Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Examining the Effectiveness of Web-Based Learning Tools in Middle and Secondary School Science Classrooms

Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Examining the Effectiveness of Web-Based Learning Tools in Middle and Secondary School Science Classrooms

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many students today have grown up with ubiquitous access to technology and the Internet earning them the title of the "net generation" (Montgomery, 2009; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008; Tapscott, 2008). Outside the classroom, these students use the web to perform a wide range of personallymeaningful tasks including communicating, socializing, searching, learning, and entertaining themselves (Tapscott, 2008). Inside the classroom, technology is used sporadically and the overall impact on learning appears to be negligible (e.g., Cuban, 2001; Roberston, 2003; Russell, Bebell, O'Dwyer, & O'Connor, 2003). Numerous barriers to using technology, including access to computers, time, and negative attitudes (Eifler, Greene, & Carroll, 2001; Strudler & Wetzel, 1999; Thompson, Schmidt, & Davis, 2003; Wepner, Ziomek, & Tao, 2003), have contributed to the limited impact of computer-based learning tools. It is argued that web-based learning tools (WBLTs), also known as learning objects, offer a number of key features that address possible barriers and support student learning, particularly in the subject area of science. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of WBLTs in middle and secondary school science classrooms.

Literature Review

Definition

WBLTs are defined in this paper as "interactive web-based tools that support learning of a specific concept by enhancing, amplifying, and/or guiding the cognitive processes of learners." This definition is an amalgamation of previous efforts to define learning objects (Agostinho, Bennett, Lockyer, & Harper, 2004; Butson, 2003; McGreal , 2004; Parrish, 2004; Wiley et al., 2004). The WBLTs used in the current study allowed students to experiment, manipulate variables, apply concepts, or answer questions based on formal presentation of material targeting a relatively narrow concept. The term "web-based learning tool" is used because it clearly communicates many features of the proposed operational definition, namely tools that students and teachers access from the web to support learning, whereas the term "learning object" is more general.

Teaching and learning benefits of using WBLTs

WBLTs offer several promising solutions to the challenges that everyday teachers face with respect to using technology. First and foremost, WBLTs are easy to use. Teachers, even those who have limited computer-based skills, do not need to devote considerable blocks of time toward understanding how to use these straightforward tools (Gadanidis, Gadanidis, & Schindler, 2003; Kay & Knaack, 2007). Second, good WBLTs have well defined objectives and a clear, narrow focus making it easier to develop effective lesson plans and integration strategies (Kay & Knaack, 2007). Third, WBLTs are readily accessible over the Internet. Given that over 90% of all public schools in North America and Europe now have access to the Internet (and therefore WBLTs) with most having high-speed broadband connections, teachers need not worry about software accessibility (e.g., Compton & Harwood, 2003; Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2006). Finally, reusability permits WBLTs to be useful for a large audience, particularly when the objects are placed in well organized, searchable databases (e.g., Agostinho et al., 2004; Duval, Hodgins, Rehak & Mason, 2003).

Regarding learning, one particularly noteworthy feature of WBLTs is the use of visual supports to help make abstract concepts more easily understood (Kay & Knaack, 2008a, 2008c; Sedig & Liang, 2006), often by reducing working memory and cognitive load (Sedig & Liang, 2006). Another important learning feature of WBLTs is the inclusion of clear learning goals and immediate feedback, characteristics that often lead to increased motivation (Barkley, 2010; Wlodkowski, 2008). Finally, WBLTs permit students to control the pace of learning thereby providing easier digestion of new concepts (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Kay, 2008a, 2008c; Willingham, 2009). …

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