More than 24 universities, colleges launch network to improve outcomes in science courses with traditionally high failure rates

science-educationA network of science educators has formed to address the future of science education and identify innovative ways to encourage students to pursue science courses.

The Inspark Science Network is a product of Arizona State University’s (ASU) Center for Education Through Exploration (ETX), an initiative designed to promote active learning, teaching science as a method of exploration and discovery, and technology firm Smart Sparrow. It launched on Jan. 16, 2015, and members will work to create and disseminate courses to help students complete general science education.

Smart Sparrow, which works on adaptive learning authoring platforms, received a $4.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help support the network’s goals.

Smart Sparrow will supply the tools that help faculty create and share digital courses, which will focus on helping educators use pedagogical control and track student progress using sophisticated analytics.

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Ariel Anbar, a President’s Professor in the School of Earth & Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at ASU, will lead the Inspark Science Network in developing “smart courses” that explore compelling science questions in order to teach basic science concepts.

“We believe science is fundamental to teaching students how to be critical thinkers and successful contributors to the future of our society,” Anbar said. “This network will pull together like-minded professionals who are passionate about teaching and committed to ensuring that all students succeed.”

“We know that the prevailing model of higher education, centered on lectures and disciplinary knowledge, dampens a student’s motivation and promotes misconceptions about science and other modes of learning. We also know that siloed learning doesn’t prepare students for the complex, real-world problems they will face during their careers,” the InSpark Science Network’s website states. “It’s time for a more effective and authentic exploration-driven model for science learning, centered on interactive, project-based learning experiences, and motivated by questions that don’t fit in tidy disciplinary bins.”

“Having more students successfully complete college science courses is a huge benefit to our society and will strengthen our nation’s competitiveness,” said ASU President Michael Crow in a statement. “Efforts like these, which utilize technology to engage students in a more meaningful way and encourage them to learn science through the exploration of the worlds around them, will be vital in removing traditional barriers to a college degree.”

Achieving the Dream, a national organization focused on improving outcomes for low-income and traditionally underserved students, will help Inspark produce innovative courseware and work to ensure that faculty and community colleges around the country can access the network. George Siemens, Executive Director of The University of Texas at Arlington’s Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Lab, will lead a research effort to test the efficacy of the new courses and networks.


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