Educational outreach is a special challenge for the Sanford Underground Research Facility. Not only is the science quite sophisticated but the facility will not generally be accessible to the general public, teachers or students. There are plans for an onsite education outreach facility, the Sanford Center for Science Education, which will provides hands-on activities for visitors to the region but our goal is to reach the audience that is not physically at the lab site. The goal of Virtual SURF, therefore, is to allow students, teachers and the general public an opportunity to experience the underground research facility and associated science via the web using virtual tours, simulations and educational games. Virtual SURF will also worked closely with Sanford Center for Science Education staff to provide online resource for workshop and programs offered directly through the Center. For questions related to the education aspects of vSURF, please contact Judy Vondruska, vSURF Education Coordinator.
Educational simulations have been used effectively for years for students to learn about a variety of science concepts. Simulations are dynamic and allow for user interaction (Pass, Homer, Hayward, 2009). Simulations are typically 2D and allow users to change variables, enter data, and otherwise affect the object being simulated. Simulations can vary in purpose from teaching conceptual issues to allowing data collection and analysis. Simulations often allow users to observe and interact with representations of processes that would otherwise be invisible (NRC Report, 2011).
Educational research provides promising evidence that simulations can
help students generate, understand, remember, and use science concepts,
particularly when they are supported by other forms of instruction
within a larger curriculum unit (Clark et al., 2009).
Due to the remoteness of SURF and the complexity of the science, it seems logical to rely on simulations as a means of allowing visitors to experience the site and the science of SURF. The first simulation being developed will be embedded in a 3D environment and is related to understanding the nature of cosmic rays. Check out Ed Projects for more information.
Education computer games (sometimes referred to as serious games) differ from simulations in that they provide feedback to measure the player's progress toward goals and the player's actions and overall game play strategies influence the state of the games (Clark, et. al., 2009; Hays, 2005). Educational computer games vary in difficulty and content as well as method of representation (2D vs 3D). The research showing the effectiveness of games in promoting science learning is still in its infancy. Current research indicates that games can motivate interest in science and enhance overall conceptual understanding but this is based on relatively few studies (NRC Report, 2011).
Educational games have the potential to help young people identify with science and science learning. Barab and Dede (2007) propose, "Game-like virtual learning experiences can provide a strong sense of engagement and opportunities to learn for all students, even helping learners with low self-efficacy start afresh with a new 'identitiy' not tagged as an academic loser." Many games engage students in playing the role of scientists, technicians, and others who need scientific knowledge to solve problems, and there may help students identify with science and the process of scientific thought (NRC Report, 2011).
The motivational nature of games and the potential for online interaction within the game environment is the impetus for inclusion for this learning modality within vSURF. The cosmic ray detector virtual experiment being currently developed by the vSURF team will eventually be multi-player and allow users from schools across the globe to collaborate on and experimental design with virtual cosmic ray detectors. Check out Ed Projects link to learn more.
Current educational workshops related to vSURF have been offered face-to-face at various sites across South Dakota through the Sanford Center for Science Education. vSURF currently provides the online support for these workshops and may, in the future, assist in providing fully online workshop programs. Check out Workshops to learn more about recent programs offered in South Dakota.
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