This research project, based at the University of Limerick, is looking at the potential application of a Virtual Laboratory for Senior Cycle Chemistry to the Irish context (titled VCLIPPS) by building on and extending software originally developed at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), Pittsburgh.
VCLIPPS is a unique piece of software in that it addresses many of the infrastructural and organisational problems of practical work facing Irish science teachers in terms of safety, resources and time. In meeting these issues, VCLIPPS allows students to move beyond a ‘recipe’ type approach to practical work towards an approach that allows more critical engagement in the process of experimental design. VCLIPPS also has the potential infrastructure to support the authentic electronic assessment of problem solving and practical work at state exam level, hence allowing for greater alignment of intended curriculum outcomes to what students actually learn. This new form of assessment would facilitate enquiry-based approaches to the teaching and learning of science in post-primary schools; approaches that have been shown to motivate greater student engagement and interest in science. These approaches also mirror more closely the approach of practising scientists. It is important to note that VCLIPPS is intended to support, complement and add to the effectiveness of practical work, not replace it.
We are currently working alongside the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in exploring the potential of VCLIPPS as one possible option in the assessment of practical work in science. Other feedback on VCLIPPS has been collected from students, teacher educators, the State Exams Commission (SEC), the Inspectorate and the Second-Level Support Service (SLSS) and this feedback will aid in educational software that is uniquely tailored to the Irish curriculum.
The original software can be downloaded free or used from online athttp://www.chemcollective.org/applets/vlab.php. Within the online homework there is a Limerick folder containing problems specifically relevant to the Irish Chemistry syllabus. For further details or to offer feedback please contact dermot.donnelly@.ul.ie. Any input or involvement is welcome and appreciated in shaping the findings of the project.
Dermot Donnelly, Dr. John O’Reilly and Dr. Oliver McGarr, Department of Education and Professional Studies, University of Limerick.