Interactive animations give science students a boost

December 14, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- For a generation of students raised and nurtured at the computer keyboard, it seems like a no-brainer that computer-assisted learning would have a prominent role in the college science classroom.

But many difficult scientific concepts are still conveyed through dry lectures or ponderous texts. But that could change if science professors take a cue from a new study on the use of interactive animations in the college science classroom. The findings, presented here today (Dec. 14) at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, show that university students who supplement their studies with interactive, game like computer animations retain a much better understanding of a scientific concept than those who don't.

"It works, which is a bit of a surprise," says Steve Ackerman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences who led the new study. "We didn't expect this kind of impact on the understanding of fundamental concepts."

Ackerman and UW-Madison graduate student Tim Wagner conducted the study using an introductory meteorology course of 400 students as a crucible for testing the efficacy of short animations that can demonstrate such things as tracking hurricanes and ice bergs, heat transfer, and how rain or snow form in the atmosphere.

The animations, which in actuality are small computer programs called applets, can be manipulated by students to adjust real-world variables that may come into play. For example, in the case of precipitation formation, such things as temperature or altitude can be tweaked to change rain to sleet or snow.

Seeing how the different variables come into play and how changing them can alter the type of precipitation you get is a hard demonstration of the physics of weather, says Wagner.

"Meteorological education is sometimes a little tricky," Wagner explains. "There are not a lot of things you can demonstrate in front of the classroom."

The animations reside on a Web site, and visits by individual students are recorded. Some animations are required for homework while others are optional. Class instructors can look at the Web site visitor data and can see which students are using the programs and for how long.

At exam time, the students who used the animations demonstrated greater mastery of concepts included on the test.

"The students who used the applets performed much better on those questions," notes Wagner.

The new findings by Wagner and Ackerman are important because they begin to inform the use of interactive teaching materials in the science classroom and how teachers can take better advantage of their students' deep familiarity with computers and computer games.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Related Classroom Articles from Brightsurf:

Does classroom indoor environmental quality affect teaching and learning?
What impact does a classroom's indoor environment have on teaching, learning, and students' academic achievement in colleges and universities?

The arrival of the laptop in the classroom and parental mediation
A study by Carme Bach, a lecturer with the Department of Translation and Language Sciences at UPF, and Cristina Aliagas, a lecturer with the Faculty of Education at the UAB, both members of the GR@EL research group.

Praise, rather than punish, to see up to 30% greater focus in the classroom
To improve behavior in class, teachers should focus on praising children for good behavior, rather than telling them off for being disruptive, according to a new study published in Educational Psychology.

Rethinking the role of technology in the classroom
Introducing tablets and laptops to the classroom has certain educational virtues, according to Annahita Ball, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, but her research suggests that tech has its limitations as well.

Classroom crowdscience: UC students challenged to detect schizophrenia genes
Teaching big data to future scientists means having them think creatively about ways to harness the terabytes of information available to them.

What was effect of offering breakfast in the classroom on obesity?
Offering breakfast in the classroom at some Philadelphia public schools did not affect the proportion of students developing overweight and obesity, when examined as a combined measure, after 2.5 years.

Classroom friendships may offset effects of punitive parents
A study by researchers at UC San Francisco has confirmed the link between Harsh Parenting to Defiance andNoncompliance in Kids and found that kindergarten may provide a unique opportunity for these harshly parented children to retool negative behavior.

Flipped classroom enhances learning outcomes in medical certificate education
The quality of medical certificates written by students of medicine was better when they were taught by using the flipped classroom approach instead of traditional lecturing.

Celebrating positives improves classroom behavior and mental health
Training teachers to focus their attention on positive conduct and to avoid jumping to correct minor disruption improves child behavior, concentration and mental health.

Strategic classroom intervention can make big difference for autism students
Special training for teachers may mean big results for students with autism spectrum disorder, according to Florida State University and Emory University researchers.

Read More: Classroom News and Classroom Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to