Drill-and-practice software, tutorials, simulations, instructional games and problem-solving activities: these are just some of the types of instructional software that you might consider integrating into your classroom. Making the right choice from this list can be a daunting task, particularly if you’re just now starting to explore the benefits of various educational technologies. This post is designed to introduce you to these five types of computer-based learning activities and to highlight their relative advantages over more traditional approaches. Specific examples and applications will be centered around high school chemistry.
Drill-and-practice activities provide students opportunities to test their current level of mastery or understanding without significant amounts of teacher input or preparation. They are effective follow-ups to instruction that are usually conducted individually, eliminating students’ fears of feeling embarrassed over incorrect answers. Because they provide instant feedback to students and teachers, appropriate instructional choices can be made by instructors in a timely manner. Chemistry students can practice naming compounds here, or even create their own flashcards at cram.com. Many more drill-and-practice activities can be found at chemistry-drills.com.
Unlike drill-and-practice software, tutorials provide comprehensive learning experiences, walking students through all stages of learning about particular topic or skill. Many online courses are organized into tutorials in which articles, instructional videos, drills, simulations and other activities provide students with all of the tools necessary to master the particular topic, process or skill. Because most tutorials engage students individually, they allow students to progress at their own pace. Instant feedback and individualized learning experiences are also relative advantages of tutorials. Washington University’s Chemistry Tutorial website is a useful resource, as is tutorial section of chemcollective.org.
Websites and software that provide high quality simulations are a favorite among science teachers for good reason: rather than the teacher telling students how the natural world works, students draw their own conclusions through “experimenting.” Students not only find simulations highly engaging, they have the opportunity to test and re-test at will, generating much more data than they would conducting a lab in the physical world. With simulations, no lab is too dangerous or too expensive: anything is possible. The University of Colorado’s interactive simulations are top-notch, as are the virtual labs found at chemcollective.org.
Students not only find instructional games highly engaging, integrating them into the learning environment may also lead to greater retention of information (Roblyer & Doering, p. 96). While instructional games often incorporate many of the same features as drill-and-practice software and simulations, they are classified separately as games so as not to confuse or mislead students. The opportunity to play an instructional games as a reward can also serve as an effective motivational tool for teachers. At chemgametutor.com, students learn about atomic theory, chemical bonding, acids and bases and other topics in a game-based environment. Sheppard Software offers free games designed to teach students about the periodic table.
Problem-solving activities are designed to teach students problem-solving skills. In chemistry, instructional videos are an excellent way to show students the common methods and techniques for solving problems surrounding stoichiometry, dimensional analysis, chemical kinetics, equilibrium and a host of other topics. The advantages of using instructional videos over direct instruction are rooted in the fact that students can pause, rewind and rewatch videos as needed. Many problem-solving activities and videos incorporate strong visual elements that most in-person instruction lacks, fostering deeper understanding, particularly among highly visual learners. Khan Academy offers an excellent series of instructional videos focusing on the problem-solving skills needed for success in high school chemistry courses, and Purdue University’s “How Do I Solve It?” website focuses heavy on the process of solving chemistry-specific problems.
Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.