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January 29, 2001

Web models help do
Justice in science class

Editor’s 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 institution’s 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 pedagogies.

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 Justice’s 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 course—not just using the latest multimedia applications, but using them in ways that would emphasize student learning.

“Faculty don’t have the time to be constantly learning new or complex technology,” he said. “But web software has evolved that doesn’t 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 as possible.”

Two years ago, Justice found Emory’s own Culpepper Program especially helpful. Now called Emory College Online, the program brought a small group of faculty into Emory’s 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 processes.

“This is a graduate textbook we’re 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.



Back to Emory Report Jan. 29, 2001