling of the state of the art.

Theresa Julia Zielinski, Monmouth University
Session number: 2

I have a dream for using technology in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences. In this dream students reach for the computer as a problem-solving tool as easily as they reach for the telephone as a communication tool. The key to this dream is providing students with active learning materials and authentic problems. The more we engage students in the learning process through hands-on activities the more we foster the development of their critical thinking skills, life long learning habits, and mastery of concepts. In addition we reap benefits in terms of their self-confidence as problem solvers.

The speed of the development of technology for doing science needs to be linked more quickly to how we teach science. The efficiency of learning science needs to be enhanced by using the wisest pedagogical techniques. We cannot afford to be deterred from increased use of technology by those who are constantly raising the requirement of proof before changing their teaching strategies.

In this presentation I will highlight several strategies that are available today. Some of these are the following. One can create a series of interactive learning projects by which students can explore and learn key scientific concepts. If the topic is interesting they can be left to unravel the mathematical models from available written resources. Alternatively one can package a series of related concepts into one teaching module that students can use in an independent study mode with the instructor as coach. The Physical Chemistry On-Line project and the Mathcad Physical Chemistry collection of documents are examples of these two approaches. Coupled to this is the possibility of delivering instruction from a distance via the WWW. Web course management tools facilitate this process. They are password protected, include chat rooms and mechanisms for quizzes and distribution of materials. Alternatively, standard web based delivery systems can be used.

We need to move beyond considering computer-based delivery of traditional lecture as the model of technology based instruction for the mathematical and physical sciences. Computer and software tools need to be placed in the hands of the students. Well-designed materials need to be created to support their learning. These should be active learning by structure and include self-assessment and open-ended components. Significant writing components should form an integral part of this learning scheme.

Finally, students should do what we do. They should read, study and explore. They should use modern tools in the process. The keyboard or mouse should be as significant a tool as the test-tube.

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Last Update: 10 November 1999