sealPurdue News

April 1999

BioScope: Fun, safe, state-of-the-art Internet learning

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Learning biology with a new interactive computer program called BioScope is almost as much fun for high school students as a video game.

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Purdue University researchers developed the educational tool to give high school biology students access to some of the best teaching tools available, delivered by way of the Internet. The program has one-of-a-kind safeguards and is constantly changing. Video, music and electronic sounds enhance the learning experience.

The BioScope project was developed by Purdue's Schools of Veterinary Medicine, Science and Education with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The program is being tested at West Lafayette High School and at Horace Mann High School in Gary, Ind.

"Textbooks can be boring, electronic materials are quickly outdated, but BioScope never becomes obsolete," says project director J. Paul Robinson, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Basic Medical Sciences.

That's because the CD-ROM discs that power the program are "rewritten" each time they're used. Students load the BioScope disc into their computers, enter a password and connect via the Internet to computers at Purdue. Specially written software then updates BioScope's pathways. That might mean adding new Web sites or changing the addresses of outdated ones.

Robinson says the Internet is a great place to learn, but many parents don't want their children roaming freely along the information highway. BioScope has taken measures to inhibit students from venturing into unsavory sites.

One of the Internet safeguards is a mechanism, developed just for the BioScope program, that limits the time students have to access certain sites. This helps keep students on task and discourages unlimited roaming of the Web. Another device allows teachers to monitor and control the Internet access of their students. The researchers also have developed a certification seal that is displayed on every site that is linked.

The combination of CD-ROM, Internet and Purdue computers creates a totally interactive learning environment. The BioScope program guides students but allows them to venture off in their own direction to pursue learning opportunities that interest them, Robinson says.

For example, a student can access an image of a plant cell as seen through some of the most advanced microscopes in the world. As the student drags a mouse over the various structures in the cell, text "pops up" on the screen to identify each part of the structure. Students also can hear the text spoken. From there they might change the magnification of the image, learn more about microscopes, view and rotate three-dimensional images of the structure, or view a video animation of a cell dividing.

Robinson says students love to learn from video, sound and animations. Unfortunately, downloading these materials from the Internet takes a lot of time. So for quick access, the researchers have placed most of the sights and sounds requiring the greatest computer memory right on to the BioScope discs. "We've created a way to deliver all the bells and whistles without tying up valuable computer time and space," Robinson says

Marshall Overley, a high school biology teacher in West Lafayette, is co-director of the BioScope project. He and other teachers are helping to develop the material. Overley says most high-tech teaching tools are too specific for use in high schools. "By incorporating teachers in the development, we are creating something that is very applicable for our classrooms," he says.

The BioScope Initiative also has been well received by students. "They're excited to use it. It interests them," Overley says. "And because it can be constantly changed, the students are surprised when the site they visit one day looks different the next."

Robinson says students also are encouraged to e-mail questions to Purdue scientists, propose ideas for research projects, and defend their own conclusions. "Unlike many textbooks written by professors at the end of their careers, the BioScope project is utilizing currently active research scientists to help produce materials for school kids," he says.

Robinson's inspiration for this project came from his own son's and daughter's classroom experiences. His daughter created a poster for a seventh-grade science project that hangs on his office wall. "It was difficult for her to make. She wanted to draw a cell dividing, but she couldn't find very good images of the process," he says. "I was surprised at the poor quality of the materials she had to use. My goal is to make sure that our kids have access to the best educational tools available."

Overley will present the BioScope project at the meeting of the National Science Teachers Association March 24 -28 in Boston. More information about the project is available at the BioScope's Web site.

Source: J. Paul Robinson, (765) 494-6449/494-0757;

Marshall Overley, (765) 775-1300;

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo caption:

Students at Horace Mann High School in Gary, Ind., test out BioScope, an interactive biology program being developed by Purdue. BioScope never becomes obsolete, because the CD-ROM that connects users to the Internet is constantly being rewritten thanks to software developed for the project. The students ,from left to right, are Darwin Archie, William Shakespeare and Rufus Cross. (Photo provided by BioScope Initiative)

Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Robinson.bioscope

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