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From The Online Science Educator
By Linda and Peter Jeschofnig, Co-Founders of Hands-On Labs
How can instructors help struggling students who need tutoring and more assistance than the course time allows? For students willing to put in the extra time and energy to genuinely grasp difficult concepts, there are many new websites that can effectively serve in a self-guided tutoring role. These sites provide students with visual and interactive aids that may drive their understanding better than traditional textual explanations.  They also provide instructors with easy access to a history of the students’ activities and progress.
Most people think of the Khan Academy as just a collection of videos on various educational topics. However, it and similar tutorial sites like instaGrok have expanded into much larger interactive platforms that provide students with active learning and assessment tools and instructors with evaluation and tracking tools. These sites span areas of interest from elementary to college levels and cover the majority of academic topics, including the sciences. Plus, they are free!
They are completely customizable, keeping  track of what is being learned and how much time is being spent on each topic. It is simple for teachers and coaches to quickly view their students’ data and get performance summaries to see where and if more help is needed. This tool can also guide the scheduling of content reviews to ensure more productive learning.
When students complete these sites’ online exercises, the question “Are they learning or cheating?” can be affirmatively answered “Learning!”
instaGrok displays an interactive web-like map with each web point representing a different concept. When a new concept’s webpoint is clicked, the web expands to related concepts, continually updating and displaying a list of key facts, images, a glossary, plus related websites, books, and videos. Graphs are kept of the student’s search history and the concepts that have been successfully covered. Students can even take notes and save key concepts in their site journal.
Khan Academy is a great learning resource for teaching STEM topics. For math, it quizzes everything from simple calculations to calculus, letting the students check their answers as they go, get helpful hints if a reminder is needed, or watch engaging tutorial videos. The tutorial videos have question-and-answer forums that help students understand the concepts even further. Test preparation for SATs and other exams are offered as well.
For the sciences, all disciplines from Biology and Astronomy to Organic Chemistry and Physics are covered and thoroughly addressed. In a unique selection of videos called “LeBron Asks,” NBA player LeBron James asks science questions related to certain aspects of basketball. One video addresses Newton’s third law and explains how equal and opposite force allows LeBron to make a basket. Another video explains the probability of LeBron making 10 consecutive free throws.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also has a section of fun and informative videos that help students realize how exciting science can be. These include some exceptionally “cool” topics such as flying robots and how to make clean water.
Another way students can more thoroughly explore their online course topics is by simultaneously participating in all or parts of free MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course. The three major MOOC providers are edXCoursera and Udacity.
MIT and Harvard University partnered with edX to create not-for-profit, online-learning experiences in a variety of courses. Along with giving students an amazing free opportunity to learn from America’s most prestigious educators, “the institutions use edX to research how students learn and how technology can transform learning.”
Coursera also partners with top universities to offer free online courses to anyone who wants to learn. A key factor in the Coursera system design “is the extensive use of interactive exercises, which are critical for student engagement and learning.”
Udacity is another free online school whose “mission is to bring accessible, engaging, and effective higher education to the world.” Udacity also assists students in finding jobs and internships through their Career Placement Program with employers interested in finding employees who have gained specific skills and knowledge through Udacity’s courses.
These recently available and expanding resources provide educators with more ways to enrich and expand self-directed student’ learning courses as well as offer effective tutorial assistance and encouragement to struggling students.
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