January 29, 2001
Web models help do
Justice in science class
Editors note: This column
is the first in a three-part series that will explore
ways information technology tools are being integrated into academic
classrooms and research at Emory.
Donna Price is coordinator for ITD communications.
In a recent survey of members, Educause Quarterly reported that faculty development, support and training in information technology ranked as one of the top two issues members felt were strategically important for their institutions success.
Increasing numbers of faculty are employing interactive conferences and
websites to publish course information and syllabi. Others are migrating
entire courses into web course-management software and rethinking traditional
Some faculty are early adopters of technology-enhanced teaching methodologies.
One of those is Joseph Justice, Winship Distinguished Research Professor
and chair of chemistry. One of Justices current projects is teaching
the freshman seminar, Chemistry of Drugs and the Brain.
Justice had considered offering the course to seniors, but since there
were very few freshman seminars in science, he decided to shape it for
first-year students and at the same time experiment with innovative pedagogy.
I wanted to see what it was like to use the web to teach a course,
Justice said. To know what the advantages and limitations are.
His goal was to get the students excited about the science and to teach
the background material in a way that might motivate them to study it
in more detail. But Justice faced two major challenges: conveying the
advanced biochemical processes to freshmen who may or may not have strong
science backgrounds, and finding the time to develop the coursenot
just using the latest multimedia applications, but using them in ways
that would emphasize student learning.
Faculty dont have the time to be constantly learning new
or complex technology, he said. But web software has evolved
that doesnt require knowledge of HTML or the ability to write code.
All you want to do is deal with the content and manipulate it as easily
Two years ago, Justice found Emorys own Culpepper Program especially
helpful. Now called Emory College Online, the program brought a small
group of faculty into Emorys Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT),
where they learned to develop the framework for course websites.
Justice learned to develope a web index and pull together images; these
included sophisticated animations of molecular processes which he learned
to create that summer. Other three-dimensional animations of neurochemical
brain functions were incorporated into his curriculum by linking to the
Multimedia Neuroscience Education Project, Synaptic Transmission:
A Four-Step Process, at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.
Funded by the National Science Foundation in 1998 and led by Betty Zimmerberg,
chair of neuroscience and professor of psychology at Williams, the project
is an example of the burgeoning wealth of science resources being shared
publicly via the Internet.
These represent reference materials [in which] enormous man-hours
have already been invested, Justice said of the molecular models
available. All you have to do is link to them. This expands the
range of resources available to students, as well as offers extended opportunities
to review the materials.
Because the animations can take time to download, he worked with ECIT
to make his own CD-ROM to speed up class presentations; outside the classroom,
students link to the website to view the material.
Justice found that using multimedia technologies for visualizing figures
and showing actions over time is a powerful tool for teaching biochemical
This is a graduate textbook were using for the course,
he said. The challenge has been to pare down the material, yet still
convey the important concepts. From his experience so far with the
online course, he believes its students are better able to conceptualize
the material and understand concepts that otherwise would be not be accessible.