UniServe€ Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol 1, July 1995

Lake ecology while keeping your feet dry

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney

For the teacher, bringing the biological, chemical and physical characteristics of a lake to life for students is often a tall order. Often the amount of time available extends at most to a few afternoons before next subject has to be introduced. This problem can be partially solved by deploying interactive multimedia, which have the advantage that students can be guided through a series of experiences and problem solving exercises in a relative short period of time. The disadvantage, however, is that what is meant to be interactive multimedia is often no more than a `book of moving pictures' with the result that the product does nothing to further student problem solving ability.

This is not the criticism that one can level at Investigating Lake Iluka. The Interactive Multimedia Unit at the University of Wollongong have come up with an excellent example of what can be achieved through an interactive CD-ROM product. This material is directed at high school students but could be used in first year of a general course in biology at a University. The user requires minimal computing skills to be able to operate it. While no software simulation will ever replace the value of going into the field with students, the combination of an afternoon at a real lake and Investigating Lake Iluka is extremely powerful. By combining the two, students would be able to see the real complexity of a lake ecosystem first hand, and then be guided through a series of otherwise difficult exercises using the interactive CD-ROM back in the classroom. When one considers the problem of providing an educational experience to students of large classes, this interactive tool becomes even more valuable.

Investigating Lake Iluka begins by carefully describing how to use the interactive CD-ROM by way of an effective tutorial that encompasses both visual demonstrations, and textual and spoken descriptions. It then directs the student to a series of habitats within a fictitious but realistic lake ecosystem. Accompanying the student on his or her excursion is a field notebook which can be used to gather data or write observations. There is a field centre which is both fun and informative, complete with reference collection and information source about the plants and animals in the lake as well as a news/history file. The student can also `borrow' video tapes from the field centre and play a series of mini-documentaries on various aspects of the lake. The field centre is playfully realistic, with books untidily stacked on the shelves and the student's field notebook lying on the floor (presumably where they would leave it!).

While at the lake, the student can use a magnifying glass to explore the finer details of each habitat, and among these finer details can find a series of organisms that live in the lake. Perhaps the best aspect of this software is the ability for the student to take a series of chemical and physical measurements from Lake Iluka. Opening the physical toolkit, for example, allows the students to take measurements of temperature, humidity, irradiance, turbidity, and wind speed. These can be taken at any point in a habitat, and can be entered into the field notebook for later analysis. A similar range of chemical measurements are available in the chemical toolkit (eg phosphate, nitrate, etc.). The student is challenged to work out where and how to take samples, allowing them a gentle introduction to the problems of measuring and describing a lake habitat.

Woven into the product are a number of problems for the students to pursue. Students are encouraged to answer the question of why lake water quality is declining in some areas, for example. To this end, they are given hints on what they might do to find out and where to go for information. By collecting physical, chemical and biological data on the lake, reviewing the reference collection and by pawing over the selection of news and video clippings, the students can develop a sophisticated scientific answer to the question of the decline of water quality in the lake. Once again, everything is recorded in the trusty notebook, which can be saved and printed out at a later stage in order to generate a student report. The material is extensive enough such that different student groups are likely to get quite different data sets, hence potentially come to different conclusions. This has potential to provide a lot of room for useful class discussion later on. The only criticism that might be levelled at the layout of the CD-ROM is that the `problems section' comes last rather than first in the format, and there is a tendency for undirected exploration of the lake (which is fun and possibly useful as well) before one discovers the problem section. However, with a little guidance from the teacher, this aspect is a tiny criticism of what is an otherwise a top-class educational resource.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

Investigating Lake Iluka is published by Interactive MultiMedia Pty Ltd, and was developed by the Interactive MultiMedia Unit, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, NSW.

Requirements: Macintosh, Colour monitor, System 6.0.8 or above, QuickTime, 2.5MB RAM available.

Cost: $175

A demonstration can be found at

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