Learning Science Online Reports on Teacher Professional Development

September 6, 2007

TERC this week published the first multi-institutional study of online science courses for teachers. Learning Science Online (LSO), funded by the National Science Foundation, examined 40 courses in 6 programs, asking:

  • Who are the students in online science courses for teachers?
  • Who are the instructors?
  • What does teaching and learning look like in these courses?

LSO found that online courses reach a different audience than other forms of professional development. When compared with the general field of U.S. science teachers, online science courses enroll more females, more early career teachers, and more teachers from small towns and rural communities.

Teaching and learning take on different forms online. "Communication comes to the forefront," says TERC researcher and co-author Jodi Asbell-Clarke. "Students and instructors use discussion boards many times per week to share scientific ideas, questions, and investigations." The study also states that students reported feeling supported in their courses. The study found that other technological tools such as simulations and visualizations were surprisingly absent.

The report provides the groundwork for future research in the nature of these communities of learners engaging in scientific inquiry, and how they are supported by course design, instructors, and other students.