The virtual scientist: Connecting university scientists to the K–12 classroom through videoconferencing

Published:2007, Advances in Physiology Education
Authors:McCombs GB, Ufnar JA, Shepherd VL
Type:Project Generated

interactive videoconference, science education, distance learning

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The Vanderbilt University Center for Science Outreach (CSO) connects university scientists to the K-12 community to enhance and improve science education. The Virtual Scientist program utilizes interactive videoconference (IVC) to facilitate this connection, providing 40-50 sessions per academic year to a national audience. Scientists, defined as research faculty members, clinicians, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and medical students, and professional staff, participate through conventional volunteer recruitment and program announcements as well as outreach partnership efforts with other Vanderbilt centers. These experts present 30- to 45-min long, grade-appropriate content sessions from the CSO IVC studio or their own laboratory. Teachers register for sessions via an on-line application process. After the session, teachers, students, and experts are requested to complete an anonymous on-line evaluation that addresses both technical- and content-associated issues. Results from 2003 to the present indicated a favorable assessment for a promising program. Results showed that 69% of students (n = 335) and 88% of teachers (n = 111) felt that IVC improved access to scientists, whereas 97% of students (n = 382) and teachers (n = 126) and 100% of scientists (n = 23) indicated that they would participate in future videoconferences. Students and teachers considered that the Virtual Scientist program was effective [76% (n = 381) and 89% (n = 127), respectively]. In addition, experts supported IVC as effective in teaching [87% (n = 23)]. Because of the favorable responses from experts, teachers, and students, the CSO will continue to implement IVC as a tool to foster interactions of scientists with K-12 classrooms.