BioQUEST Notes 2.2
BioQUEST is changing.
On August 31, 1990 BioQUEST finished a major three-year grant from the Annenberg/ CPB Project. The focus of this grant has been to develop materials that support curricular change and employ a new philosophy of biology instruction. The resulting materials, aimed principally at first- and second-year undergraduates, include computer simulations, written chapters, and new applications for professional tools (such as spreadsheets and data base management programs) as well as various noncomputer-related activities.
For the last three years BioQUEST has been developing a demonstration prototype showing how the BioQUEST philosophy, the field of biology and computers could all come together. Now BioQUEST is beginning testing, refining and fleshing out these materials to create a project suitable for distribution and use. BioQUEST is currently negotiating with Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. about publishing the BioQUEST Collection. During the 1990-1991 academic year field tests on the BioQUEST materials will be conducted. We hope to have BioQUEST material commercially available by Jan 1992. At that time BioQUEST will consist of software, manuals and additional text which discuss some new approaches to and ideas for biology education.
In addition to finishing and publishing the developed modules, BioQUEST is involved in some new projects. BioQUEST has developed a new standardized interface for many of the computer simulations. This means that many of the diverse BioQUEST modules will adopt a common look, making it easier for students to move from one simulation to another.
The Scholar's Notebook, an offshoot of the BioQUEST program, is being funded jointly by the Annenberg/CPB and Apple Computers, Inc. The Scholar's Notebook will allow a student to keep an ongoing notebook across various simulations, transfer relevant data and figures into their notes, and organize their scientific investigations.
Finally, the UW-Madison's Center for Biology Education awarded BioQUEST a grant for the development of The Genetic Counselor's Apprentice which will examine human genetics issues.
BioQUEST in the UK
BioQUEST philosophy and software were presented by Nils Peterson at a meeting of the Biology and Pre-clinical Medicine discipline group of the Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI) April 17-19 in Liverpool, England. Nils' trip and presentations were supported by generous donations from both the USA and UK divisions of Apple Computer, with additional support from the CTI-Biology group.
Higher Education Systems Compared
Higher education in the United Kingdom differs significantly from that in the US. By American standards the UK higher education system is small--enrollment in UK universities is less than the enrollment in the California state universities, while the population of the UK (60 million) is three times that of California. Consequently, competition to enter higher education is much greater than in the US.
Because British students begin specializing in secondary school, the bachelors degree in the UK is typically obtained with three years of study. Greater specialization beginning in secondary school and the infrequent examination system used in British universities allows university students to do more and longer research projects as part of their course of study.
Campus computing is funded through a central government agency, the Computer Board. This board guides planning for both the network and some campus computing resources. The central funding and smaller size of the UK system of higher education has led to a very advanced nationwide network. An article by Nigel Gardner describing the status of educational computing in the UK will be appearing in Academic Computing later this spring.
Four years ago the Computer Board created and funded the Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI). Initially the CTI made grants to individual campuses to implement computer-based instruction. Over £20 million ($30M) distributed among 139 grants, all 48 universities, and across all major disciplines were made during the first three years of the CTI. A wide range of computer applications in education were explored through this project.
Educational software is developed by UK faculty much in the same way as in the U.S. It is done usually without the support of a professional programming team and without recognition for their efforts by their institutions. However, unlike the US experience, the UK has discipline-wide organi-zations devoted to collecting, evaluating, and dissemin-ating educational software.
Now, in the CTI's second phase, the focus has changed to supporting academic exchange of and about software through discipline specific clearing-houses. (A report on the CTI project is available from Jonathan Darby, the CTI Support Service Director.)
Status of Educational Computing Developments
In his introductory remarks at the conference, Jonathan Darby, outlined a history of educational computing in the UK, beginning with drill and practice, then tutorials, and finally simulations and tools. He said that the first two types of software were found to be educationally unappealing and that the emphasis is now on the latter type. In my observation, Darby's remarks did not completely reflect the opinions of the conference participants in that they expressed considerable interest in authoring tools and interactive videos for tutorial uses.
The Open University-an Anomaly
The Open University (OU), located in Milton Keynes, NW of London, is an anomaly in the UK system. Its 70,000 undergraduates are "distance" learners, who take courses delivered by TV, audio cassette, text, and computer. An Open University course is designed, developed and produced by a team including discipline experts, BBC producers, and other publishing and media specialists. Once designed, the course is offered without substantive change for eight years. After this time it is completely re-evaluated and redesigned.
Because OU students do not come to campus, many OU courses that use computers (most frequently engineering courses) require the students to purchase their own equipment. Since OU courses are offered without change for eight years, it is important that the computer hardware (and manu-facturer) remain viable for that period. This has led the OU to specify an IBM PC or compatible as its teaching computer. The OU is also very price sensitive, thus the 1988 computer specification is a 512K PC with one 360K floppy and a CGA monitor. In 1992 the standard expands to 640K, two 360K drives, EGA/VGA, and a mouse.
The CTI-Biology meeting was attended by approx-imately 35 faculty and a small number of students. Faculty represented many of the universities and a few of the polytechnics. Nils presented a lecture on the BioQUEST project and philosophy and three one-hour workshops using BioQUEST software. The workshops were attended by 32 people (with 6 repeats!) and the lecture was attended by over 40.
Workshop participants were introduced to the 3Ps with GCK, then encouraged to branch out and try other modules. GCK, uGCK, EVOLVE, Environmental Decision Making (Extend), SequenceIt!, IHL and Axon were all available. The BioQUEST demonstration stack was also available and will be posted in the CTI-Biology electronic bulletin board.
Possibilities for BioQUEST in the UK
BioQUEST's 3Ps philosophy resonated well with the biologists at the meeting. It seemed to fit naturally with the current teaching methods that emphasize student research projects. However, a number of faculty noted that the Macintosh computer is relatively expensive and consequently it has a smaller share of the installed base of teaching computers. There was significant discussion among the participants about the possibilities for acquiring Macs to use BioQUEST materials.
An unfortunate aspect of the current state of BioQUEST development is that none of Nils' presentation used any "generic" software, such as a spreadsheet. This made it more difficult for the audience to grasp the possibilities of implementing any aspect of the 3P's without a Macintosh. It seemed that BioQUEST would be more quickly adopted if it were clear how non-Macintosh computers could be used.
BioQUEST at the Open University
Given the unusual nature of the Open University courses, it is doubtful that existing BioQUEST software can be adopted by the OU. However, when a biology course is being redesigned, the 3Ps philosophy could be incorporated, using generic software tools or PC adaptations of BioQUEST simulations.
Current courses at the Open University do not presume that students will meet one another or work in teams. This poses a new challenge to BioQUEST's strategy of having teams of students collaborate to solve problems. One long-range possibility is for students to collaborate via an electronic network. Most likely, however, a BioQUEST-OU course would have students solving problems individually. Such a strategy will present two real challenges for the course designers: how to include persuasion (who will do all the reading and critique) and how to have realistically complex problems without frustrating students who may become stuck in a dead end while working alone. A BioQUEST-OU collaboration should offer ideas for using the 3Ps with the "distant" learner" on both sides of the Atlantic.
Nils discussed the idea of taking a leave of absence to work in the UK as the liaison between BioQUEST, CTI and university faculty in the fall of 1991. Such an exchange would have several goals. On the national level, BioQUEST would cooperate with CTI-Biology to offer workshops on BioQUEST. The workshops would fit well with the CTI-Biology mission to disseminate information about academic computing. Nils would also be available as a resource for interested campuses and faculty
implementing the 3Ps philosophy in specific courses. On the local level, Nils hopes to work with his host campus to test and adapt BioQUEST materials within specific courses offered at that campus.
Through this process it is likely that BioQUEST will gain new users and viewpoints, plus additional authors and modules. Initially, given the dominance of PC compatibles in the UK, new modules might emphasize the PC, either by using existing UK-developed simulations or by focusing on generic tools. Given BioQUEST's experience in long-distance collaborative work, it is also possible that some programming for new modules might take place in the US. In either case, the interchange offers the potential to broaden and enrich BioQUEST as a biology curriculum.
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