Network of educators aim to transform science education
More than 200 faculty members and college presidents discussed the future of science education and demonstrated groundbreaking technology that will power the Inspark Science Network, Jan. 16, on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.
Established to lead a digital revolution in science education, the Inspark Science Network was launched by ASU and Smart Sparrow to develop and share courses that will help students complete general science education courses. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a $4.5 million grant to Smart Sparrow for the new initiative. Success in general science education courses has been a barrier to college completion, particularly for low-income and first-generation students.
“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 M. 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.”
Australia technology firm Smart Sparrow, a pioneer in adaptive learning authoring platforms, will provide tools that enable faculty to create and share digital courses, with an emphasis on allowing individual educators to exert pedagogical control and track student progress using sophisticated analytics.
As part of the launch of Inspark, more than 200 college and university faculty and administrators gathered to demo the new technology powering the network. The Jan. 16 event included a panel discussion featuring Crow, Nobel laureate Lee Hartwell, Maricopa Community Colleges executive vice chancellor and provost Maria Harper-Marinick and director of the ASU Origins Project Lawrence Krauss.
“The Inspark Science Network will empower teachers to create learning experiences that combine the power of adaptive learning with the magic of great classroom instruction,” said Dror Ben-Naim, CEO and founder of Smart Sparrow. “We are proud to establish a world-leading team of experts, and contribute toward creating tools that will have a lasting and significant impact on student success.”
The Inspark Science Network is an initiative of Smart Sparrow, in partnership with ASU’s newly established Center for Education Through Exploration. The center, directed by Ariel Anbar, a President’s Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at ASU, is an initiative designed to promote active learning, teaching science as the means by which we explore the unknown, rather than simply learning what is already known. Founding Inspark partners also include Achieving the Dream, The University of Texas at Arlington and e*mersion, a science animation company.
With help from Achieving the Dream, a national organization focused on improving outcomes for low-income and traditionally underserved students, Inspark will 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.
Anbar will guide the Inspark Science Network in developing “smart courses” that teach basic science concepts through the exploration of intriguing questions, placing traditional science content in a compelling context.
“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.”
Representatives from community colleges across Arizona participated in the events on Jan. 16. Among the initial 24 teaching partners are universities and community colleges such as American Public University System, Houston Community College, Lorain County Community College and Miami Dade College.