Visionlearning Teaching Modules: Features and Function

by Jessica E. Zimmer, Anthony Carpi, Ph.D.

When students open a traditional 600- to 800- page textbook, they quickly learn that the biggest challenge they face is finding the main concept buried within a 40-page book chapter. To address this and other shortcomings of traditional textbooks, Visionlearning began creating concise and direct teaching modules in 1998. These modules focus students on core learning concepts while providing supplementary readings as a series of links. Students using these materials have described them as "more to the point, yet more detailed and more helpful than a textbook. The lessons contain all of the information you need, and the links are nice to give more detail."

Our current module design has been extensively tested and reviewed by students and teachers. In fact, students using these materials have scored higher on quizzes than students using a traditional textbook (Carpi & Mikhailova, 2003). Every teaching module at Visionlearning has a suite of consistent features to make learning easier.

On the left side of the module is a core, text-based lesson. These lessons are written by professional educators who ensure that they are accurate and concise to avoid overloading students with extraneous information. As a special benefit to bilingual students, every lesson is available in Spanish as well as English. Glossary terms in the lesson are hyperlinked to a pop-up glossary to allow easy access to unfamiliar definitions. Because interaction helps to focus students' attention, most of our lessons contain interactive learning tools embedded within the body of the lesson. For example, the link below loads an interactive tool included with our plate tectonics module.

In addition to the core lesson material, each Visionlearning module contains a standard set of carefully reviewed external hyperlinks to provide complimentary learning material. These resources serve to add historical and societal perspectives. The categories of links used on our modules have been developed after careful consideration of the National Science Education Standards and after extensive discussion with students and teachers regarding the type of content that is most helpful for learning science. All of our hyperlinks are precisely described and appear in standard right-hand and bottom navigation bars. The categories of hyperlinks you will see on our modules include:

On the right navigation bar:

  • News & Event links which contain current news articles and discoveries to show how scientific concepts are applied in real life;
  • Experiment! links which incorporate material that permits user interaction and discovery, such as animations and movies;
  • Questions? links which provide access to communication resources such as a student discussion board and "Ask-a-Scientist" pages;
  • Biography links which add scientific history by integrating the life stories of key scientific figures into the lessons;
  • Classics links which provide historical content such as full-text articles, speeches, recordings or pictures of ground-breaking scientific advances (optional on some modules);
  • Research links which provide current research articles and data to help convey the process of scientific discovery to students (optional on some modules); and
  • Quotations that help ground the lessons in real-life thoughts and statements.

On the bottom navigation bar:

  • A Further Exploration section provides links to complementary lessons on the World Wide Web that allow a student or instructor to explore a subject in more detail; and
  • A Resources section provides material such as interactive practice tests, instructor overheads for class presentations, scientific calculators and more.

In this way, each module provides a wealth of easily understood resources for students and teachers. The core lesson provides a concise review of a scientific principle and the module links show that scientific research is a human pursuit. Visionlearning teaching modules contain all of the important components needed to teach students about science in our society: the history, methods, practical uses and values of scientific understanding.

Visionlearning modules can be used in a variety of ways. Instructors can require any combination of the core lesson and supplementary links as readings. They can use a module for classroom lecture, assigned reading or supplementary material. In our MyClassroom system, instructors can add comments and notes directly to the modules for their students (see our Instructor MyClassroom Help page).

Visionlearning is specifically designed to foster interdisciplinary teaching. Any of our modules can be grouped together in any order in our unique MyClassroom system. In this way, our resources conform to your objectives; we do not force you to adapt your curriculum to the subjects covered in a textbook.

Visionlearning's modules are located in Our Library and can be searched by subject or by level. Many concepts are covered in multiple modules that are tiered. Higher-level modules follow lower-level modules. You can use lower level modules as a foundation for higher ones. Alternatively, you can give your class advanced modules first, and provide links to basic modules as background.

The multiple features and proven success of the Visionlearning teaching modules have earned it support from the National Science Foundation, and Visionlearning is widely cited as an exemplary teaching resource by the National Science Teachers Association SciLinks service. We hope you find these resources helpful and welcome any comments about our system. Happy Learning!

Carpi, A., Mikhailova, Y. (2003) “The Visionlearning Project: Evaluating the Design and Effectiveness of Interdisciplinary Science Web Content,” J. College Science Teaching, Sept./Oct. 2003.

Jessica E. Zimmer, Anthony Carpi, Ph.D. “Visionlearning Teaching Modules” Visionlearning Vol. HELP-1 (2), 2003.