Try to describe a typical student in today’s higher education institutions and you will find it is an impossible task. The student population in the modern classroom is made of individuals from a dizzying array of socio-economic backgrounds, age groups, ethnicity and religious beliefs and the diversity doesn’t stop there – especially when we think about those studying courses such as biology. Students have different learning habits, some with a stronger knowledge base than others. Each student experiences their own unique learning journey, with an infinite number of career options ahead of them. Sure, some are taking biology as part of their General Education or to complete their electives but others will move into a scientific research background, become doctors or even go on to teach in the science subjects.
When there is no real time to plan new ideas and little staff resource to develop them anyway, the thought of building new tools into established courses can seem overwhelming. Faculties continue to be pushed to provide courses that attract students, retain them and support them in a successful – and satisfying – learning journey. So what can faculty administrators do to create course content that will appeal to all of the students, all of the time?
EdTech resources have become time and cost saving tools, but with so many on the market it can be a big job sourcing the most useful ones. We researched some of the best options and have gathered them together in a useful guide – saving you time and effort. These options are straight forward and can be implemented straight away with little need for specific course design experience.
7 EdTech tools that will drive your students’ engagement
Online Laboratory Simulations
Cost-effective (and often free) software recreates the classroom laboratory online, providing engaging science simulation for learners. This works especially well for teachers who have embraced the flipped classroom approach as simulations can be conducted in the classroom in a group or individual setting as part of the day to day activities, or students can conduct experiments at home as part of their core homework assignments. Click here for examples of several virtual laboratories – shared by faculty teachers as well as commercial laboratories.
Online simulations can also be created by teachers and students which can be shared in group settings using software such as the Molecular Workbench.
Interactive 3D animation apps for biology
Interactive applications have come a long way in terms of usability and educational content in recent years. With more apps being developed for both Apple and Android devices the accessibility has improved dramatically, too. Anatomy apps such as https://www.biodigital.com/education boasts around 5000 interactive, 3D examples of anatomy and health conditions. Apps such as Molecule World allow users to download and view thousands of proteins, DNA, RNA, and chemical structures from extensive public databases.
Short videos for ‘Micro-learning’
Karl M Kapp highlighted ‘Microlearning’ as one of the top five EdTech trends for institutions to keep an eye on when developing courses for 2016. The idea is that learners are delivered blocks of subject content in bursts of five to ten minutes instead of hour long lectures. This type of content appeals to a generation of students whose attention is diverted regularly from screen to screen.
The result is short, sharp instructional videos and interviews that can be slotted into presentations by tutors. A quick search on YouTube will return a significant range of videos, but for a more targeted and better researched resource try http://sciencevideos.org/ or www.ibiology.org
Games / Gamification
Educational games have increased in popularity in recent years – among pre-schoolers, right the way through to college students and it is clear that gamification in learning is not going away. Games are particularly useful for learners who are not motivated to learn in the subject or are struggling to grasp particular elements of a topic. Games that offer points, badge rewards and even leader boards have most success in encouraging learners to focus on key lessons or topics in a fun and informal way. A great resource for games – which can be filtered by age group or subject – can be found at Science Game Centre.
For those with a special interest in gamification who might wish to design a course game personally, there are a multitude of software options available. Even those with limited game design experience can create engaging, educational games with the use of authoring tools. To get started, look at Adobe’s Captivate platform.
Open Educational Resources (OERs)
As institutions shift toward a more student centered approach to learning, there is also a recognizable shift towards a more collaborative approach between institutions, with more emphasis on joint working and sharing of good practice and resources. Online communities such as the Life Science Teacher Resource Community and the Society for Neuroscience provide excellent resources for teaching but also forums for students and educators, access to specific blogs, case studies and opportunities in mentoring and support.
Ted Talks – Biology
At eighteen minutes (maximum) in length, Ted Talks are a little longer than the micro-learning videos mentioned previously but still pack a powerful punch. The Ted Talks Biologyplatform hosts a number of thrilling talks on topics as diverse as glow in the dark sharks, the growth of new brain cells, and the future of medicine. This means there are plenty of wow factor talks that will surely keep students sitting up in their seats and re-engaging with biology.
Kapp also highlights Adaptive Learning as a progressive trend in EdTech for 2016. The facility allows for a tailored approach to learning and course development and – with the right support at design and build stage – has the capability to add all the previous tools together in a seamless, personalized learning environment. Students, living and studying in the digital age find adaptive far more engaging than a traditional textbook and data throughout the course gives the instructor valuable insight into how much support each student requires. You can learn more about Cogbooks Advanced Adaptive Courseware here.