Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Computer Simulations Can Be as Effective as Direct Observation at Teaching Students

Image courtesy of
Only just found this article on the Science Daily website written in February 2010. Note to myself, must keep up.

Anyway, the article discusses a  study conducted by Kathy Cabe Trundle (Ohio State University) and Randy Bell (University of Virginia).

Science Daily quote Kathy Cabe Trundle, "The results suggest the use of computer simulations in science classes may be an effective and often less expensive and time-consuming way to teach some science concepts ... Our expectation was that the computer simulation would be at least as effective as direct observation in teaching about moon phases ... When we did our analysis, the simulation was just as effective in teaching two aspects of moon phases, and more effective in a third aspect. So we were excited by that."

The study was split into three groups: One class learned about moon phases using only a computer simulation, one group from nature alone, and a third group from both a computer simulation and nature. Those who used only computer simulations did just as well as others in learning causes of moon phases and shapes of moon phases. But those who used the simulations were actually slightly more likely than others to understand the sequences of moon phases.

As the report authors suggest, the simulation enabled the students to see all of the phases which is not always possible with nature observations (too true in Manchester, where I am based). And as I have observed in my own use of simulations, the approach is able to accelerate the learning process. Simulations offer other advantages too in terms of cost and risk (simulation or standing on the edge of volcanic crater, anyone).

The study suggests that simulation could have uses in other areas of science such as biology. I would also add that the social sciences are also ripe for the use of simulations. I have developed simulations that can be used in the geography curriculum, for instance. History, business studies, environmental studies etc also are good candidates for the simulation treatment. Simulations are particularly useful at explaining complex non-linear topics. They are also useful for cross curricular activities, so our Sustainaville simulation could be used in Citizenship; Personal  Social Health Education, Business Studies, Geography and Science.

All we need now is for educators to take one small step for their teaching and one giant leap for educational attainment.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

ICT Classes are Boring - Its Official

As I have suspected from learning what my own children do in their ICT lessons and what I have seen in schools; ICT lessons aren't really up to scratch. Recently my partner visited a school and was shown the work of a GCSE A grade student, who was using a desktop publishing package. Her impression was that work was about the same level as our 10 year old. Okay, we have a pretty adept 10 year old, but even so...

ICT is a subject that is important for me: from my first fumblings with a ZX Spectrum (actually, I did have a girl friend) through 20 years of working in e-Learning. During that time, ICT has shifted from what nerds do to pretty much a basic skill. So how is the next generation getting on? Well Ofsted paints a pretty bleak picture. According to a recent report, only 31,800 students attempted the ICT examination compared with 81,100 in 2007, while there has also been a reduction in the number of entries at A-level ICT.

As Chief Inspector Miriam Rosen states, “In a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, young people need to be given the opportunity to learn ICT skills in an interesting, challenging and relevant way.” The report states the standards were inadequate in nearly a fifth of 167 schools inspected during the last three years, with secondary schools singled out as struggling with ICT.

So what can be done? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get beyond simple PowerPoint: Putting together slides isn't that challenging, creating an interesting presentation is the key. It is about telling a story and as such could be combined with an English lesson.
  • Develop simulations in Captivate: Adobe's Captivate is fairly straight forward to use (see my previous blog showing Captivate experiments developed from scratch over the course of a week). A step through simulation of a ICT package allows each student to learn at their own pace, and frees up the teacher  to work with students who need the most support or need an extra challenge.  
  • Let student's use Captivate: Once you are familiar with Captivate, why not teach the students how to use it? Letting students develop learning modules that could put up on the school's Learning Management System for other students to use, now that is a win-win.
  • Explore the world of Web 2.0: There are a huge number of amazing tools on the web that go beyond passive viewing. Blogging tools such as  Blogger are obvious and easy to use. But, there are other tools out there for developing presentations, editing video, creating games and building websites.
  • Contextualisation: Don't teach technology, teach how it is used in the world of work. Develop a cash flow forecast in Excel and in doing so combine ICT with business studies and work experience (develop a real cash flow forecast for a local shop).
  • Games design and development: I have blogged about this before (LAP Recycling Game and Climate Crew) but how about engaging pupils with games? Okay, the example I have blogged about utilised Flash, which is a tad technical, but there are simpler tools such as Construct from Scirra. The added benefit of games development is that students become exposed to the world of programming.

In the next weeks and months, I might start developing some learning materials, so watch this space...