Embedding Next-Generation Molecular WorkbenchJune 7th, 2012 by Dan Barstow
The next-generation Molecular Workbench has a fundamental feature that is both simple and profound: MW models will be embeddable directly in Web pages. This simple statement means that anyone will be able to integrate these scientifically accurate models into their own work—without having to launch a separate application. Teachers will embed MW models and activities into their own Web pages. Textbook publishers will embed them in new e-books. There is much room for creativity and partnerships here.
The significance of this advance struck me at a recent conference on educational technology sponsored by the Software & Information Industry Association. Many creative people and companies attended, from large publishers to innovative startups. Throughout the presentations and conversations, I envisioned ways these potential partners might use MW to enhance their products and services.
Ron Dunn, CEO of Cengage, gave a keynote describing their new digital textbooks and aligned homework helpers and other digital resources. He pointed out that 35% of their sales are “digitally driven,” and that technology is essential to their future. Other major publishers echoed those messages. When publishers embed Molecular Workbench models and activities throughout their e-books as a consistent modeling environment, students will be able to investigate fundamental principles of chemistry, physics and biology more deeply than the simple animations and videos now so typical in e-books.
SmartScience is a startup, developing supplemental science education activities. Their idea to link videos of science phenomena with corresponding graphing tools is clever. For example, in a time-lapse video of rising and falling tides, students mark the ocean height and automatically see their data in a graph in order to understand both the scientific phenomena and the graph output. Augmenting reality is great, and we love the idea of integrating videos of physical, chemical and biological processes at the macroscopic scale with MW models to show what happens at the microscopic scale.
Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, discussed a new framework for evaluating the effectiveness of educational technology projects. Software can monitor how students work their way through online problems, providing teachers with deeper insights on student learning, especially in terms of scientific thinking and problem-solving skills. Teachers can focus on students’ higher-level thinking skills, and provide useful, real-time feedback to identify strengths, progress and areas in need of help. We agree whole-heartedly and have been working on ways to capture student data in real time and provide feedback loops for teachers. Our next-generation Molecular Workbench will record what students do as they explore the models and make that information available to teachers and researchers.
Partnerships with creative teachers, publishers, and software developers will help us ignite large-scale improvements in teaching and learning through technology. That’s our mission and our goal for Molecular Workbench. Thanks to Google funding, we’re working to increase access to the incredibly powerful next-generation Molecular Workbench.