BioQUEST Notes 2.2 Part 5

Scholar's Notebook--A BioQUEST Offshoot

Explorers of rich software environments need record keeping and decision making support. This has been evident since the first adventure players used paper and pencil to keep treasure maps. Many educational environments such as Project Perseus, Project Jefferson, and Mathematica, as well as BioQUEST, have developed on-line record keeping materials integral to their exploratory tool.

Project BioQUEST has implemented the notepad, a simple editor which is associated with each object (petri dish, vial, etc.) in the simulated laboratory. This allows users to copy data and pictures from the simulation and annotate them with their hypotheses, insights and generalizations from within the program.

Our excitement at the potential of the notepad and our frustration at its shortcomings led us to try to create a more versatile and generic record-keeping tool which we have called the Scholar's Notebook. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Scholar's Notebook is that it is designed to be useful in any domain; it is equally applicable with a mathematics or Greek language program as it is with biology. The Scholar's Notebook knows how to display and manipulate only two kinds of data, pictures and text. It can, however, associate data of arbitrary form with these pictures and data. This data can later be retrieved by the program that created it or potentially by a different program. The notebook makes no attempt to interpret this data but only to store it and preserve its connections to other data, and to the associated text and pictures that are visible and manipulable by the user. The cooperating programs are entirely responsible for generating and transforming the data.

These combined features of domain independence and data integration allow a natural way to share data between applications in different domains as well as between different groups of people working in the same domain. Thus, for example, a program in Mendelian Genetics and another program in Population Genetics can naturally allow a student to examine data from these two radically different viewpoints. Since the notebook is a single place in which all data generated by a series of experiments is stored, it is the natural place in which to compare different views and collections of data.

Each item in the Scholar's Notebook has associated key words, some assigned automatically and some selected by the user. This allows the Notebook to be employed as a data base so that a user might, for example, collect all items identified as "hypotheses" to examine the evolution of their thinking.

The Scholar's Notebook organizes information in an outline format. This format was chosen to encourage students to look at high-level patterns in their previous experiments and in planning of future experiments by clarifying their context. We hope that this will give students the opportunity to learn to do the strategic thinking that is so important to scientific research.

Finally, the Scholar's Notebook helps the student's experience mimic that of actual scientific research. All scientists and most scholars in other domains keep a notebook or a journal. Just as original data recorded in such a notebook is fixed, data stored in the notebook by a cooperating program may be marked as indelible. Annotations created by the user are always editable.

Finally the Notebook's support for data organization and integration with text and graphics naturally supports what BioQUEST views as the last critical step in scientific practice-- persuasion of one's colleagues as to the utility and validity of one's hypothesis.

A preliminary beta version of the Scholar's Notebook has been developed. While it is not a full beta version yet, it is a good beginning. Further funding is being sought to finish development of this version and to conduct field tests.

 Back to BioQUEST Notes 2.2 Introduction