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Online learning aids the scientific mind

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Online teaching may help middle school students’ attitudes towards and outcomes in science, facilitated by interactive features native to the net.

A recently-published paper by a group of American academics and published in the International Journal of Science Education has found that students who learned with online science units had significantly deepened science knowledge compared to control group students who were taught the same content in traditional classrooms.

Around half the teachers involved in the project also found that online modules made a positive impact on students’ attitudes towards science education.

The 3-year trial, incorporating 2,303 middle school students and 71 teachers across 13 schools in two states, has relevance in the Australian context, where online learning is increasingly being used to enhance outcomes.

“Online learning is something that happens routinely at the university level – where students might take a class without actually stepping into a classroom,” says Associate Professor Therese Keane, of Swinburne University. “However, most Australian schools use a blended approach where there is a mix of face-to-face instruction and the use of a learning management system to house videos, and online activities.

“Much of what is done in Australian classrooms, particularly in the secondary school environment, is this blended approach where online resources and in some cases electronic textbooks are used to support the classroom teacher.”

“Well designed online learning can improve overall outcomes for students,” says Macquarie University’s Associate Professor Matt Bower.  

“Digital technologies enable new forms of support to be embedded in the curriculum, for instance the text-to-speech, pop-up definitions, interactive diagrams, digital note-taking, captioned videos, digital games, and online collaboration.”

Associate Professor Bower sees the chance for deeper investigation of engagement: “As well as developing students’ scientific knowledge, we need to be developing students' propensity and capacity to undertake authentic STEM-based inquiry.”

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