In recent years there has been a growing emphasis on improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. A correlate of this is has been the increase in digital resources available to students and educators. An excellent example of this is Visionlearning.
Visionlearning is the brainchild of Dr. Anthony Carpi, professor of toxicology at John Jay College. What started as a small project for a natural science course has evolved into an open access STEM education tool for students and educators. Its mission: to provide “high-quality, accessible, educational content in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.”
Instead of simply being an encyclopedia of science terms and theories, Visionlearning organizes its content into a library of lesson modules. These modules are geared toward the introductory undergraduate level and are designed to be concise and engaging. Modules begin with a ‘pre-reader’ section introducing the topic, providing key terms and posing questions for the student to consider before launching into the main material. Comprehension check points and animations are embedding throughout the module to stimulate thinking and keep students engaged.
All content is written and designed by professional scientists and educators. And all content is peer reviewed for accuracy. Dr. Anne Egger, an assistant professor of geological sciences and science education at Central Washington University, is a senior contributor at Visionlearning. She shared her motivation for joining the project and the philosophy of the organization.
Being involved in Visionlearning is immensely rewarding. Early in my career, I was frustrated with the low quality and high cost of textbooks. Each year, I’d see my students purchase these subpar textbooks and only to watch them resell the books to recoup the cost. Joining Visionlearning was an opportunity to improve the reading material available to my students. Its a high quality, low cost resource that students can continue to use and refer back to again and again.
Visionlearning’s library includes modules in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences as well as modules that focus on the philosophy of science and the scientific process. In each module, emphasis is placed on illustrating the nature of scientific inquiry and providing a context for scientific advancements. “We want to demystify who scientists are and how science is performed,” says Egger. “We want to show that it is a self-directed process. There is no predetermined direction.”
Currently Visionlearning is adding a series of “math in science” modules, which will be rolled out over the next six months. These modules explore the transfer and application of mathematical principles across subject matters. The goal is to encourage cross-disciplinary connections as a way to reinforce concepts and demonstrate their importance and utility.
As part of Visionlearning’s emphasis on accessibility, all lessons are available in both English and Spanish. In addition, audio files are available for streaming to assist aural learners. There is also a ‘Classroom’ feature where students can bookmark modules and glossary words for future reference and where teachers can assemble the materials into a learning management system.
Visionlearning is supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education. The project welcomes new contributors and content reviewers. Inquiries can be made by contacting Heather Falconer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.