What role can low-cost technology play in fostering scientific knowledge? A recent workshop at ICTP on Technology for Sustainable Development: Low-Cost Tools to Support Scientific Education aimed to find out.
Participants came from 17 developed and developing countries and represented various professions--from teacher trainers to science center coordinators to researchers. But they all had one thing in common: a passion for learning, and for sharing their new knowledge with students and teachers in their home countries.
Throughout the week, participants became students themselves. A blended programme of lectures and hands-on activities introduced them to a range of low-cost technologies that can be used to reinforce science concepts. These included a low-cost LED sun photometer (used to detect haze and water vapor levels in the atmosphere), a self-contained, pocket sized particle detector called the Cosmic Watch, and spectroscopy equipment that can be used to detect plant diseases.
"One of the main issues in science education is the lack of information about low-cost tools available to teachers and to university teachers," said workshop organizer and ICTP scientist Marco Zennaro, adding, "The recent development of low-cost technologies such as electronic boards, sensors, and 3-D printing can empower scientists and educators from developing countries to enrich their physics and engineering curricula and provide an enhanced learning experience for their students. ICTP's workshop gave them a glimpse of the many possibilities available to them."
The workshop was held in ICTP's SciFabLab, a maker's space containing the tools and equipment needed to build and assemble the low-cost devices. Throughout the week, participants could be seen studying schematics, learning soldering techniques and using their self-built devices for hands-on activities. For the first time in years, the teachers became students again, and they responded enthusiastically to the experience.
"Teachers are particularly excited to get out of the school and get this new information and new views," said participant Oxana Mishina, who teaches physics teachers. "I have seen at this workshop a lot of tools which have been promoted for different kinds of teaching. Low cost technology for the classroom brings engagement, so children or grownups who are studying in school can try new things on their own, and explore. I think that is the added value."
More details of the workshop are here.
Photos from the workshop are available on ICTP's Flickr page.