e-Labs explore the potential of using the Internet and distributed computing in high school classes and provide an opportunity for students to:
- Organize and conduct authentic research.
- Experience the environment of scientific collaborations.
- Possibly to make real contributions to a burgeoning scientific field.
From start to finish e-Labs are student-led, teacher-guided projects. Students need only a web-browser to access distributed computing techniques employed by professional researchers. A Project Map with milestones allows students to set the research plan rather than follow a step-by-step process common in other online projects. Most importantly e-Labs build the learning experience around the students' own questions and let them use the very tools that scientists use.
e-Labs differ from other collaborative education environments because they build on the power of distributed computing and the Virtual Data System to add exciting education components not available with other models. Students contribute to and access shared data, most derived from professional research databases. They use common analysis tools, store their work and use metadata to discover, replicate and confirm the research of others. This is where real scientific collaboration begins. Using online tools, students correspond with other research groups, post comments and questions, prepare summary reports, and in general participate in the part of scientific research that is often left out of classroom experiments.
Teaching tools such as student and teacher logbooks, pre- and post-tests and an assessment rubic aligned with learner outcomes help teachers guide student work. Constraints on interface designs and administrative tools such as registration databases give teachers the "one-stop-shopping" they seek for multiple e-Labs. Teaching and administrative tools also allow us to track usage and assess the impact on student learning.