A project undertaken by The Science Foundation for Physics within The University of Sydney, and supervised by R Collins
TAFE’s Open Training and Education Network (OTEN) and the University of Sydney’s College of Science and Technology (CST) agreed in April 2000 to collaborate in the development of materials for the new NSW HSC Science course. It was planned that the collaboration would recognize and exploit the opportunities arising from:
- New syllabuses
- New science
- New insights into, and requirements of, teaching and learning
- New technologies
- New partnerships
Plans were made to prepare materials using the following principles:
- Common instructional framework for teachers and for learners
- Common presentation patterns leading to production efficiencies
- Comprehensive, accurate content
- Teachers’ packages
- Learners’ packages
- A national and international focus in the materials allowing reuse
Following consultations with key stakeholders such as teachers, education managers, and technology and design experts, we decided to produce a pilot before attempting to develop the full anticipated range of materials. The pilot was to explore all of the opportunities and principles listed above, while controlling costs. The pilot was to establish educational, production and financial management techniques on a small scale. Two possible pilot projects were considered (one in Physics and one in Biology) and the Physics project was taken to completion.
- The preparation of pilot materials has involved several systematic steps:
- Understanding the structure of the syllabus, which has a high degree of hidden regularity (to meet HSC and pedagogical requirements).
- “Unpacking” the syllabus from this structure and devising a logical sequence to the presentation of the content.
- Development of a comprehensive database to manage the unpacked syllabus and to support the management of the science materials and their presentation (The database populated with the unpacked syllabus is a valuable piece of intellectual property in its own right).
- Exploring effective ways to teach science, most importantly the method known as “constructivism.”
- Understanding when students are expected to have “knowledge” and when they are expected to have “skills” in the syllabus, as well as the appropriate depth of understanding in both learning areas, item by item.
A key outcome of the process has been the invention of “micro-worlds”. These basic elements of the teaching program and of the presentation method are characterized by a regular, constructivist learning pattern sympathetic to the underlying principles of the syllabus. A micro-world presents knowledge to students and helps them develop skills by
- Asking them about their present knowledge (What do you think will happen when…?),
- Showing them what actually happens, or having them do it themselves (What did you see when you did….?) depending on the aim of the syllabus, and
- Explaining what occurred and attempting to resolve continuing misunderstandings (What you might have observed was … and this is understood to be …..).
A significant body of information technology and data management has been developed for the pilot micro-world. In particular, all elements of the micro-world, from video clips to voice-overs and text are managed in XML format to allow convenient re-use. Applications have been written to allow XML multimedia data to be manipulated and presented in a learner-friendly and teacher-friendly way, with maximum efficiency when the data come to be revised or repackaged. This technology is an essential foundation for satisfactory development of any modern multimedia product.
The way ahead
The pilot has provided insight and IT tools that can be reused in all areas of further materials development. The main points learned from the pilot include:
- It is feasible to produce multimedia science teaching resources that are compatible with the syllabus and which support the intended learning from the syllabus in ways that are superior to standard textbooks.
- We are capable of collaborating to produce world-beating IT-mediated science teaching materials, built on a robust foundation of IT and database technologies.
- The cost of full production is likely to exceed $2M over a period of 2-4 years.
Funding for the production phase of the project is now an important consideration. Among the possible funding arrangements are the following:
- Commonwealth and State Governments have recognized the importance of improved science teaching, and funding is being released with certain conditions.
- Publishers are seeking multimedia content for local and international markets and may underwrite development – our IT/database methods might allow efficient international marketing.
- With sufficient capitalization, there is a market for the teaching product as a commercial venture.
Our preferred mode of funding is a mixture of all three, with Government money to underwrite the project for providing resources to government schools, a collaborating publisher or marketer to access commercial, and perhaps international, markets, and agreed freedom for TAFE-OTEN and UoS-CST to sell the product on a for-profit basis to markets such as private schools and individual students. Some discussion have taken place regarding the applicability of the methods to other educational opportunities such as first-year university science/IT courses.
Acknowledgements and funding report
TAFE-OTEN has provided the time of Simon Stokes and Gabriel Peacock throughout the project, as well as technical expertise as required. OTEN has also provided highly experienced managerial guidance, superb production facilities and superior information technologies throughout the project. The University of Sydney (CST), the Science Foundation and the Slade Foundation have made generous contributions to the project, to support the salary of Chris Boshuizen and to fund UniServe Science consultancies about science teaching methods and Biology content. The School of Physics provided a venue and strong support for the on-site materials production. Many people, too numerous to mention, have given freely and willingly of their time and expertise to advance the quality of science teaching in our schools.
Information about current activities of TAFE-OTEN can be obtained here