ERIC Identifier: ED331489
Publication Date: 1991-04-00
Author: Morse, Ronald H.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources Syracuse
Computer Uses in Secondary Science Education. ERIC
Computer use by any teacher is a function of his or her computer experience
and expertise, availability of hardware and software, and perceived need.
An excellent science course may be taught without the use of a computer.
However, the careful incorporation of computers into a science course can
and does add an important level of enhancement. Although not as conclusive
as one might hope, studies do indicate that computer use in science education
can improve learning and positively influence students' attitudes and self-esteem.
The importance of using computers in a science class may not be limited
to the ability of computer assisted instruction (CAI) to improve learning.
Rather, computer use adds another dimension to the teacher's repertoire
of strategies, which may improve overall learning. Another important reason
to include student computer use in a science course is that most (if not
all) students, especially those planning a career in science, will be required
to be computer literate. As students interact with computers in a variety
of ways within their science courses, their degree of computer awareness
and literacy will increase.
WHAT RESEARCH FINDS
The following studies found positive effects associated with microcomputer
use in science education applications:
* Higher achievement and more positive attitudes were observed in a
high school biology course that was "computer-loaded" (Hounshell &
* Scientific reasoning skills were found to be enhanced using a microcomputer-based
curriculum (Friedler, Nachmias, & Songer, 1989).
* Specialized computer programs were found to help develop inquiry skills
while also increasing scientific knowledge even when strong "misconceptions"
were present at the start (Shute & Bonar, 1986).
More than one study found that computer use by students enhanced their
self-esteem (Robertson, Ladewig, Strickland, & Boschung, 1987). This
may also account, in part or in whole, for the increased interest in science
by lower achieving students who have computers incorporated into their
curriculum. Whatever the reason, the effect is positive and adds another
reason to use computers in the classroom.
Some studies, however, find CAI to be of limited value in science applications,
especially when the control group is given equivalent non-computer support.
For example, a study by Wainwright (1989) showed that a control group using
worksheets scored significantly higher than did an experimental group using
CAI. Wainwright suggests that paper and pencil worksheets allowed the students
to more easily experiment with trial and error in balancing chemical equations.
A major problem in evaluating the results of studies designed to measure
the value of CAI is the elusive factor of the quality of the software used
in the study. Not only should the software be well designed, but there
also must be a match between the objectives of the software (or courseware),
the understanding of the teacher as to how to apply it, and the needs or
interests of the students.
HOW SCIENCE TEACHERS ARE USING COMPUTERS
Most teachers are willing to incorporate computers into their curricula
when the obstacles are not overwhelming. The desired uses, however, include
more than CAI. In fact, a relatively small number of science teachers use
computers for CAI and lab applications because there isn't enough hardware
and because lab applications require both specialized hardware and software.
A study of secondary science teacher needs (Baird & Rowsey, 1989) revealed
that, of the nearly 800 respondents, 70% wished to know more about using
computers to deliver science instruction, 64% to manage instruction, and
60% to use a test item data bank.
The most widely used application appears to be wordprocessing. Test
and worksheet production takes the lead in this area, and customized laboratory
activities are produced as well. Many science teachers employ spreadsheet
or customized or commercial grade book programs to record, calculate, and
post student grades. Using test item banks to sort and select questions
is becoming more popular as software and banks become more available. Finally,
a small number of teachers are using computers to produce items such as
crossword puzzles, word searches, posters, signs, and diagrams to support
A small but increasing number of science teachers are using computers
as a component in selected laboratory activities. Microcomputer-based laboratories
(MBLs) employ computers interfaced with commercial or "home-built" transducers.
Using the appropriate software allows the computers to measure, record,
graph, and analyze a variety of physical quantities: temperature, light,
pH, pressure, and electrical and magnetic parameters, to list the most
common. Some teachers create their own programs, in a computer language
such as BASIC, that allow both students and teachers to evaluate the accuracy
of laboratory data and/or calculations.
On the cutting edge of classroom computer applications, interactive
videodisks are making their way into many science classrooms. To date,
the most popular subject areas have been biology and earth science, and
interactive video programs with related courseware have recently been produced
for physics and chemistry. A physical science curriculum project in Texas
purports to have had significant success with a videodisk-based program.
The report states that even though the effects of using this curriculum
varied considerably by teacher and other factors, the overall results were
positive, with the greatest achievement gains being for "low-ability" students
(Savenye & Strand, 1989).
Finally, students are increasingly being introduced to computer database
searching at school. Many high schools subscribe to databases on CD-ROM
(compact disk, read-only memory). In addition, modems are used to access
university and government databases at remote locations. Such databases
range from libraries' online catalogs to scientific data being gathered
from spacecraft and satellites.
CONSTRAINTS TO CLASSROOM COMPUTER USE
By far the major factor inhibiting computer use in the classroom is
the insufficient amount of computer hardware and software available due
to budgetary constraints. It often takes a science department three to
six years to obtain even the minimum number of computers necessary for
one teacher to effectively incorporate CAI and MBLs into the curriculum.
Although just one or two computers can be incorporated into classroom activities,
this number will support a very limited number of strategies. Moving computers
in and out of a classroom is time consuming and significantly inhibits
their use. Moving students to a "computer lab" also has several constraints,
the two major ones being that the typical computer lab is too small and
that teachers must compete for limited lab time.
THE IDEAL COMPUTER ENVIRONMENT
An ideal computer learning environment, possible with current technology,
might be an arrangement where each student has access to a "friendly" computer
station consisting of high quality computer managed instruction (CMI),
touch screen color displays and interactive video. At such a station each
student could proceed at his or her own rate. Motivated students of the
very highest ability might learn at three to four times the average classroom
rate, completing two or three high school science courses a year. Students
who seem to learn more slowly could be given extra months to complete a
course without failure. The "average" student might elect to proceed at
a pace equivalent to the conventional course.
An important feature of the CMI would be the learner's ability to choose
whether to proceed or to review when attempting to master course objectives.
Research has shown that learning increases when the learner has some control
over the CAI program (Kinzie, Sullivan, & Berdel, 1988). In addition,
students would be encouraged to repeat for themselves demonstrations observed
on the interactive videodisk. And, regardless of the degree of computer
involvement, there must also be a substantial hands-on laboratory component
integrated into each science course. MBLs would also play a major role
in the labs of the future.
Students in the ideal computer environment would also be encouraged
(or required) to participate in cooperative activities as part of the complete
science course, perhaps in the form of problem solving activities that
would not require that all students in a group be at the same level of
instruction. Indeed, it might be very beneficial to create cooperative
problem solving groups composed of students currently studying topics in
different areas (i.e. earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics),
or at differing levels of an integrated science curriculum.
The role of the teacher in a room of 24 such individual stations would
be to discuss questions and concerns brought to them by the students, as
well as coordinate and oversee laboratory activities. The role of the science
teacher would be dramatically different, yet just as valuable and rewarding
as it is now. The teacher's job might become even more rewarding as ideal
learning conditions replace the disadvantages of group instruction and
more time becomes available for meaningful student contact (Robertson,
Ladewig, Strickland, & Boschung, 1987).
Computer use in the classroom is still in its infancy. Its overall effectiveness
needs to be enhanced by better hardware and software as well as greatly
increased availability of each. More research is needed to discover the
most effective strategies for their use. The rate at which computers will
be used to enhance education, in science and in other fields, depends mainly
upon state and national monetary commitment, followed by the willingness
of individual schools to provide good inservice programs.
Science education of the future will certainly incorporate computer
use--including wordprocessing, many forms of CAI, laboratory instrumentation,
interactive video courseware, and scientific database searching--and the
educational process will be better because of it.
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Friedler, Y., Nachmias, R., & Songer, N. (1989, January). Teaching
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