The results of this study clearly showed that there were motivational effects of publishing students' work on the World Wide Web. What is less clear is if the motivational effects were due to a wider audience or the novelty of using computers to publish the students' own work on the ever increasingly popular Internet. In defense of this study, there are far too many researchers who are consistent with one another concerning the theory that the effects are due to a wider audience. In a presentation to the 1993 Southeastern Conference on English in the Two-Year College entitled Exciting Them to Excellence: Publishing Student Work, teachers Rick Dollieslager, Vic Thompson and Christine Pedersen (1993) each shared their experiences in publishing their students' work in printed newsletters. Dollieslager et al (1993) all agreed:
At last students could see a final product for all their efforts. They understood that writing was not just an exercise; it produced a tangible and valuable product. Those students whose works were published discovered a new pride in their work (p. 10). Most of all, students have a well-defined, real audience, and their awareness of the audience reveals itself in more carefully crafted writing (p. 13).
This study only begins to reveal the educational potential--and pitfalls--of research and publishing on the World Wide Web. Some unanswered questions have been exposed in this endeavor such as the connection between cooperation between students and the process of publishing their work. It is reasonable to infer that students would wish their work to be presentable with good content, spelling and grammar if it is to be read by a vast audience; however, what causes students to work cooperatively?
This was the first year that the researcher required students to have a science mentor to help guide them through their research, and it has become evident to the researcher that science mentoring is essential to the success of the student in science fair competition. However, to what degree did the mentors influence the students' level of satisfaction in their research?
Besides demonstrating the benefits of publishing students' science fair projects on the World Wide Web, this study also determined specific activities which the students liked--and disliked. Most students enjoyed searching the Internet for sources of information and images to be used for their literature review. They also enjoyed conducting their experiments, using email and creating Web pages. The least enjoyed activity was writing the literature review. Writing a good literature review is essential if a student wishes to advance to regional and state science fairs, yet the students found writing a technical literature review arduous--if not painful! The teacher of science fair students must do everything in his/her power to inspire each student to write a complete study and to write it well.
At the same time, students found using computers to be extremely frustrating when they were not set up correctly thereby impeding their progress. Any teacher who wishes to use computers for publishing--or any educational project--must be certain that there is adequate equipment, that it is working properly and that they are very familiar with all of the software which the students will be using.
At the onset of this study, a majority of the students were completely against the idea of doing science research and competing in science fair. Most of the students noted in their journals that they thought it was a waste of time and that they did not see the connection between science fair and the physics course. The reluctance to do science research and compete in science fair is peculiar to older students in high school while the researcher has experienced that most middle school students look forward to science fair. Still, this study showed that the wider audience the students' work received made their research a tangible and valuable product, and the process of producing the work changed many of their attitudes:
The more I look back, the more my attitude improves about the whole thing. The end result that was the finished project proved to be well worth the incredible amount of effort I put in.
There is a need for interested educators to become involved in sponsoring activities such as a virtual science fair. At the time of this writing, there were fewer than a handful in existence. First, teachers must be trained in the use of educational technology and they must have hardware and software available for the students to use during class and during students' free time. Educators who wish to sponsor a virtual science fair (or any competition) where students can publish their work, must advertise their competitions using the United States Mail Service as well as email. They must solicit and work cooperatively with schools and each other to pool their resources and share their expertise. This all begins by searching the Internet for educators who are doing similar projects and collaborating with them.
Thirty-two junior and senior high school students conducted independent science research for the purpose of competing in local, regional and state science fairs. These students used the Internet to search for sources and to communicate with science mentors, and to publish their completed science fair projects on the World Wide Web. The students kept journals, answered questionnaires, were observed and interviewed to determine if their awareness of a wider audience motivated them to excellence. The study 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. The study recommended that teachers build upon this research to explore the potential for cooperative interactions between students in the classroom.
The researcher pointed out that while publishing students' research may motivate them, the teacher's role to inspire his/her students is still paramount. In addition, the teacher must make him/herself familiar with the hardware and software before undertaking student publishing. Furthermore, there is a void of educators who are willing--or have the expertise--to sponsor virtual competitions in all disciplines. The experience of guiding students through the research process and giving them the tools to share the fruits of their labor is rewarding. The wider audience makes the students' work real and valuable so they will improve their work ethic:
Of course I wanted to work harder because I knew more that just my teachers were going to see [my research]. Therefore, I was far more meticulous in my work. I think that the motivation was greater because I was going to publish my work. This would be a good way to get other students in the future to work harder on the science fair. Just scare them a little by telling them that thousands of people will be watching!