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While the Web provides a vast resource of declarative information (some of it multimedia), far less common are Web sites where instructors can obtain effective inquiry-based tools for teaching science.
The Virtual Courseware Project at California State University, Los Angeles addresses this need through the development and implementation of interactive, web-based simulation activities that emphasize the scientific methods of inquiry: making observations, formulating hypotheses, designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and arriving at conclusions based on these analyses.
In June of 1996 the release of Virtual Earthquake was met with similar success with over 1.5 million certificates of completion issued to date.
It was clear there was a large demand for inquiry-based science education activities and that the Web was an effective means of dissemination.
(For an overview of Ne XT and additional references, go to XT.) Over the next several years California State University at Los Angeles established a computer classroom of 20 Ne XT workstations and developed a variety of Ne XTSTEP applications for use in science classes.
These activities were supported by three major grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) with matching funds from the California State University (CSU).
The following section summarizes the design principles that have developed from nearly twenty years of experience in the creation of educational software.
This is followed by a description of the most recently developed Virtual Courseware activity that exhibits these design principles. has its beginning in 1988 when Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced his groundbreaking Ne XT computers for higher education.
As the technical capabilities of the Web browsers have evolved, so have the Virtual Courseware Project methods and applications.These applications were disseminated freely over the web and were used by most institutions of higher education with significant Ne XT computer installations.In the early 1990s the emergence of the World-Wide-Web provided a new opportunity for the use and dissemination of instructional technology.By augmenting traditional instruction with simulations, science educators provide a more engaging learning experience that emphasizes science as a process rather than a collection of knowledge to be assimilated (Linn, Davis, and Bell, 2004).The creation of effective inquiry-based learning objects requires careful thought and planning (Edelson, Gordin, and Pea, 1999).