Digital Libraries in the Classroom

Contributed by:

Elliot Soloway
UMDL Education Area Project Director
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
College of Engineering
School of Education
University of Michigan

D-Lib Magazine, March 1996

ISSN 1082-9873

The National Research Council has just come out with new standards for science education; their recommendations resonate with those recently put forth by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Project 2061). Simply put, the emphasis in science classrooms needs to be on inquiry, rather than on didactic instruction and memorization; rather than being exposed to a broad range of content materials, students need to pursue a few science topics in depth.

Realizing these new standards will be quite a challenge. Technology can and should play a key role: if we are asking students and teachers to engage in new learning and instructional activities, we need to equip them with a new set of tools. For example, classrooms are information-poor environments; typically 30 copies of the same textbook is augmented by a small collection of print materials. Moreover, while the Internet is touted as providing important information resources, searching the Internet now is like going to a physical library where all the shelves are marked "miscellaneous." But, the still evolving concept of a digital library may well be the missing piece, bringing networked collections of digital resources (e.g., primary sources, current information, multimedia formats) together within a coherent and accessible framework. Still further, unlike their physical cousins, digital libraries afford students the highly motivating opportunity to publish their findings for all to review.

Under funding from the NSF/ARPA/NASA Digital Library Initiative, we at the University of Michigan in collaboration with publishers such as Elsevier, McGraw-Hill, are exploring the range of pedagogical, curricular, assessment, and professional development issues involved in integrating a digital library (University of Michigan's Digital Library, the UMDL; into middle and high school science classrooms. Employing on-line curriculum materials and a learner-centered tailored interface, we are working to support students collaborating with each other to investigate their own "driving questions." For example, rather than having a teacher lecture to their class on "ozone," students get on-line, investigate a question such as "should I wear sunscreen?" and produce an artifact that reflects that investigation -- and the underlying science content. The on-line resources play a key role in the inquiry process: the immediacy of finding relevant, multimedia resources make for a more engaging activity; we are seeing an intensity and involvement of the students that is too often missing in the more traditional didactic-style classrooms.

For a first hand glimpse of our on-line materials, visit In a subsequent issue of D-Lib Magazine, we will provide a in-depth account of our experiences using the UMDL in middle and high school science classrooms.

Copyright © 1996 Elliot Soloway

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