Inferences from Research

Four inferences were made from the results. It was concluded that students who participated in the Virtual Science Fair exhibited more effort, engaged in a greater degree of voluntary cooperative work, spent more time on their projects, and produced projects of higher quality than students engaged in the traditional science fair.

Students Pay Careful Attention to Spelling and Grammar

Each of the students' projects was graded against a set of criteria that had been established by the researcher from over ten years of experience judging science fair projects. For each grading criteria, a student's project received a score based on a Likert scale of one to five. When looking at the mean for each grading criteria for the projects themselves (Table 1), the highest mean was 4.92 for attention to spelling and grammar. This is consistent with the literature: Willet-Smith (1993) noted in her study of the effects of publishing on students' work that “they consulted dictionaries and used one another to correct any errors in spelling or form. This type of behavior was a marked change from their normal approach to writing” (p. 19) and that “when students are writing for a larger audience of their peers, they are more careful and thoughtful in their work” (p. 23). Neal (1995) also observed in her study that “half of the students who were interviewed said that they tried harder because they knew that many people could look at their work ... [the teacher] noticed an obvious improvement in their writing when they found out that their work would be put on the Web” (p. 21).

Use of Computer Lab Facilities During the Students' Free Time

The numbers of students who used computer lab facilities during their own free time were tabulated from the first questionnaire and plotted on a histogram (Figure 4). More than two-thirds of the students reported making use of the lab during their lunches, free time and after school. Some students went as far as purchasing the Web editing software for themselves so that they could also work on their projects at home. These findings are consistent with the literature. Neal (1995) pointed out that “any teacher would love to say that [his/her] students spend extra time on work because they love doing it” (p. 12). Many students took the opportunity to comment on their use of the computer lab outside of class on the first questionnaire. One student said, “Outside of class I worked in the computer lab during free tracks and at home, weekly.” Another student reported, “At the beginning of the project I only visited the computer lab with class. However, now that I have taken an interest in developing a good project, this past week every free track I have been in the pc/MAC lab or in the library classroom.”

Cooperative Learning

One of the more interesting behaviors reported in the literature and observed by the researcher was the willingness of students to help one another on their projects--particularly while they where working in the computer lab. Data from the first questionnaire concerning giving and receiving help was tabulated and plotted on a histogram (Figure 5). Only four of the students reported that they neither gave nor received any help in the computer lab. Willet-Smith (1993) found that “the increased collaboration and cooperation among students working on [this project] likewise confirms the findings of the existing research” (p.23). It was observed that one of the students who felt particularly “computer-phobic” at the onset of her project, eventually took an interest in the more difficult software. She reported that “I spent about seventy percent (70%) of our class time helping other students figure out Pagemil [and Photoshop].”