A Federally-funded Free Science Education Resource with Modular Functionality, Mobile Apps, and More

Nathan Lents (John Jay College, CUNY, US)
Additional Authors
Anthony Carpi (John Jay College, CUNY, US)
Session Information
November 10, 2011 - 4:30pm
Open Educational Resources
Areas of Special Interest: 
Multiple Levels; Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Poster Session
Southern Hemisphere I-III

The Visionlearning project, currently funded by DoEd and previously by NSF, led by a large team of national experts as authors and reviewers, provides free resources for classroom or online science education. The library of 75 modules is completely free, online, modular, and available as podcasts and mobile applications.

Extended Abstract

This session will be a demonstration of Visionlearning, a free online resource of modular interdisciplinary content for use in innovative science education. The Visionlearning project has been funded for more than ten years by the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Education to develop both content and teaching tools for science students and educators, provided free of charge to students and teachers around the world at www.visionlearning.com (or .org). The latest round of funding from USDOE (FIPSE program) has focused on developing content to more explicitly teach the process and nature of science. This is done in two ways: first, a series of 19 modules that cover the process of science explicitly; and second, the development of modules that teach disciplinary content in chemistry, biology, and earth science from the process and discovery perspective. The library now stands at 75 completed modules, all of which are available in both English and Spanish, and is used as a complete textbook replacement in at least 85 classrooms (in the USA, Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Australia, the UK, and Macedonia) at no cost to students or teachers. It is used as supplementary content in countless others. Too often, science is portrayed at the introductory levels as an exercise in memorizing concepts and facts that have been established through a rigid, 3-4-step "scientific method." This is partly due to the poor job textbooks and other resources do in conveying the process of scientific inquiry and discovery. With the Visionlearning project, we have responded by creating a set of core teaching materials that convey the process of science in a way that more accurately reflects the way that science is actually practiced. We also complement these modules with a larger library of modules dedicating to teaching core concepts of biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics, but do so from a discovery-based perspective, which again emphasizes the way that science is actually practiced. Through the interpretation of experimental data, students learn core science concepts in a deeper, more conceptual way, which offers extensive advantages over the traditional textbook content delivery which emphasizes only the rote memorization of large amounts of disconnected units of information. Importantly, Visionlearning is led by an advisory panel of national experts on science education and each individual module has benefited from a rigorous blind peer-review process by referees that have included members of the National Academy of Sciences and award-winning science educators. Further, Visionlearning modules are subject to detailed assessment during their implementation, leading to several published manuscripts featuring demonstrated learning gains when using Visionlearning content. The modular nature of Visionlearning content allows educators to mix and match any combination of modules for their students. Each module has figures and art work to illustrate key concepts, a list of key concepts that can serve as learning goals for instructors, and a quiz to assess learning comprehension. If an instructor registers her/his course as a "My Classroom" on the website (registration at no cost), they can further tailor each module with additional comments and notes, further quiz questions, and homework assignments. Thus, the environment is highly customizable and contains many features commonly found in CMS programs. In addition, new initiatives at Visionlearning include the launching of an application for the iphone/ipad/ipod and andriod operating systems. These applications will allow students to read modules, listen to and/or watch podcasts of the modules (some of which are narrated by the author her/himself!) access the glossary, and even take quizzes and complete homework assignments right on their mobile devices! Visionlearning also maintains an interactive blog focusing on recent news on science and scientific discoveries. Other current developments are the further expansion of the disciplinary libraries in chemistry and biology to allow the site to cover even more university-level courses and uses. Currently, the site can serve student and instructor needs in a variety of ways. Through the CMS functions, Visionlearning can serve as a self-contained textbook replacement for a variety of courses at the secondary and post-secondary level. For users that utilize the website delivery only, there is still no charge whatsoever and the modules and other content can be freely printed and distributed. Users may also choose to print a customized set of modules as a hard-copy textbook at minimal cost. The most popular use of Visionlearning is as supplemental material for college science courses in biology, chemistry, earth science, and philosophy/nature of science and research, which has inspired the current efforts to expand the library to fully cover these courses in the near future. The Visionlearning project conducts continual review, revision, expansion, and improvement of the contents and features of our website. As such, we make an excellent partner for science educators wishing to provide the very best in innovative science content for their students.

Lead Presenter

Nathan Lents earned a BS in Molecular Biology from Saint Louis University, a Ph.D. in Physiology and Pharmacology from S.L.U. Medical School, and postdoctoral training in genomics, bioinformatics, and gene expression control at NYU Cancer Institute. Professor Lents has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Since 2002, he has authored 18 research articles, three review articles, and one book chapter. Professor Lents's current research interests remain in the molecular mechanisms of gene expression control and cell proliferation and how these mechanisms contribute to the genesis of cancer. However, since becoming a faculty member at John Jay College, he has also conducted and published research in the area of educational technology and innovations in science pedagogy and curriculum. Always mentoring several graduate and undergraduate students, Professor Lents is a firm believer that the classroom is a laboratory and the laboratory is a classroom!