What if expensive, but important scientific instruments such as the Hubble Telescope, electron microscopes, or even remote sensing satellites were on the network, and students could queue up requests for their use? This is not a farfetched scenario.

Soloway (1994, p. 16)

The students saw an intimate view of the insect that could not have been seen through a light microscope in the classroom. They saw the raw structure of an insect and began to question that structure's use. It gave the students a basic look at a real phenomenon of nature and caused them to question what it was or for what it was used. This is a basis of the scientific method and a "hook" to catch the interest of the student.

High School Teacher (9th grade)


Learning, teaching, and research activities in K-12 classrooms are beginning to change as schools respond to current efforts to reform science, mathematics, and technology education (e.g., Linn, 1992) and as they gain Internet connectivity. An example of these changes is Bugscope,3 a new educational technology project in the World Wide Laboratory (WWL) at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Potter, 1998).

The WWL provides control of scientific imaging instruments using the Internet. The WWL approach has three advantages. First, it provides researchers at all levels from any place and at any time access to the latest scientific instruments without having to travel or invest in such hardware. Second, it provides researchers with an opportunity for collaboration and consultation with other researchers anywhere in the world, thus creating a network of distributed expertise. Third, it provides innovative opportunities for education and training (Carragher and Potter, 1998, p. 1).

Bugscope is an educational innovation of the WWL for K-12 (see Figure 1). It allows students and teachers across K-12 to study insects and other arthropods through remote access and control of an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM). Classrooms supply their insect specimens in advance. The specimens are then prepared and inserted into the microscope by the project's operations team, comprised primarily of high school and undergraduate students, who are assisted by a professional electron microscopist. Then, using a standard World Wide Web (web) browser from their classroom computers, students and teachers gain access to and remotely operate the microscope to examine their specimens. Each classroom is initially allowed a single opportunity to access the microscope from their school computers at a pre-arranged date and time. The primary goal of Bugscope is to demonstrate that relatively low cost, sustainable access to the microscope can be made available to K-12 classrooms nationwide, at a rate of 100 classrooms per year, using less than three hours of instrument time per week, and using minimal staff resources.

Figure 1. Bugscope home page.

This paper provides an overview and a formative evaluation of the project to assess its ongoing activities. The data collected is from March 1999 to February 2000, the first year of the project, during which 33 schools across the nation were selected to participate.

Relevance to the Special Interest Group on Advanced Technologies for Learning

Science laboratories have existed in the United States since the late 1870s. Linn (1997) provides social contexts of science laboratories in pre-college instruction. In one context, referred to as the partnership period, experts in different fields such as natural science, pedagogy, and technology worked together in the design of laboratory and materials. Partnership period projects focused on helping "learners become responsible for their own learning rather than presenting information to be observed" (Linn, 1997, p. 408). A partnership approach to science laboratories views students and teachers as part of a community of investigators, as established scientists (Burbules and Linn, 1991). The Bugscope project, which embraces such an approach, presents unique challenges, especially due to the role of remotely participating teachers in their classrooms across the nation. Lessons learned from these challenges will be of interest to the education research community.

This paper, then, will contribute to the Special Interest Group on Advanced Technologies for Learning on the design of new educational technologies that transform educational practice. Bugscope is an emerging educational innovation where K-12 students and teachers carry out their own scientific investigations.

  3 http://bugscope.beckman.uiuc.edu/