UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 2, November 1995

Courseware for Earth Science teaching from the UK

Bill Sowerbutts is in the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
A suite of twenty-one interactive courseware modules for use in Earth Science degree level teaching is being developed in the UK as part of a government funded Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP). Six modules have been in use in UK universities for about a year and the remainder will be released over the next 18 months. Both Macintosh and Windows versions, produced using Authorware(TM) Professional, are now being made available world-wide and can be purchased for use in Australasia.

The courseware is being developed within UK universities under the auspices of the UK Earth Science Courseware Consortium (UKESCC), an organisation comprising the fifty or so Earth Science departments in UK tertiary educational institutions. As a representative of this consortium, I visited several universities in Australia earlier this year to demonstrate the courseware and discuss ways in which it could be used in this part of the world. The general impression I left with was that significant efforts are being made in Australia to use of information technology in Earth Science teaching, and that the UKESCC courseware could represent a valuable addition to other CAL material already in use.

The courseware modules cover a range of Earth Science topics. About half cover material studied at first year level, with the remainder being suitable for second and third year teaching. The topics covered are mainly those which students find difficult, which can be difficult to teach using conventional methods, or for which the computer is superior in presenting material.

While some of the courseware modules can be considered complete teaching packages, most have been designed to be used by students as just part of a range of learning resources including lectures, practicals, traditional library facilities, and in some cases field work. Thus most of the modules are perhaps best considered as providing tutorial material that can be accessed by students in their own time and which they can work through at their own pace.

The material in most modules would probably take an average student about four hours to complete. However, it is not envisaged that a student would work through a complete module in single sitting, and so most are divided into several sections, each of which can be studied separately. Graphics and animations are used extensively and a range of types of interaction employed to retain students' attention. Types of interaction include multiple choice and true/false questions, labelling diagrams, entering answers via the keyboard and simple drawing (typically lines). Although rigorous assessments and recording of the results obtained are not included, there are assessment sections at end of most modules so students can gauge their level of understanding.

Up-to-date information about the courseware, its availability and how it can be purchased can be found on a World Wide Web page with the following URL:


A demonstration disk containing parts of the first six courseware modules is available for both Windows and Macintosh machines. Information on downloading these is given on the WWW page. Copies of the demos, as well as literature about the individual modules have been lodged with UniServe*Science, and are also available from the Central Unit of the UKESCC at Manchester, UK. Copies of all the complete modules and some modules still under development have been lodged with UniServe*Science for demonstration purposes.

Considerable experience has been gained over the past three years, not only in the mechanics of courseware production, but also in keeping members of a consortium involved and informed during both courseware development and its introduction into UK Earth Science departments. This expertise will be maintained as the main phase of courseware development comes to an end and the emphasis changes towards making the courseware available world-wide, and making the Consortium financially self-sufficient. We expect to play a greater role in trying to ensure that both teaching staff and students in Earth Science departments are aware of and use the courseware, and that it becomes regarded as a teaching and learning resource that is integrated into a department's everyday activities. The income generated from sales of courseware will be used primarily to provide technical support to users, and to keep the courseware maintained and updated.

Plans are being formulated to allow institutions outside the UK to become affiliated to the UKESCC. This will mean that, rather than merely purchasing courseware modules on a one-off basis, institutions will receive, in return for an annual fee, all the courseware modules and associated materials that are produced during the year, as well as technical support. The hope is that this arrangement will encourage users to exchange ideas and experiences, will lead to suggestions for new courseware modules, and result in the production of new modules using templates supplied by the UKESCC.

Bill Sowerbutts

Modules available from the UK Earth Science Courseware Consortium:

* Crystallography

* Preparing for Field Work 1: Using the Compass/clinometer

* Optical Mineralogy

* Geological Map Skills

* Visualising Geology in 3D

* Petrogenesis of Granitic Rocks

* Dynamic Stratigraphy: Controls and Products

* Basic Skills for Earth Sciences

* Radiogenic Isotopes in Geological Sciences

* Systematic Palaeontology: the Phylum Mollusca

* Rock Deformation and Geological Structures

* Using Stereonets in Geology

* Fossils as Palaeoenvironmental Indicators

* Preparing for Field Work 2: Fieldwork Safety

* Exploring the Shallow Subsurface using Geophysics

* Arc Magmatism

* Aspects of Earth Resources

* Ocean Crust and Ophiolites

* First Year Petrography

* Phase Diagrams

* Basic Geochemistry: Origin and Distribution of the Elements

The use of colour graphics and scanned images as an integral part of these modules means there are certain minimum hardware requirements to run the courseware effectively. Most modules use 256 colours.

Requirements: Macintoshreg. these are 4 MB RAM and a colour monitor with a screen resolution of 640 x 480 pixels (14" monitor).

PC: Windowsreg. 3.1 or later, 4 MB RAM, a VGA colour monitor and 386 processor or better.

Supplier: Contact ukescc@man.ac.uk

A demonstration version of this material can be downloaded from http://www.usyd.edu.au/su/SCH/UKESCC_Demo/ukescc.html

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