The "information literacy" I aimed to develop in the project I'm going to describe was that of the instructor in a course. The background question here is
?how to get faculty to make use of the web as a tool to augment their teaching?And the answer seems to begin with demonstrating that it's not so hard to build pages, but quickly leads on to adapting existing software and designing tools to solve fairly specific problems. Pretty quickly one gets out of one's depth, and has to seek the assistance of experts, but the resulting cooperation can produce some very interesting results.
The choice of a General Ecology course for the project I'm going to describe was a happy accident, product of a conversation with the Chairman of the Biology Department about who he thought might be interested in exploring new ways to use multimedia in teaching. He (Larry Hurd is his name) said that he'd been thinking about reorganizing his Ecology course, and I said well... how about if I sit in on the course and see if I can help out? I had the further agenda of trying to figure out how to get students to make more and better use of library resources.
Now, Ecology courses involve a lot of visual material, both slides and mathematical models. The great disadvantage to students is that a slide or an overhead is on the screen for a few minutes and then it's gone. Obviously the slides could be scanned and put on the web for later review, but the real problem is that professors who use slides a lot generally have lots of slides, which they have to sort through to prepare a lecture. Could I design and then somehow get built a management tool so that Larry could make more efficient use of his slide archive? And could that tool also create web pages, so that he wouldn't have to learn HTML in order to put his material on the web?
I imagined the management tool possessed of several stages:
With this encouragement I got together with the Director of the Media Center and we put together a proposal for a small internal grant from the Class of 1965 Endowment for Excellence in Teaching
to develop a suite of web-based multimedia tools for the purpose of instruction in Biology 245 (General Ecology) in Fall 1998; and to create both a pedagogical model and scaleable courseware applicable to other courses in the sciences and elsewhere.Since we were exploring a variety of possible tools we decided to include among the "multimedia" the creation of some Java applets to make mathematical models manipulable by students (reasoning that hands-on experience with parameters should make the models more understandable than just seeing them on overheads in class). We included funds for
So I sat in on the course, and decided to keep a running log of my participation via a web page which has links to scanned images and Larry's annotations of them, to the Java applets, to various library and internet resources I wanted to add, and to exam keys and other material and course information Larry wanted to distribute. The experiment worked tolerably well, in that Larry's interest in using the web was whetted on the stone of experience, students commented favorably on improved access to the images and other resources, and I gained a much better sense of what actually happens in lecture and field parts of the course, and what goes on (and doesn't go on...) in the undergraduate mind.
The rough-and-ready form of the image management tool needs refinement in order to be of general utility, but I can show you how it works in its outlines (because it's a UNIX cgi-bin application I can't show it live, and so I have a series of screen dumps):
The cgi-bin form allows anybody passworded to use the Image Archive
Index to access an existing archive or create a new one:
The archive called "Hurdlist 395" includes several "available presentations"
for display or editing:
If one chooses to create a new presentation, one chooses among
categories that Larry established for the images:
If one chooses to edit a presentation once images have been
selected, a screen like this appears:
(in this case Larry has added an annotation). The resulting
web page looks like this:
It may also be of some interest to see an example of a Java applet, in this case a classical model of predator-prey relationships. Here we see what happens if you change the number of lynxes or the number of hares.
In short, this project exemplifies the kind of cooperation that's often necessary in creating really useful web material, and in going beyond the basics of HTML that are easily learned. Library, Media Center, University Computing, Biology Department and Dean's Office --and students-- all contributed important pieces of the whole. There's more to do with the interface of the image management tool, many more slides that could be added to the database (as Larry has time) and scanned, and the promising start with the Java applets can be extended to include more models. Larry is enthusiastic about using the materials in next year's iteration of the course, and I am hoping to interest other faculty in adapting the basic model to their specific problems.