Science and Technology Education Center

Tel-Aviv University - School of Education

Knowledge Technology Laboratory








Dr. Rachel Mintz, Dr. Rafi Nachmias



Research Report No. 58




Tel-Aviv University, School of Education, Knowledge Technology Lab

Ramat-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, 69978, Israel


The Center for Educational Technology (CET), Tel Aviv, Israel





The rapid development of information and communications technology (ICT), the growth of human knowledge, and the overwhelming changes taking place in society and in the world of business have led us to take another look at the processes of teaching and learning science and technology in our schools. Curriculum developers have always acted as an intermediary between the student and the world of information.Ü Developers have defined the learning objectives and subject matter that represent the structure of a particular field of knowledge; the facts that the student is to learn,; the thought processes he or she is to acquire; and the characteristics of the learning atmosphere in which the student is to be taught. Guiding their considerations were the needs of society and the economy, the needs of the individual, and the structure of the field of knowledge (Tyler, 1949). Today is a new era, in which the responsibility for the learning process rests with the learner. Increasingly, it is the learner who designs the learning environment and who takes charge of his or her own learning. One of the driving forces behind this change is the potential that is inherent in the integration of information technologies, primarily computer systems and communications networks, in science education. These technologies offer the learner a series of tools and methods that can promote a different kind of learning. In this article, we will discuss the influence of ICT tools on science education, and we will compare today's learning environment, which includes the new technologies, with the traditional science curriculum.


Enhancing Scientific Inquiry with ICT

Inquiry-based learning was at the heart of the reform in science education at the end of the 1960s. The main idea behind inquiry-based learning was to enable students to experience and become acquainted with the scientific method through planned experimentation in the laboratory: defining a problem, stating a hypothesis, planning an experiment, collecting data, analyzing the data, drawing conclusions, and reporting the findings. The investigative method was based on "learning by doing," which involves the learners in their environment ó both through direct experience in the natural world and through planned experiments in the lab. According to this approach, observation, experimentation, and research are the best ways to promote the curiosity, interest, and thinking that can lead to an understanding of scientific phenomena and concepts. The technological revolution that has taken place in recent years in the field of information and telecommunications lends new and greater significance to several aspects of inquiry-based learning, as described in the following sections.


Availability of up-to-date information

The Internet offers maximum access to information in any field anywhere in the world. This information, obtained in real time from the Internet, provides a rich environment in which students can investigate and collect data. Students are exposed to authentic information and scientific news as it happens; they can witness a tidal wave off the Pacific Ocean, a volcanic eruption in the Andes, an avalanche in Switzerland, orÜa flood in China. Discoveries and innovations in human genetic research are publicized daily. They can obtain data on species that are becoming extinct and on the present and future state of the planet earth from numerous Internet sites whose goal is toÜinform the public at large. Schoolchildren and the general public alike can follow current scientific endeavors that involve impressive technological achievements. Every day we receive new, last-minute photos from space missions, satellites that are investigating the ozone layer, and the network of buoys that are measuring the temperature of the Pacific Ocean to monitor the effects of El Niño. Through access to data gathered by advanced technologies, such computerized tomography scans of molecules and Hubbell Space Telescope photographs of distant galaxies, students have a greater opportunity to observe and measure beyond the confines of their schools, to track the progress of contemporary scientific research, and to participate in it. Locating, processing, and analyzing such information as well as evaluating its significance require new skills. Fostering such abilities and producing curious learners who are aware of and interested in their surroundings present, perhaps, the greatest challenge to scienceÜteachers today.


Scientific interchange through the Internet

By connecting to the World Wide Web, students can create a virtual scientific community. Here they can collect, analyze, and present data for comment by fellow students who are also participating in such research and development activities. This kind of cooperation is characteristic of the way in which scientific research and technological development operate today, requiring specialization and the expertise of those who possess particular knowledge and skills. In addition to affording students an opportunity to become acquainted with the scientific work environment and its methods, writing up project results and posting them on the Web also engender a sense of participation. This feeling canÜenhance learners' enjoyment of the learning process and can provide additional motivation (Owston, 1997).



The use of computerized tools in processing research data

Today's school science lab provides computerized tools that enable students to gather, process, and present information. With the aid of sensors, students can conduct measurements and feed them into the computer to create a symbolic visual representation such as a graph that constantly changes as the sensor collects more data (Nachmias and Linn, 1987). An electronic spreadsheet facilitates the processing and presentation of numeric information as well. Data fed into the spreadsheet can serve as raw material for creating new information, organizing information in new ways, and discovering new relationships between data. Word processors and multi-channel software for presenting information can improve the students' skills in preparing and submitting research reports. The very creation of the digital product is extremely interesting for some students and even allows them to present their information to a larger audience (such as through their own Internet site).


Investigation of complex systems through models and simulations

System-oriented thinking and an understanding of the ways in which physical, biological, technological, and social systems function are currently at the center of science teaching. Computerized simulations that permit the presentation of complex systems are also a relatively new tool. Such methods enable students to conduct experiments that were previously impossible, to study abstract concepts that had been obstacles to understanding, and thus to support or refute hypotheses (Mintz, 1993). With computer simulations, abstract models are presented visually. A visual environment that can be manipulated and controlled offers learners a tool with which they can intuitively experience formal, abstract concepts.


Dynamic, visual presentation of information

Recent technological developments in the gathering and processing of data, including the option of saving such data as photographic images, has created a new domain in the visual presentation of scientific information (Gordin & Pea, 1996). This new scientific field, made possible by the development of powerful computers, links science, technology, computer science, and applied visual arts in the designing of systems that can translate huge amounts of quantitative data into digital graphic images. Variations in color and shading can be used to represent numeric data that describe different aspects of a phenomenon or process; such representations can portray complex phenomena in their entirety and can also consist of a series of images depicting changes over time.

Examples of the visual representation of scientific information can be found today in all fields of science and technology. In medicine, magnetic resonance imaging yields precise three-dimensional images of the human body. Earth scientists can now produce films that illustrate how hurricanes and tornadoes develop andÜhow the earth's ozone layer is changing. Astronomers create video simulations to model theories about the creation of the universe. Physicists build three-dimensional computerized models to describe the internal structure of the atom. These examples belong to an array of modern representations that have become part of our body of scientific knowledge and that must be integrated into the science curriculum. Combined with multimedia-based databases, such visual representations can help students and teachers understand complex abstract phenomena. Today, with the help of three-dimensional graphics software, educators are building a new virtual reality that bridges the gap between the concrete world of nature and the abstract world of concepts and models. The CoVis project, for example, is developing educational activities in which students analyze and interpret complex visual representations in atmospheric science (Pea, 1993).


Interconnected databases

An additional change that ICT has brought about is the presentation of data in a connected, dynamic manner. Information that was static, linear, non-modular, and printed is now displayed in a dynamic fashion, linked by hypermedia . Units of data are connected in a logical system-oriented or associative matrix. The matrix of informational units permits the presentation of systems, their subsystems, and the relationships between them. For students, this type of presentation can shed light on the connections between components of complex systems. Another noteworthy aspect of such nonlinear presentation of data is the design of hypermedia programs by students themselves. Salomon and Perkins (1996) suggest that this nonlinear organization of information and its representation by hypermedia is comparable to the way in which information is organized in the human mind. The more dense and interconnected the cognitive network, the greater one's understanding is.



From Traditional Curricula to Today's Learning Environments

Information technology wields a tremendous influence upon the theoretical approaches that affect science education today. The constructivist approach has gained a great deal of support. According to this approach, knowledge is constructed through a process in which learners actively incorporate new information into existing information through processing, storing, expanding, and interpreting; in essence, they construct their own world of knowledge (Driver et al., 1994). As a result of the increasing popularity of constructivism, a project-based approach aided by computerized tools has taken hold in the science classroom. Another currently popular approach focuses on the learner from a sociocultural perspective; learning is seen as a dialogue among peers. Cooperative research projects over the Internet are becoming more common and provide a framework of social interaction in which learners take an increasingly active role as they think, react, ask and answer questions, and absorb the subject matter in a more meaningful manner. Questions that a group poses shed new light on the subject matter and lead to reflective thinking on the part of each individual. According to Vygotsky (1978), the individual's learning processes are reinforced and expanded by participation in group activities. Furthermore, the individual becomes part of a creative community that shares beliefs and opinions and whose learning product is a true artifact of the group.

Another approach that reinforces the idea of group learning is known as situated learning, or learning that takes place within a specific context. Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) contend that context-based learning that is relevant to the student's own world and involves cooperation leads to the building of knowledge. This approach, reinforced by the development of the Internet, spawned the concept of authentic learning (Lave, 1988; Lave and Wenger, 1991), in which students study problems and situations that are not typically associated with the classroom. Similarly, ScienceóTechnologyóSociety (STS) theories, which emphasize involvement in scientific as well as social processes, reinforce authentic learning. Interdisciplinary issues that pertain to the everyday life of individuals, such as the management of natural resources, conservation, prevention of disease, and genetic engineering, introduce the students to authentic issues. As they study science, students broaden their perspectives and confront moral, ethical, and social dilemmas (Hurd, 1998).

Innovation in learning theories, teaching strategies that involve ICT, and new ways of representing knowledge are the springboard for new learning environments in science and technology. Table 1 compares the traditional curriculum, which typified science teaching in the 1970s and 1980s, and the present-day learning environment, which incorporates information technologies.


Table 1: Traditional Curriculum vs. Today's Learning Environment


Traditional Curriculum Learning Environment in the Information Age


Learning theories


Piaget's theory of learning is the most widespread (Piaget, 1950). The child goes through various developmental stagesñfrom sensory-motor thinking to intuitive-concrete thinking and then on to formal thinkingñand forges a world of knowledge through assimilation and adaptation. Educational tasks and activities are designed according to the student's developmental stage and are based on research and discovery through hands-on experience with the real environment.

The predominant theory is constructivism, according to which the individual learns actively by incorporating new knowledge into existing knowledge and processing, storing, expanding, and interpreting it. Other theories, which link learning and society and emphasize peer dialogue and real-world contexts, generate cooperative learning situations, discussion, and the exchange of ideas.
Teaching strategies The learner receives organized information from an authority, which may be either a textbook or a teacher. Even in inquiry-based methods, where the student plays an active role, experiments are thought out and well planned in advance. The learner is at the core of the teaching process. The learner is independent, and the teacher provides guidance and mediates.
Learning objectives The main goal is to obtain "knowledge" and to become familiar with the scientific method. The main goal is to create a concrete product in the form of a research task or a project.
Content The subject matter consists of science disciplinesñlife sciences, chemistry, physics, and earth science. The subjects are interdisciplinary and reflect the STS approach, which combines science and technology and emphasizes involvement in one's environment. These new subjects foster learning within a context, or authentic learning.
Instructional materials The materials consist of textbooks, teachers' guides, activity sheets, and lab kits. The materials include books, digital databases, simulations, computerized microworlds, computerized labs, educationally oriented Internet sites, and electronic communications.
Presentation of knowledge Knowledge is presented in a static, linear form , conveyed through , static, in text or pictures. It is also sometimes out of date. Knowledge is presented in a manner that is modular, connected, dynamic, and visual. It comes straight from the scientific community and is therefore current.
Learning activities Activities are based on lab experiments and formal problem-solving tasks. Activities are based not only on experiments but also on simulations; cooperative experiments via the Internet; construction and manipulation of databases; and the use of microbased laboratory learning (MBL).
The time and place of learning

Learning occurs within a defined time and place involving the student, teacher, and classroom.

Learning occurs without the constraints of time or place.
Learning outcome The outcome consists of individual achievement in acquiring knowledge. The outcome can be a piece of work created by the individual or a group project.
Assessment Assessment is relative, consisting of grades given on a comparative scale. Assessment centers on the learning process and the products constructed by the learner.




The new learning environment is aiming toward incorporating the following principles:

  1. Instead of a classroom, a teacher, and textbooks, a community of teachers and students who accept responsibility for acquiring their own knowledge is created.
  2. Learning takes place within the social context. Groups of students, guided by a teacher or a specialist, form study groups. Collective problem-solving, discussion, and dialogue among group members enable learners to construct their own knowledge. Questions or opinions expressed by each member of the group are relevant and can help shed light on the subject matter.
  3. Occasionally, learning goes beyond the confines of space and time by the use of the communications networks that permit students to exchange information and discuss specific subjects with fellow students outside the classroom or even with experts.
  4. Learning is aimed at creating a concrete product. It can be a model, an experiment, an individual project, or some technological product.
  5. Information is abundant and accessible in the learning environment. Information can be located in libraries, in digital databases on the Internet, or on CDs. Educational databases enable students to learn at their own pace and according to their own abilities and interests.
  6. The learning environment includes topics that are of interest and relevance to the learner. The STS approach, which combines science and technology in human and social contexts, introduces topics such as conservation, telecommunications, and health awareness, and leads to more autonomous learning.




Piaget, J., (1950). The psychology of intelligence. London: Routledge Kegan & Paul.