Lit Review: Elementary children’s epistemological beliefs and understandings of science in the context of computer-mediated video conferencing with scientists.

Shaklee, J. M. (1998). Elementary children’s epistemological beliefs and understandings of science in the context of computer-mediated video conferencing with scientists. Unpublished Ph.D., University of Northern Colorado, Greeley.

Author: Janie Mefford Shaklee
Title of dissertation: Elementary children’s epistemological beliefs and understandings of science in the context of computer-mediated video conferencing with scientists.
Publication year: 1998
Database source/direct link: Dissertation Abstracts (in theory this link should go to full text if you are on campus at your university library)
Name of journal: n/a
My Codes: VCContentProviders

Main point of the dissertation: Students understandings of science increased based on their brief contact with scientists via 128K ISDN videoconferencing. I wouldn’t call it brief though. Looking at our current practice of one hour “field trips” with content providers, scientists, etc., this study is about a 3-4 week collaboration between teachers, students, and a remote scientist. It’s more like an extended unit of study. Not so brief in my opinion.

Methods: Data were collected with questionnaires, drawings and interviews. Eight elements of the processes of science (ask a question, plan an investigation, employ equipment, use data to construct a reasonable explanation, etc.) were used to operationalize the measurement of student understandings of science.

A pilot study was done first to test the instruments and the administration processes.

“In reality many students have little exposure to the every day work life and reasoning of scientists.” p. 12 Certainly videoconferencing is a way to brings these remote resources to the classroom experience.

The 2-4th grade students in Colorado accessed scientists in New Jersey as part of project PEARL which doesn’t seem to be in existence anymore.

Research questions were: “What is the relationship between children’s epistemological beliefs and their understandings of the processes of science” and “How does understanding of the processes of science change when children are expose to scientists doing science?”

Due to the small sample size (one classroom in a university laboratory school), the results are not generalizable to national, state, or local populations. Also the tests were used with young children for the first time and may need further validation.

p. 77 “The classroom was equipped” with the videoconferencing system, and “was viewed as the children’s habitat, or their learning context.” Look at this! Early in the research on videoconferencing in the curriculum, this study is done with the equipment installed in their native learning “habitat”. We really do need more research on their learning in the classroom vs. transporting to another location to access videoconferencing. I think we all agree from our own experience that it’s better to have access in the classroom / school environment if at all possible.

p. 79 The teachers didn’t just receive the content from the scientists, they “collaborated fully with the scientists in creating science lessons.” Can we say preparation ahead of time?! p. 80 The teachers “continued to provide normal classroom management”. Another crucial element!

The activities via videoconference included asking questions of the scientist, discussing a research question, conducting experiments together, and acting out concepts such as molecules in water, ice or air. It appears from the description that they videoconferenced on a regular basis, possibly weekly. The treatment period was four weeks and “multiple interactive and distance resources were used.” It doesn’t say how many. I would have appreciated a more specific description of what exactly went on during those weeks. (In one place it says three weeks, in another four weeks.)

Literature Review
The literature review provides an overview of the use of the National Science Education Standards and a brief history of science education and an overview of distance education, specifically a brief description of how ISDN technology works.

Interestingly, “the transmitted images are not quite so good as high-definition television. That level of quality requires optical fibers for transmission, which will not be fully available for another decade or two.” Written in 1998. It’s almost a decade later. How are we doing? Seems like we have quite a ways to go for fiber access in all schools. Cost is still a huge factor. I also wonder, what was HD TV like in 1998? I don’t think the author meant HD like we see it now.

The lit review actually has very little research related to videoconferencing. Maybe because there was very little available at the time of writing.

The literature review also covers the methods of assessing the student’s knowledge, including the Draw-a-Scientist-Test which measures students understandings about scientists.

There is also a section in the literature review about the influence of students’ epistemological beliefs on their learning.

Several different tests were used to determine a potential change in the students’ understandings of science.

Pre and post tests were given to measure students’ epistemology. A science pre test and post test was given. The children created drawings, and interviews were conducted.

Multiple linear regression was used to determine what proportion of the variance in the total science posttest scores could be explained by their total score and the children’s age.

“The quantitative results indicated the children learned about science from the processl.” p. 115. In journals, students described what they learned from the scientist. “I learned from Dr. Bob that scientists don’t jump to conclusions.” etc.

The author was interested in the “relationship between children’s epistemological beliefs and their understandings of the processes of science,” however the exploratory factor analysis revealed no pattern. So this part of the research didn’t work out, possibly due to the modification of the test for young students, and/or the small sample size.

A dependent samples t-test indicated that the children’s performance in the processes of science “increased significantly from science pretest to science posttest.” Since there was no control group however, the results should be interpreted with caution. This is interesting because the articles I’ve read that refer to this study just report that the an improvement in the students’ science instruction was associated with the videoconferencing.

Another interesting finding was that age was not related to science understanding. The students were in a multi-age classroom, grades 2-4. Their differences in understanding seemed to be more related to their educational experiences than their age. What are the implications here for science instruction?

p. 123 “using this advanced communications technology as a classroom resource is feasible within the regular curriculum”. and “the question remaining is how best to apply this medium.” Do we see it as feasible within the regular curriculum? Do our schools see that? Are we communicating well how best to apply this medium?

The study ends with some very interesting questions. Vygotsky is referenced again, as learning is social in nature and interactions between student and educator are key. “The implementation of this study involved many social interactions among the educational psychologist, the students, the teachers and the scientists. Was it pedagogically valuable?” One of the classroom teachers said that it was most valuable “when we found ourselves doing things and [achieving] understandings which would not have happened without Bob’s expertise.”


  • Why hasn’t this study been replicated on a larger scale? Maybe as I get further into my reading I will find that it has been done.
  • I still find it very interesting that VC research shows up in unlikely places. Not just educational technology research journals. This researcher was more interested in the epistemological understandings of the students, yet used videoconferencing as part of the research.

About Janine Lim

Janine Lim is an Instructional Technology Consultant at the Berrien Regional Education Service Agency in Berrien Springs, MI. Her main focus is on distance learning via videoconferencing and online learning. She also trains teachers in technology integration in the classroom and maintains the SouthwestNet Distance Learning web site. Janine is a past President of TWICE, a Michigan K12 videoconferencing organization, and maintains the TWICE website. She is also the TWICE Read Around the Planet Verification Coordinator for 2007. She also writes a regular column for the MACUL newsletter and was a member of the MACUL board of directors 2001-2003.
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One Response to Lit Review: Elementary children’s epistemological beliefs and understandings of science in the context of computer-mediated video conferencing with scientists.

  1. Mark says:

    Video live conferencing can support student collaboration across language barriers, developing social and communication skills amongst children with special educational needs.That is one of the best fastest learning solution for students related to medical and heads off to scientist.

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