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How does the internet affect science education?

  1. Nov 23, 2007 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    First let me say that I couldn't decide on the best forum for this, so if any other staff members feel that this belongs elsewhere, please feel free to move it without objections.

    I have observed that because of the internet, ideas once reserved for only advanced students or graduates are easily accessible and even discussed at all levels. When I was a student, there was usually a sense of "to be continued next year" in most lectures and reading. We knew that there was more to the story but that we weren't quite ready to tackle the next level of the discussion or derivation. There was a sense that the rate at which new ideas were introduced was strictly controlled. – that we were only dealt the cards that we were ready to manage. But today a high school student with no previous exposure to physics can easily read about the most advanced concepts in detail. It seems to me that this is a fundamental change in the normal process of exposure to advanced concepts.

    Is this true, and if so, how will it effect the student, and how will it affect science in general?
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2007
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  3. Nov 23, 2007 #2


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    I think the main difference is that it's hard to know the source/quality of the information.
    If you have to search through copies of Zeitschrift für Physik or phys rev letters you had a pretty good chance of knowing it was genuine - it's much harder to spot rubbish on the net.
    But it's much easier to find information on projects from a group's web site than a cursory conference proceedings/poster paper 2 years later.

    And if I never have to smell basement stacks again I won't be too unhappy !
  4. Nov 24, 2007 #3
    The internet just makes information more readily available to everyone. In the past a student would have to go to the library to read more on a subject before it was spoon fed to him by his teachers. Today a student can simply copy & paste things into his homework while in the past he would have to hand copy to plagiarize. At least writing it forced him to read it.

    One problem is all the misinformation on net. When doing a Google search I find a lot more stuff based on science fiction than science fact. In a library they separate the fiction while on the net they don't. Even in our forum there's a large percentage of posts based on fiction. It's difficult for a student to know what is and what is not a reputable site.

    You ask "How does the internet affect science education?"
    I ask "How did television affect science education?"

    That depends on what you watched, Battlestar Gallactica or NOVA on PBS. There will always be good and bad influences in the road to understanding. It's in the individuals ability to differentiate between what is fact or fiction that really decides how any media affects their education.
  5. Nov 24, 2007 #4


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    It's not like you could not get ahead of where your class was in the old days - you just had to get the textbooks for the next higher grade, and then next...

    This is how the early geniuses of yesteryear did it.

    Now, when you are unsatisfied with the Newtonian gravity and the teacher tells you there's more to the story, you go to the internet and look it up. Maybe seven out of ten hits will probably be reliable stuff, but almost none of it will be specifically written for your level of comprehension. You'll find all ranges of sites talking about relativity, string theory, quantum gravity, plasma cosmology and what not. Making the right choice is now the key. Yonder lies many a minefield.
  6. Nov 24, 2007 #5
    In general, the Internet represents vast amounts of knowledge, 90% of which is complete trash or perpetuated falsehoods. In the hands of an unsuspecting high school pupil its effects can be devastating in the long run.

    Regarding science education in particular, I think there are many many cool videos and demonstrations that you can now see online and which are difficult to set up. This is definitely a good thing.

    Physically Incorrect
  7. Nov 25, 2007 #6
    Okay , I agree with you on the fact th.at the internet generally presents more falsehoods than truth. I still think the bulk of the population would be misinformed about science without the internet , just because we are addicted to junk knowledge which sometimes masquerades itself as scientific knowledge. And I just think the general population is not used to looking at information related to science and may missed actually science with science fiction. I think the problem that comes into play is when looking at information presented to them , people don't bother to look at citations at the bottom of the article they are looking at , and assume its credible just because the author has "Dr." besides his name.

    If the cititations come from credible sources where the authors in the cititation conducted original research related to the topic, then the article or e-book or whatever is more likely to be a credible source. I think that only increases the credibility of the Internet greatly .

    I think a lot of universities and colleges are aware of how misinformed the public is when it comes to science : I say this because I notice there have a surprisely a large number of universities that make their lecture notes on any subject taught at the university freely available to the public
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2007
  8. Nov 25, 2007 #7
    The sources of information were much more "controlled" prior to the Internet, which is both good and bad. Scientific information was usually found in encyclopedias which were often written by eminent scientists. The same can't be said about the Internet.

    Another problem is the spread of falsehoods via the internet. Wacked beliefs which were previously held by few find it easier to propagate. The higher connectivity of the net and the rapid spread of information is highly susceptible to "viruses". Have some idiotic pseudo-scientific beliefs? Just dress them up in a nice site with some impressive graphic design and set them off. Who even bothers to check if your physics Ph.D. was obtained from MIT or the college of religious studies in khazakhstan?

    And "credible sources" is a problematic phrase methinks :).

    Ahhhh ... but such are the problems of the net.

    Physically Incorrect
  9. Nov 25, 2007 #8


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    The internet is a remarkable tool which enables easy and ready access to a huge amount of information. AND that is a double-edged sword. One can obtain or provide good information or mis-information.

    Of incredible value are the numerous sites offered by universities (academia) and government institutions, e.g. NASA and various DOE labs, NIH, NIMH, and various industrial sites, as well as scientific organizations, ASME, ANS, AIAA, IEEE, Nation Academies of Science/Engineering.

    Encyclopedia Britannica and others are on-line for the cost of a subscription.

    Of course, anyone can have a website or edit Wikipedia, so reader be aware!

    As for teaching or interest in science, that may be limited to the few percent of students who have some inherent interest/curiosity and who are encouraged by parents/teachers/mentor. In my class of more than 750 students, only 20-30 did the Calculus, Physics and Chemistry at the AP level. Of those who go on to college, fewer obtain a MS and even fewer a PhD.
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