Posted by: Barinas | November 9, 2012

Comments on My Research Paper

The aim of my research paper was to provide a sound, research-based argument that advocates for the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the science classroom (K-12 life and earth science).  It does so by focusing on the benefits of simulation, probeware, and modeling technology to prove its case.  Writing this paper was more of a challenge than I expected, to say the least.  First of all, I have not written a research paper in years, so there was a lot of rust under the hood.  Second, my topic is perhaps broader than the usual.  In other words, instead of focusing on a narrower point of focus (e.g., “The use of Interactive White Boards in Biology education”), the topic of my research paper covers more ground and, in turn, made it more challenging to find papers that align together to make my case in favor of ICT integration.  But at least this was better than the topic I conceived at first.  Thankfully, my professor helped me narrow my focus from my original topic, which was “What are the best technological tools to teach high school biology”.  Now that would have been much more daunting!  And I probably would not have been able to do it justice in 7-10 pages.

As I began to research reputable literature that would substantiate my claims, I found a lot of interesting journals that covered both the advantages and disadvantages of ICT technology.  The researchers that are skeptical about ICT touched on matters such as age-appropriateness, distraction, health hazards, and the low quality of many ICT programs.   I made sure that I at least made a brief mention of these concerns on my paper, for the sake of having a balanced opinion.  However, I also knew that I couldn’t focus on establishing counter-arguments to these claims against ICTs, because of lack of access to literature that directly rebuked these negatives, and due to the fact that doing so would go beyond my paper’s designated breadth of scope.  I had to make sure that it was centered on the positives of ICT and not make the debate between the negatives vs. the positives the bulk of the paper.

I also deduced that the pros of ICT technology presented on this paper would overweigh the concerns that were posted by other scholars.  The reason behind my confidence was the fact that probeware, simulations and modeling software are examples that are extremely solid and are hardly ever part of negative media fodder as it’s the case for other ICTs like cell phones, iPhones, Youtube, Facebook, and other internet sites.  ICTs like simulators and probeware are generally not used for entertainment purposes.  They are specifically designed for scientific instruction and actual scientific study, so they are clearly a shoe-in for scientific instruction.

Examples of modeling software are Modelingspace, Virtual Water, and Rasmol.  They provide models for abstract scientific concepts as wide ranging as DNA, tertiary protein structures, and antibodies.  Imagine trying to describe something like molecules, which cannot be touched or seen with the naked eye, or coming up with the money to purchase electron microscopes that are worth nothing short of a fortune.  Fortunately, modeling software allows you to visualize concepts like organic compounds in ways that are beyond the capabilities of a simple 2D-representation found in a text book.  Users can make adjustments and alterations to the models in order to observe their effects or prove a hypothesis.  Even spreadsheets can also serve as great modeling tools when it comes to creating and evaluating mathematical formulas or equations that recreate certain environments and the like.

Simulations like Opensim empower students to recreate experiments or create their own experiments in a virtual environment.  Factors like safety concerns, the time of the experiment, and monetary costs are a non-issue in the virtual world.  Students can create an environment where they can experiment at their leisure, and collaborate with their peers.  Without a doubt, simulations lets students do science rather than simply read what other scientists have already done.   They can make observations to generate hypotheses, and then test them out.  That’s what science is all about.  Aside from Opensim, The Biology Animation Library and Struggle for Survival website also offer great animation and simulation tools.

Like Simulators and modeling software, probeware makes scientists out of students by making the lessons more hands-on and student-centered while also promoting the higher-level thinking skills endorsed by the new Common Core standards.  There are many types of probeware.  PASCO, for instance, is one company that sells a varied line of probeware tools.  What all probeware tools have in common is that they help students collect and analyze scientific data with greater ease.  One of the greatest advantages of probeware is that they automate many repetitive tasks, thus freeing students to spend more time interpreting and discussing their findings among each other.

What all these ICT tools show is that science can be more constructivist-based, hands-on, and interactive by empowering students with the right technology.  It is true that some ICTs can be a great form of distraction, can stray the student to focus on the technology rather than on the lesson, or might be too complex for certain youth levels to handle.  Clearly, any tool, much like anything else in life, has its strengths and weaknesses.  But the examples of simulations, probeware, and modeling technology prove that when used appropriately, ICTs can enhance student learning by turning students into scientist themselves.  After all, we want to inspire them to be more engaged with science and be better prepared to form part of this technology-driven, interconnected, and globalized world.  Highlighting lines, flipping through pages, and memorizing by rote do not cut the mustard.  Being computer-literate and comfortable with technology is more important than ever, particularly within the realm of science where technology continues to drive the path towards discovery.

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