General
12 Jun 2007

New Project helps young people understand their world

A new project, called Personal Inquiry (PI), aims to help young people to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to understand and contribute to their changing world.

The project, a collaboration between The Open University and the University of Nottingham, has been awarded nearly £1.2m from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. This funding was obtained through an initiative called ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ which forms part of the national Teaching and Learning Research Programme.

Personal Inquiry aims to help 11 to 14 year-olds take advantage of the very latest in hand-held computer technology – both inside and outside the classroom.

Professor Eileen Scanlon, a Director of the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET) at The Open University said: "The ultimate aim is to help pupils learn the skills of modern science, taking in subjects such as the environment, natural sciences and the physical world around them".

Over the next three years, researchers will be exploring how to make the best use of new technology to help personalise the way children learn, making it more accessible and more effective. They are exploring a new approach called ‘scripted inquiry learning’, in which pupils investigate a topic with classmates, by carrying out explorations in their classrooms, in their homes and outside, guided by the innovative use of technology ‘Scripted inquiry learning’ helps pupils to get more personally involved in the learning process – aiding their understanding of the subject.

The project brings together Open University and University of Nottingham experts in the fields of education, educational technology, psychology and computer science in a bid to make learning more effective.

The project team is keen to engage learners who currently find science unattractive by focusing on themes of personal interest to them. The project aims to link classroom, home and community with the aid of software running on both pupils' mobile and desktop computers. 'Scripted inquiry learning' will help them to understand themselves and the world in which they live, through a scientific process of gathering and assessing evidence, conducting experiments and engaging in informed debate.

The technology will guide pupils through dynamic projects – which can change depending on the profile and input of each individual taking part – monitored and supported by the teacher. This will allow the technology to stretch high achieving learners as well as providing additional learning support where required.

The activities will be based around topic themes of relevance to Key Stage 3 (Myself, My Environment, My Community) that engage young learners in investigating their world, their immediate environment and their wider surroundings. These topics are key elements of the new 21st century science curriculum that requires children to reason about the natural sciences as a complex system and to explore how people relate to the physical world.

This funding was obtained through an initiative called 'Technology Enhanced Learning' which forms part of the national Teaching and Learning Research Programme.

Members of the project team will work with a panel of teachers and curators to develop specific scripts related to the topic themes. These will guide the learner in making links across different activities – for example reading, data collection and discussion – different technologies, and different settings in which to learn, for example home, the classroom and on school field trips.

Editor’s Notes

The Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology at the Open University is one of the largest educational research units in the UK.

One of the key aims of the centre is to conduct interdisciplinary research on technology enhanced learning.

The project will be led by Professor Eileen Scanlon, who directs the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology and Professor Mike Sharples who directs the Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI) at the University of Nottingham.

Co-investigators at The Open University are Professor Gráinne Conole and Dr Ann Jones in the Institute of Educational Technology, Professor Karen Littleton in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies and Dr Paul Mulholland in the Knowledge Media Institute.

Other partners include Icknield High School, Luton and the City Discovery Centre and Gulliver’s Eco -Park both based in Milton Keynes.

The City Discovery Centre informs and educates visitors about urban geography and new city planning. Eco-Park is a purpose built visitor centre focussing on education topics such as the environment, sustainability and healthy eating.

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