EXP: Transforming High School Science via Remote Online Labs

PIs: Kemi Jona, David Uttal
Northwestern University
Award Details

The PIs seek to understand better how online remote labs can be made to function effectively in high-school science classes, especially focusing on the roles of teachers as they facilitate investigations around those labs and how to support teachers in their roles. The big research issue addressed is coming to understand both when and why remote labs promote effective learning and teaching. The project team is addressing this question in the context of using a high-school radiation lab for several different purposes. They are refining student and teacher materials over the course of the project so they can serve as models for other virtual lab experiences. The lab journal that is being refined is designed to include scaffolding for carrying out investigations in online remote labs that will be generally applicable across laboratory contexts. Research shows that access to remote labs helps students better grasp the reality of their investigative experience than do simulations when students do not have access to first-hand experience with physical phenomena; students experience phenomena as more real when carrying out experiments using remote labs than when using simulations to carry out the same experiments. This suggests that for schools without lab equipment and for situations where investigations are too dangerous or sophisticated to be carried out in a classroom, online remote labs can play a powerful role in promoting both content learning and science literacy.

If we truly want our full population to be scientifically literate, then giving every teen the opportunity to participate in meaningful laboratory experiences that allow them to experience what scientists do and how scientists reason is essential. But there are many high schools without the equipment to allow this to happen. This project lays the groundwork for creating such meaningful experiences around remote labs. Some such labs have sophisticated equipment that would be inappropriate in a school; some have simpler equipment that many schools simply cannot afford. Remote labs are accessed by individuals or student teams using a user interface that is developmentally appropriate for the learners and that allows them to run and refine and rerun experiments and watch from afar as real equipment carries out their instructions. Making remote labs work well in classrooms requires having the kinds of tools for teachers that will allow teachers to facilitate investigation activities and monitor the progress of individuals and groups in the class as they do their investigations online and remotely. This project’s focus is on one particular remote online lab (a Geiger counter), creating meaningful experiences for high schoolers around that lab, and identifying the kinds of tools teachers need to facilitate such experiences effectively. What will be learned will be applicable to creating other meaningful remote lab experiences and using other remote lab facilities in similar ways.

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