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Monday, July 06, 2009

Integrated Online Courses in Science and Math: Case of ( is a site that responds to the needs for content in the high-stakes content areas where learners often need the most help: math, chemistry, biology, and computer science.

With high-stakes standardized testing, No Child Left Behind, entrance exams, and outcomes-based assessment, the need for on-demand instructional materials, particularly in math and science, continues to grow. Finding effective materials can be difficult. YouTube is a labyrinth of potential content, and learning object repositories such as MERLOT offer resources. So, there is no shortage of videos, lesson plans, quizzes, and practice exams. However, how does one begin to sort through all the materials? resources are designed to increase knowledge and skill levels rapidly. To that end, instructional materials must exhibit certain characteristics:

1. High-quality content and instruction
2. Consistent and complete
3. Accurate
4. Engaging instruction tying to learning objectives
5. Well-organized
6. Qualified subject matter experts / instructors

With four content areas, materials consist of videos, animated slide shows, interactive animations, and lectures that include demonstrations and step-by-step instructions.
The curriculum is well-organized around tables of contents and the modules offer an entire sequence of lessons in ascending order of difficulty.

The approach is particularly valuable for technical subjects that typically frustrate students, effectively blocking them from areas of study and careers where math and science curricula form the core of the content. Effective personalized instruction of consistent quality can be of great use, particular for learners who are visual or auditory and who need a step-by-step approach.

Mathematics: The instructional videos are organized in sequence, and they feature a professor working through the problems using a tablet. He effectively explains the steps and why he used them. The step-by-step approach, and the explanation of how he broke down the problem into small chunks is particularly useful in algebra, which will form the basis of future courses such as trigonometry and calculus.

The videos might be more effective for kinaesthetic learners if they required the learner to click on something or mouse over an animation in order to keep them engaged.

Nevertheless, the fact that one can replay the steps is very useful. For auditory learners, it is much better to have a professor talking about the problem than having an animation of a graphing calculator with explanatory text.

For example, a student can learn calculus from a professor with years of experience, who has developed a highly effective approach that includes incorporating the questions that the students are likely to have.

Students can chose from several different levels of calculus, and different professors

AP Calculus AB: example
AP Calculus BC: example

Chemistry: Narrated and animated presentations help learners visualize the chemical structures and also the nature of the equations used to understand chemical reactions. Using diagrams and animations helps one understand the nature of the changes that occur in chemical processes and reactions. Students can learn chemistry through a combination of animations and guided lecture, with practice quizzes.

Biology: A generous use of diagrams, charts, illustrations, and drawing helps students visualize the concepts and processes in biology. Diagrams are invaluable for developing the ability to identify parts, structures, and processes. They are also very helpful in mapping relationships within biological systems. The courses could add more assessment and quizzes, particularly identification and short answer quizzes. The approach is effective for students who are motivated to learn biology, particularly those desiring careers in medicine and allied health fields.

Computer Science: The basics of programming are presented, and the experts make clear presentations. More hands-on activities would be helpful. It might be good to connect to real-life applications and to engage the students along the way by constantly pointing out the utility of the various languages and applications. It is always good to minimize the "talking head" and to use it simply to rehumanize a dehumanizing environment. Learning computer science is much more engaging with a video guide and examples.

MathMagic (TM): One of the most unique and helpful aspects of is the fact that students can address areas that are typical problem areas in math. They can pinpoint their problems, and then remedy them immediately. MathMagic (TM) helps students prepare for exams, placement tests, and competitions.

Instructional materials for AP and college level general education-level courses are readily available on the internet. What makes easier to use and more effective are the following points:

1. Uniform / consistent structure
2. Easy to find modules and content
3. Good summaries / practice plus assessment
4. Expert instructors with good use of media and animation
5. Engaging graphics and content
6. Practical content that ties directly to standardized high-stakes exams

For students to get the most of the materials, it is important to accompany the videos with practice. Ideally, the content can be tied directly to a homework assignment. It is also important to used quizzes and assessments in order to provide more hands-on knowledge and skills checks. If the content is correlated with a textbook, going back to repeat the activities while offline could be accomplished.

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