January 3, 1997
"If we've learned anything over past few years, it's that teachers don't have time to develop programs at a basic level," says Clark Gedney, a computer specialist in Purdue's new BioMedia Center for Instructional Design in the Department of Biological Science. "With this new tool, teachers can work at a sophisticated level to link together data and concepts to quickly develop courseware on any subject for any age level."
Perfect Match will be made available to teachers worldwide this spring by W.C. Brown Publishers. Indiana middle-school and high-school teachers participating in outreach programs through Purdue's biology and chemistry departments will receive free copies of the new software, beginning in late March.
Gedney works with faculty members and computer specialists to develop software for classroom use. The Purdue group recently received a $1.5 million grant from W.C. Brown to develop a series of commercial multimedia programs. The first program from this series, designed to help students identify bacteria, is already in use by science teachers nationwide.
"The program, called 'Identibactor Interactus,' was designed as a laboratory tool to help students identify computer simulations of 60 of the most common types of bacteria," Gedney says.
Like a game of "20 Questions," the Identibactor program allows students to use video, text, sound and photos to zero in on an unknown bacteria, including some human pathogens that would be difficult to use in an introductory microbiology laboratory.
Identibactor also served as a springboard to create the software for Perfect Match, which can be used by teachers with little or no programming experience to create multimedia lessons of their own. The program will allow teachers to develop sophisticated courseware capable of running multiple applications and linking subjects with common characteristics.
"We wanted to create a system where teachers could work at a higher level to put things together and manipulate them," Gedney says. "This program will provide teachers with resources that they ordinarily wouldn't have access to or wouldn't have time to put together."
The program allows teachers to turn off features they don't need or modify them according to their classroom needs, and it contains 70 pages of code designed to help link subjects with common characteristics or features.
"These unique features give teachers the flexibility to design lessons that range from a simple identification program, such as matching leaves to their corresponding trees, to complex uses, such as showing how a protein folds and denatures under certain conditions," Gedney says
The Perfect Match program also can be used in the classroom to "build" objects or alter experimental conditions. In building a molecule of DNA, for example, students can use the click and drag features of the program to find the right combination of base pairs. Special controls allow teachers to set the program so that only the correct combinations of base pairs will form a double helix structure.
The program has been used by a number of Indiana teachers for science laboratories at the high-school and college levels. The basic structure of the program will work equally well in any subject for any age level, Gedney says.
"I know a woman who is using the template program to develop a lesson for children 4 to 6 years old, with objects that ask 'What's bigger?' and 'What weighs more?'" Gedney says. "My wife, who teaches high-school English, is developing a program to teach students about forced metaphors."
The programs developed at Purdue are among the first "nonlinear" computer programs made available for the classroom, allowing students to simultaneously run two or more applications using multiple "windows" to view results.
For example, with Identibactor Interactus, students may use the computer to run tests on a simulated bacterial culture while concurrently viewing a chart that illustrates the possible outcomes of the tests. A pull-down menu allows students to select among more than 50 tests to analyze various characteristics of a bacteria. A color image of the test result is displayed in the main test window.
A second window allows students to review the characteristics of specific types of bacteria, using an on-line reference manual. This information can be used to evaluate the results of each test and to decide which additional tests to run in order to identify the organism.
In this manner, a student may narrow the possibilities to identify the unknown strain. An audit trail of the student's choices can be saved to a disk to be evaluated by the instructor.
The program is ideal for science and advanced-placement, undergraduate, and high-school courses, and it can be used to enhance lectures or laboratory sessions, Gedney says.
"The multiwindowing environment allows students to learn in a nonlinear fashion, which is the way most students learn," he says.
The program also increases students' opportunities to experiment in the classroom and learn basic reasoning skills, says Allan Konopka, professor of biological sciences at Purdue who worked with Gedney to develop the Identibactor program.
"Many microbiology laboratory courses use the identification of an unknown culture as an exercise to show students how different characteristics are used to distinguish bacterial species," he says. "A problem in teaching these concepts is that in a conventional laboratory, students generally identify only one unknown culture because of time or money constraints. This is insufficient for them to learn the deductive reasoning skills involved in bacterial identification."
Using either of the two new programs developed at Purdue, students may repeat experiments or vary the experimental conditions to reinforce learning, Konopka says.
Sources: Clark Gedney, (765) 494-7868; e-mail, email@example.com
Allan Konopka, (765) 494-8152; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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