Pilot at schools with learning environment for ‘systems thinking’
Dynalearn Web, an interactive learning environment that helps students develop systems thinking, is being tested at secondary schools in the Amsterdam region as part of a feasibility study. Bert Bredeweg of the UvA Informatics Institute coordinates the study, which is a follow-up on the international research project Dynalearn FP7 of the European Commission.
A major goal of the feasibility study (funded by STW-take off) is to distil a user product from the previous European research project to be applied to science teaching in secondary schools (e.g. biology, chemistry and physics). Dynalearn Web deploys a logic-based representation, such as cause-effect patterns. Students can use this to develop their systems thinking using a truly conceptual approach. In this sense, the Dynalearn Web differs from traditional simulation programs that usually start from mathematical formulas.
After several months of intensive programming, the first version of the software for Dynalearn Web was launched last month. Three aspects were of decisive importance: model content, usability and teacher support. A web-based solution was chosen, providing access to registered users only. The software runs in browsers (like Google Chrome), is available for several platforms and works on tablets too.
Local secondary schools Hyperion Lyceum and Vechtstede college were immediately excited to test the software. At Hyperion, the software was used in year 5 of university preparatory education (VWO) for biology and handling hormonal signal chains. At Vechtstede college the software was used in year 5 of senior general secondary education (HAVO) and VWO 6 in physics classes on the subject of heat.
The evaluations were good. At both schools, pupils hardly experienced any problems in using the software, and they could directly focus on the primary objective of using Dynalearn: working on systems thinking. The teachers also responded enthusiastically and agreed to contribute to the further development of educational materials for this new form of learning.
The next release of Dynalearn Web is scheduled for late March. At that point a new round of evaluation studies in secondary schools will start. In addition to usability, the focus will be on identifying the learning effects, and the software will be tested for new subjects, such as chemistry.
European project Dynalearn FP7
The aim of the European Dynalearn project was to develop engaging and informative tools for learning conceptual systems knowledge. The underlying reason was the lack of effective cognitive tools that enable secondary school pupils to acquire this type of knowledge. With DynaLearn Web the most successful ideas are being further developed for actual use in secondary schools.