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bullet  Using BioDiversity on CD-ROM

Warwick IT-based Teaching Innovations (WITTI) Ref: 1
Kevin Moffat, Biological Sciences

We have previously given a thirty lecture course to first year undergraduates on animal biology. It has often been noted that our students excel at the minutiae of biology, molecular biology, microbiology, virology etc. They are however often lacking in the major areas of biology such as “the origin of life”, “evolutionary links in the animal kingdom”, “human origins”. Such subjects of course are critical to our understanding of disease interactions and for exploiting biotechnological and medical resources.

As a first step lectures have been cut to twenty. These give a background to the science and methods of zoology, and are complemented by a set of special topics which have been favourably received by students in the past. To fill in the enormous gap of material we have introduced the use of the TLTP Biodiversity consortium CD-ROM (served across the Biological Sciences network) and a compilation of internet sites. Students are able to use these as a resource to back up the lectures and in addition are using them as a base source for research to produce a small group poster presentation. We have over 80 students in the class and a small network of twenty PC machines. They have timetable slots where students work in small groups and the use of the software is assisted, but mostly they will be responsible themselves for accessing the material. I have thus been able to decrease my lectures from 14 to 4 on this course, by the use a limited amount of IT technology, and in addition have introduced an element of group communication and group self assessment into the course. Reference: BioDiversity TLTP Courseware Consortium

bullet Introduction of computer conferencing to the Institute of Education

Warwick IT-based Teaching Innovations (WITTI) Ref: 2
Michelle Selinger, Lecturer in IT Education


After extensive consultation, I am planning to develop the range of teaching opportunities first with students on the secondary postgraduate certificate in education course (PGCE) at the Institute of Education, and then to possibly extend this to primary PGCE students, CPD courses and to part time higher degree students. PGCE students spend approximately 12 weeks out of a 36 week course in the Institute; the rest of their time is spent in schools working alongside teachers. The notion of 'partnership' is very much at the heart of teacher education rhetoric and we involve mentors in the planning of courses and support students in schools. However contact with students on block teaching placements is patchy and their links with the Institute can become difficult particularly for those students who are based in schools at some distance from the University . To this end the introduction of computer conferencing can make students feel less isolated and put them in touch with their peers and their tutors to offer support, advice and teaching ideas.

Other models

There are a handful of UK institutions using this form of communication. There are also some in Australia, Canada the USA and continental Europe (e.g. Pearson, 1996; Beals. 1991; Trentin, 1994)) which are well documented. In my previous employment at the Open University I set up a system using the software FirstClass for over 1000 PGCE primary and secondary students. 275 students responded to a survey of students who finished the course in 1995 and below are their main reasons for using FirstClass. The percentage of respondents who gave each reason is given in brackets:

  • keeping in touch with other students (73%)
  • moral support (71%)
  • keeping in touch with tutor (64%)
  • sharing teaching methods (58%)
  • developing a broader perspective on teaching (57%)
  • help with lesson and curriculum planning (49%)

The messages posted reflected the concerns of the students at different stages of the course, so as well as requests for advice on issues of classroom management during the third school experience which led to discussion like the one above. Discussion would also take place about the next tutor marked assignment (TMA) as it became due, and teaching resources were offered and exchanged.

Resource sharing

Many of the worksheets offered were of a high quality reflecting the students increasing competence with computers and students reported those to be one of the most valuable use of FirstClass . This is one particular aspect I am keen to develop for several reasons: many teachers do not have well developed IT skills when they start teaching, and this can be one way of achieving them.. Resources can be downloaded, read, accepted, rejected and/or modified. Files can be kept on the server making full use of the hierarchical system of FirstClass. For example there could be a file labelled mathematics within which there are separate folders for each of the national curriculum strands for mathematics. These can then contain sub-folders on particular themes within the strands. Alternatively a web-based hyperlink model could be used.

In addition to worksheets the files might contain teaching ideas, sources of information, etc. OU students reported keeping a file of all these ideas and ultimately it could lead to less dependence on printed texts and less duplication of effort since the files could be retrieved when ideas and resources were required. Peer review is important. OU students were more critical of peer produced resources than existing print materials and more able and willing to adapt them. Machines need to be networked so that a bank of resources that students have developed can be kept on the server. Students can look at these (master copies could be kept in a filing cabinet) and then modify them to suit their own classes. A file management system will have to be devised. In the filing cabinet and online could be the adaptations people have made with notes about how they intended to use them and why the adaptation has been made, so that a bank of similar resources demonstrating a variety of approaches to a particular topic can be built up.

Annotating websites

As students browse the web, any interesting sites that are found can be recorded on electronic tick sheets with details about:

  • the address of the site.
  • subject area(s)
  • topic covered
  • what it was about
  • why they liked the page
  • any other comments

Professional preparation

Classroom management strategies are of particular concern to student teachers; peers, mentors in schools and tutors from the Institute can offer support that can be read and discussed by anyone who has been given access to the folders. The opportunities to share success, frustrations and failures can be increased through electronic contact with other students particularly those in same subject area, and due to the asynchronous nature of the medium, there are more opportunities to access the Institute staff who can respond at their own convenience.

Many OU PGCE students reported how valuable the ‘General Chat’ facility had been for enabling them to communicate with others on any matters of interest of their choosing. Teachers experimenting with ways of improving their practice believe the interest and support from colleagues to be an important factor. Having to articulate their thoughts in words can help students consider the issues involved in teaching more deeply and the peer support network can facilitate this development. Merseth writing about an electronic network of newly qualified teachers who all graduated from the same teaching course at Harvard gives an example of how this network was being used: I remember discussing discipline, teaching methodologies, how to stand up to an unreasonable administrator,... - it as amazing how real the problems being shared on the network were. It was also amazing how frequently we would refer back to required texts from Harvard in our discussions, and yet in a completely new light. (Merseth, 1992, p679)

Students can be involved in several discussions at once, something difficult to achieve in real time face-to-face discussions, and because they are recorded in text, items can be accessed at other times. Beals (1992) found that such messages were also longer than equivalent spoken discussion (215 words compared to about 12 words).

Permanent records

There is a bonus offered by electronic communication; any discussions are recorded in a form that can be copied and referred to at later date. Students have time to consider their response, prepare it in advance and refine it before posting it in a conference. They can also prepare a joint response with another student or group of students. The benefits of this mode of communication are two-fold; the students can be supported in their study of theoretical aspects of the course, and they can be supported in developing their teaching. Beals supports this with evidence from in a survey of beginning teachers using an electronic communication network. It was reported as 'most effective as a source of emotional support and as a means of achieving a broader perspective on education.' (Beals, 1991, p77).

From primary to secondary

Cross-phase interactions are easily facilitated by the conferencing system ; for example, primary students have talked to secondary mathematics students about the way they teach a topic on area, and they have also discussed the teaching of basic numeracy skills. This is a forum for discussion in which students rarely have the opportunity to participate in traditional face to face teaching.

Potential problems in electronic communication

In any written communication voice and tone are not present, therefore there is a danger in being unintentionally inflammatory. In the handbook accompanying FirstClass, students are given this warning: When you send messages to individuals and to a wider discussion group you need to remember that people are neither able to see your facial expressions nor hear the tone in your voice. Therefore you must take care when responding to items to avoid misunderstanding. You will be expected to conduct your discussions on FirstClass in the way you would any discussion with a group of people, respecting their point of view and arguing for or against it in a way that is supportive and friendly. It is easy to misconstrue the written word - you can't see the face of the author and you can't hear the tone. You read into a message your own expressions and tone, and often totally misunderstand. For this reason, making jokes on e-mail and being sarcastic on-line are dangerous! (Selinger, 1994, p19)

File transfer

Another problem can arise when sending attached files when students are working on different computer platforms and are sometimes unable to be translated easily.


Another issue is will students find both time and access in schools to use the computers? Sheffield Hallam University have been piloting a similar model and have used a dial back system so that the telephone costs are incurred by the University and not by the school. In addition not all schools have invested in modem links and often school telephone systems are fairly old and have infrastructures that do not readily support Internet access via modems. Even less schools have their own servers with ISDN connections or cabling. Another solution therefore is to equip students with computers and modems at home, the solution used by the Open University, but this involves a high level of initial investment.

These thoughts are based on a week in the job and will therefore evolve and change, but isn’t that what innovation is about?


Beals, D.E. (1991) Computer mediated communication among beginning teachers. Journal of Technological Horizons in Education, 18(9), 74-77

Beals, D.E. (1992) Computer networks as a new data base. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 8(3), 327-345.

Pearson, J. (1996) Trainee teachers using computers: electronic communication in a ‘school based’ teacher education course. Paper presented at the 26th Annual Confernce of the Australian Teacher Education Assocaition, Launceston, Tasmania, 3-6 July.

Merseth, K. (1992) First aid for first-year teachers. Phi Delta Kappan, 73(9), 678-683

Selinger, M (1994) Selinger, M. (1994a) PGCE FirstClass handbook, School of Education, The Open University.

Trentin, G Telematic resources for teacher support, Computers in Education, 6, 1. 5-14

bulletTragedy with a twist in Theatre Studies

Warwick IT-based Teaching Innovations (WITTI) Ref: 3
Sallie Goetsch, Theatre Studies

The website for the new Greek Tragedy seminar option in Theatre Studies will have an added fillip: 3D images illustrating Greek stagecraft. For the first feature, Animagic has reconstructed a cloth theatrical mask based in part on the well-known Pronomos Vase.

recreation of mask from Pronomos Vase

Unlike the scanned image of the vase-painting, the models allow students to view the mask from several angles, back as well as front and as worn by a model .

BACK                      FRONT      MODEL 

back image    Front image   Model image

The final versions of the mask models, and further models of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, will be available on the Didaskalia website under the heading 'About Ancient Theater'.

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