One obvious application for the advances in computer technology that have taken place in the last 10-15 years, is the development of multimedia apporaches to teaching and learning. The traditional lecture approach is fundamentally limited - particularly with regard to teaching contemporary physical sciences - when it comes to accurately conveying phenomena and practical techniques. An old adage expresses the nature of the teaching and learning process:
- Tell it: oral communication and assigned reading
- Show it: visual communication - demonstration and/or modelling
- Try it: practical hands-on experience, role-play, or rehearsal
- Pass it on: peer-to-peer learning & presentation
There has long been a recognition that visual elements are an important part of communication, as evidenced by the long history of slide shows, movies, and demonstrations that can be found in the science education literature. Modern software and computer hardware makes it very easy to create and compile electronic versions of these elements, which are readily incorporated into lectures, text supplement cd-roms, or provided via course web sites. This, however, remains a largely passive method of communication.
More recently, the interactive nature of modern computers as attracted interest as a means of providing a more active learning environment, whether in the form of self-paced individual learning units, or true peer-collaborative endeavours. My own projects in this area have focussed on (a) self-guided tutorial materials, primaily for pre-laboratory preparation, and (b) virtual laboratory experiments, in which students can run a far greater range of experiments than would be possible in the real laboratory.
The Adobe Flash environment provides one way of creating animated presentations of instrument components and scientific processes. More signficantly, these can be made truly interactive, in that controls can be provided within the animation so that the user can vary parameters and observe the resulting effects. This is easily combined with voice-over narrations, supplemental text,diagrams, and photos, so that the user can truly hear, see, and try the instrument, procedure, or experiment for themselves.
Lab Technique Presentations:
An increasingly common problem encountered at the undergraduate level is the lack of exposure to real laboratory experiments and procedures in high school.
An added problem is the local fact that an increasing proportion of students do not speak English as their first language. These students vary considerably in their fluency and proficiency, although all have to meet a certain standard on an English Proficiency Test. It is clear from observation that the laboratory environment can be particularly trying for students who meet the general proficiency requirement, but who do not necessarily have the same depth of language skills within specific scientific subject areas.