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New center to improve technology-enhanced teaching and learning of science

– Science education does not yet take full advantage of modern technology, says Marcia Linn, a University of California, Berkeley, education professor. But as principal investigator of the new Technology-Enhanced Learning in Science center, she hopes that's about to change.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $10 million for the center, which is designed to bring together teachers, students, researchers, policy-makers and high-tech designers from Berkeley to Boston to study how instructional technology can improve science education in grades 6 through 12. It also will create classroom-tested technological tools to be woven into science teaching.

The Technology-Enhanced Learning in Science center (TELS) is one of 16 centers the NSF has established "to understand more deeply what it means to be a good teacher and what it takes to help students be successful in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," according to Judith Ramaley, assistant director of NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate.

The goal of the center, said Linn, is to increase the number of teachers who are using innovative, proven, technology-enhanced science curricula to impart key scientific concepts and methods to their students. Eight universities, six school districts, and the Concord Consortium in Concord, Mass., are participating in the center. The Concord Consortium is a non-profit educational research and development organization.

"We'll all be working together to give students effective tools for thinking about science not just in the classroom, but throughout their life," said Linn. "We're combining our expertise to ensure that every student benefits from technology."

Robert Tinker, president of the Concord Consortium, said: "We are excited that the center can make a unique contribution to the NSF's national education initiative by accelerating the development of innovative computer and information technologies for science teaching and learning."

Most research assessing the effectiveness of instructional technology in schools to date has either been qualitative, short-term, or focused on just one or a few classrooms, said Linn. In contrast, she and her partners are collaborating on a scope and scale that has been rare in education. Educational policy makers and administrators need solid, comprehensive information to make tough decisions about curricular change, Linn explained.

Linn was selected in 1998 by the Council of Scientific Society Presidents to receive its first award for excellence in educational research.

Higher education partners joining with UC Berkeley are Mills College in Oakland, Calif.; Arizona State University in Tempe; Pennsylvania State University in State College; Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., North Carolina Central University in Durham; Boston University; and The Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

Researchers and graduate students supported by the center will collaborate with teachers in six school districts to introduce and test technology-enhanced materials and activities in science classrooms.

"This is exactly the sort of wedding of rich discipline-based knowledge with teaching and learning issues that education schools in research universities ought to be nurturing," said P. David Pearson, dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the participating schools include the Berkeley and Mt. Diablo unified school districts. In Arizona, Tempe public schools are part of the project, while in North Carolina, the Durham public schools are on the team. The Maynard and Cambridge public schools are joining in Boston. Project leaders sought out schools with diverse, under-served student populations, said Linn.

Support through the center is available for 20 PhD students who will investigate technology-enhanced science learning as part of their graduate education.
The new center also will provide professional development to help teachers take full advantage of technological tools embedded in proven science curricula. It will use online assessment and will make free software and supporting materials available to teachers.

Graduate students interested in participating in the center can get more information on the Web at http://www.TELScenter.org.