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College Network Transforming Science Gains Momentum

Work is moving forward on a "smart science network" intended to transform how science is taught and learned. Arizona State University was expected to host about 200 faculty members and college presidents from across the country to learn more about the Inspark Science Network. Participants included representatives from community college partners, including Arizona's Scottsdale Community College, Maricopa Community College, Phoenix College, and Florida's Miami Dade College, among many others.

This effort is a partnership among universities, community colleges, scientists, education experts and an education technology company, Smart Sparrow, the latter an Australian firm working on tools to allow instructors to make and share courseware that can be personalized for students. In 2014 the company was chosen as one of seven finalists in a competition run by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund multi-year, multi-million dollar initiatives to develop courseware for personalized learning in higher ed.

According to Smart Sparrow, it has received a $4.5 million grant from the Gates Foundation to work with Arizona State and other organizations to provide programs that will help faculty create and share digital courses with "pedagogical control" and track student progress. The goal: to help more students complete science courses at the college level.

Arizona State recently established a Center for Education Through Exploration (ETX), which is directed by Professor Ariel Anbar, in the School of Earth & Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. ETX is designed to help instructors replace traditional lecture with "active learning," in which students pursue "intriguing questions."

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

Another founding partner of the Inspark network is the University of Texas at Arlington. George Siemens, an executive director of the university's Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge (LINK) Lab, will lead research to test the effectiveness of the new courses and the network.

"Having more students successfully complete college science courses is a huge benefit to our society and will strengthen our nation's competitiveness," said network host Arizona State President Michael Crow. "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."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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