Effective Access

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Click to access Educators' Survey. Developers' Survey

Effective Access: Using Digital Resources to Enhance High School Teaching in STEM

Building on the work of the Gender and Science Digital Library (GSDL), the Effective Access project explored how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educators use (and would like to use) digital resources during lesson preparation, instruction, and professional development. The project also interviewed developers of digital resources to understand how they view the unique needs of high school STEM educators. This research is being shared with collections within the National STEM Digital Library (NSDL), with an end goal of making the collections as accessible as possible to educators trying to integrate digital resources into their classrooms.

Through surveys, focus groups, and interviews, Effective Access staff developed clear pictures of educators' use of digital resources. The project results highlight ways that developers can aid teachers in finding and integrating digital resources. Ultimately, the Effective Access project produced new, useable knowledge to guide the future development of the NSDL and its collections. The findings of this research have applicability to other disciplines beyond STEM and offer the possibility of influencing the future development of all digital libraries.

Research Results

The final research report is now available. You may download it for free or purchase a print copy that will be mailed to you.

Why is Effective Access important?

  • The number of Web-based resources and digital libraries is growing rapidly.
  • Educators have difficulty finding appropriate resources on the Internet.
  • Educators face challenges in incorporating digital resources into teaching & learning.
  • Developers of digital libraries have limited knowledge of educators' searching and integration needs.

Without "Effective Access" teaching and learning with digital resources runs the risk of being adopted solely by a small group of technology enthusiasts. With this in mind, Effective Access aimed to support educators in:

  • Realizing the vast amount of digital resources available to enhance teaching & learning.
  • Finding digital resources that address their needs, and the needs of their diverse learner populations.
  • Accessing digital resources in an effective and time efficient manner.
  • Incorporating digital resources into their work with learners.

The Effective Access team examined the following overarching questions:

  • What are STEM educators doing with digital resources, what would they like to do and what could they do?
  • What are the barriers or supports for teachers' use of digital resources?
  • What role does diversity play in the development and use of effective digital resources?
  • How can educatorsí answers to the above inform the expectations and practices of those who develop digital resources and digital libraries?

What is a Digital Library?

A digital library is a highly organized collection of electronic resources. Digital libraries share one important characteristic with search engines - they can both be accessed online. However, while search engines cover a wide range of subject areas, digital libraries are more narrowly focused around one or a specific group of disciplines. Unlike search engines, digital libraries attach content-specific and highly descriptive metadata (descriptors/keywords) to describe each item in the collection. When a user conducts a search in the digital library it is this metadata that is searched. Search engines, on the other hand, search "blindly" on an item's content and the results obtained may only indicate that a particular search terms appears somewhere in the item, and not whether the overall content of the item is relevant to the search. Therefore, searches in a digital library produce more useful results, save users' time and effort in searching, and users can access the information found instantly.

The National STEM Digital Library is an NSF-funded initiative to establish an international network of learning environments and resources for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. The NSDL, currently containing over 100 collections, is aimed at meeting the needs of students and teachers at all levels--K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and lifelong learning--for individual and collaborative use, in formal and informal settings. The goal of the National STEM Digital Library (NSDL) is to provide exemplary STEM content and tools which help users gain access to the information they need, when and where they need it.


The project would not have been possible without collaboration with our colleagues in EDC's Center for Online Professional Education and our partnership with the Merit program at the University of Michigan. Most importantly, the whole Effective Access team thanks the STEM teachers across the country who generously shared their opinions, experiences, and their time.