Many of the science courses taught at the College have curricula altered by the unique environment of the College. Health science includes the study of diseases that are uncommon elsewhere such as leprosy and tuberculosis, Ecology focuses on the ecosytems of a rainy tropical volcanic high island, Environmental Studies on the special problems of living on a small island, Botany pays particular attention to the unique plant life of the FSM, Weather and Climate focuses on the weather and climate of the oceanic tropics, and the marine science courses all have a local content focus. The development of customized support software will be necessary as an adjunct to or in lieu of commercial software packages.
During the planning stages of the Title III application, the math/science planners discussed using Visual Basic to build custom programs. This would have required instructors to work through a programmer to implement support software in a given course. The subsequent departure of the programmer at the end of the development funding period would leave a software package that would likely not grow or change.
Recent developments in the area of intranets opens up the possibility of instructor driven software development using web page authoring software. Such software does not necessarily require a knowledge of computer programming to modify, extend, or expand. The programmer would be involved in setting up the initial framework, but the content could be created by faculty using already known software such as Microsoft Word. Building course support modules is also facilitated by using intranet technologies. Intranet technologies bring interactivity through email, news, and chat facilities through existing software packages. Both content and academic support can be built within an intranet framework.
Obvious initial candidates for custom development would be the aforementioned health, ecology, environmental, and botany courses.
The structure of the content would be put together by the Title III Math Specialist. The physical infrastructure is being put into place by the creation of an Intranet in the math/science computer laboratory that will be connected to the Internet. The software infrastructure is also being put into place with the use of Windows NT 4.0 Server software, Internet Information Server, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0.
To make the material relevant to the course, interesting to the students, and to keep clear of copyright issues, content should be locally generated. The content would be assembled by faculty members with training and assistance from the Title III math specialist. Content would be informational in nature, with the result being an organized collection of web pages of information pertinent to a particular science course. Content could also be gathered from the other islands in the FSM.
In courses such as botany and ichthyology the quantity of digitized photographic material might demand the use of writable CD-ROM storage technologies. One advantage, however, of web materials is that images are stored in highly compressed formats.
Students could also contribute to content through the production of individual or group projects done for a class. Students in a science course could put together a research project and publish it onto the Internet. The knowledge that their work would be accessed and read not just by their instructor but by the broader world would create an external motivation to do good job. Realizing that their work would have wider scrutiny, the students would be more likely to internalize a goal of high quality in their work. The reason why their research would need to be accurate and well-presented would be intrinsically evident. The reason "why grammar and spelling count in a science class" would be obvious. The result would be cross-curricular benefits to the students.
Another potential benefit might be the generation of interest in and excitement in doing science. Students often spend years learning science without ever doing science. This is, unfortunately, especially true here in Micronesia. The research projects would involve students in doing science. Students might be involved in the collection and photographing of flora and fauna for biological science classes, studying ecosystem interactions, or research environmental topics.
Content based materials would likely be the on-line prior to academic support modules as they would not depend on the campus intranet being in place nor on students having access to e-mail accounts and other ingredients necessary to the academic support modules.
Academic support would benefit from a campus intranet and ease of student access to computing equipment. Academic support could include web published course syllabi, schedules, announcements, on-line test materials, e-mail, and news board. Some of this material, such as syllabi and schedules, could be produced by instructors using traditional tools such as Microsoft Word with the Internet Assistant module for creating basic HTML files. Other material, such as web based testing, would require the creation of software and templates by the Title III Math Specialist using course software construction tools.
Microsoft Word with the Internet Assistant could be used for basic text entry, text could also be entered into a intranet page creation tool using Microsoft FrontPage directly.
Sketches, drawings, privately held photographic images, and other flat content can be entered using a scanner. Accurate reproduction of scientific images requires the use of a 600 dpi 30 bit scanner such as the Hewlett Packard ScanJet 4c. The ScanJet 4c comes bundled with basic image enhancement/modification and optical character recognition software. Images generated on the computer can be created using drawing software. Drawing software will also allow the editing and modification of scanned images.
Three dimensional images can be collected using digital photography. Such images could include the medical appearance of common health disorders on the island, environmentally relevant images, photos of the flora and fauna of the island for use in botany, zoology, and biology courses. Digital cameras include the basic software for image manipulation and editing. The reproduction of accurate imagery and colors will require the purchase of Adobe Photoshop 4.0. Photoshop will also permit image enhancement to bring out scientifically relevant features in photographed material. This package is also necessary to analyze the infra-red aerial images the FSM has been making of the islands of the FSM, material that could be incorporated into course in the future.
Microsoft FrontPage 97 would be used for those interested in tackling a more capable design tool. FrontPage 97 is designed for integrated publishing to Internet Information Server, the web server planned for use in the math/science laboratory.
Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 is already installed on the computers in the math/science laboratory.
Academic support will require the acquisition of either Macromedia's Authorware or Symmetrix Toolbook II courseware construction software. Toolbook II began life as a PC based version of Apple's HyperCard. Both packages can publish the HTML pages used by an intranet.
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Title III documentation notes that "In the FSM, science is often not perceived as a necessary basis for informed decision making. Furthermore, students do not perceive science as a field in which they can work." Utilizing student based projects to bring material into MicronescienceNet will work towards meeting these two need areas.
In doing research in courses such as Ecology and Environmental science, the students will generate the information that becomes the useful basis for informed decision making. Discussions will naturally arise that will require a knowledge of the science involved in order to come to an appropriate resolution.
Dana Lee Ling
Title III Math/Science Software Specialist
25 March 1997