We were fortunate enough to catch up with Dr. Kathy Perkins, Director of our other Overall Winner for 2014, PhET Simulations from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
With over 100 million uses per year in over 80 languages, the PhET Interactive Simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder is engaging and educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, worldwide. Since being founded by Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman in 2002, the PhET team has developed a collection of 130+ openly-licensed simulations that are transforming K-16 STEM teaching and learning (https://phet.colorado.edu). Each PhET simulation creates an animated, interactive, game-like environment in which students learn through exploration and discovery, build connections between STEM topics and the real world, and access the models used by STEM experts. These simulations are designed to be highly flexible tools that can be used by teachers in many ways – from lecture demos, to labs, to homework – and across levels from grade school through college.
In 2014, PhET Interactive Simulations and our Director, Dr. Kathy Perkins, were excited to learn about the inaugural Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education conference and competition. The combination of the competition and the conference brought together a group of innovative leaders from all over the world, who were passionate about rethinking and improving learning in higher education. We greatly valued the opportunity to learn from the diverse projects and approaches represented, to be inspired by the forward-thinking messages of the keynote speeches, and to build new connections with our peers around the world. We were greatly honored when the judges for Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education recognized PhET’s impact on student learning with the Overall Award. The PhET team has continued to lead and innovate – with new efforts to advance the interoperability of simulations, accessibility for students with disabilities, and compatibility across diverse devices.
In 2016, the PhET team launched a new product line, PhET-iO simulations (https://phet-io.colorado.edu) – PhET simulations enhanced with powerful interoperability features that enable education solution providers from across the sector to easily and quickly transform their STEM products into more engaging and interactive learning experiences. By leveraging PhET-iO’s customization capabilities, versatile API, and multiple backend data streams, partners can flexibly configure and fully integrate PhET simulations into an array of product types – from virtual labs to adaptive tutorials, from e-textbooks to next-generation assessments – and then capture data on student interaction to assess student achievement, power personalized or adaptive-learning engines, or provide feedback to teachers and learners. With PhET-iO, the PhET team opens up a wealth of new opportunities for STEM products. Now, you can not only measure what students answer, but the process they use to come to their answer!
To ensure that all students can experience the PhET simulations, the PhET Team – with investments from the US National Science Foundation and University of Colorado Boulder – is pioneering new technical and pedagogical approaches for making the highly interactive environment of a PhET simulation accessible to students with disabilities. Collaborating with leaders in the field of inclusive design, the team has made significant progress and is establishing new standards for how keyboard navigation, descriptive text, and sonification can be combined to enable non-visual learners to truly experience the inquiry process of science (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/accessibility).
Finally, responding to the changing landscape of learning technology, PhET recently launched a new iPad app. The PhET iPad app will reach parents and bring these engaging STEM learning tools into the home, as well as providing another access option for teachers in the classroom. From mastering multiplication, to exploring energy, the PhET app offers something to engage every learner. Whether at home, on the road, or anywhere, the PhET app is now available in the Apple App Store (https://appsto.re/us/VBwMdb.i), with translations available in the coming months.