I am at the 20th ICCE at Mauritius and am getting a chance to interact with Chemistry educators and researchers from all over the world on their thoughts and approaches to using ICT in Science education. A very interesting and interactive session by Prof. Peter Mahaffy around climate change and the role of chemistry was the first plenary session. Prof. Mahaffy emphasized the responsibility for chemistry educators to understand the link between human activity and chemical reactivity. He believes we may be at the tipping point for earth’s climate and invoked Faraday when he said we must inquire “What is the cause?” and “Why does it occur?”. He went on to show Flash based animations and simulations that are aimed at removing misconceptions for secondary school and first year undergraduate students and demonstrate the use of visualizations as a key element in bringing about greater awareness in this area.He envisages an entire curriculum built in this fashion around climate change. (Read more at http://www.kvsa.ca)
Prof. Loretta Jones’ presentation on helping students understand better through technology and visualization was also very impressive. Her presentation started with the ways in which we can visualize knowledge (colors, charts, topographical views, animations, 3D etc). And she went on to discuss how we can show that which is not visible – the challenge that chemistry education shares. As part of their research, Prof. Jones looked at how visualization can improve learning. The research carried out was based on pre-tests and post-tests applied to a group of instructors and novices. They researched use of static graphics, use of animations at different levels and use of models and found that visualization, in general, improves learning. However, animations can often be distracting, inaccurate or too fast to be of any great use. Rather, these are contributing factors in creating misconceptions in the mind of the learner. The model that they worked with was a four stage one for a student exposed to an animation – sensory, attention, working model and long term memory – showing that we perceive a lot of things, pay attention to only a few, process even a more limited set and transfer them to long term memory once understanding sets in. One of the other interesting things they did was to ask students to actually build visualizations of their understanding of the topic prior to showing them the animation and then to redo them after they saw the animation and this also provided clues to the effectiveness of visualization as a tool. Prof. Hoffman’s comments on alternate realities (no one “right” way to visualize something) and the importance of tactile learning were important critiques in what, perhaps, looked to him possibly an over simplified approach. But Prof. Jones’ presentation had one approach in a sea of approaches required to actually bring about breakthrough and innovative ideas in education.