UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 3, March 1996

Biology of Australian Flora and Fauna

This material is designed to accompany the new biology text by Knox et al. 1994, a text written with Australian tertiary classes in mind. The Workbook covers 10 topics ranging from the evolution and conservation of koalas to arid and alpine zone ecology to plant physiology and greenhouse gases. Four of these topics are chosen for a self paced unit on the CD-ROM. These are:

* Life at the Edge of the Sea
- an investigation into ecology and physiology of species of mangroves and intertidal organisms.

* Sclerophylly
- a survey of the anatomy and adaptations of sclerophyllous plants.

* Greenhouse, carbon dioxide and plant growth
- analysis of carbon dioxide in geological and historical time, the photosynthetic pathways and plant structure.

* Management and Conservation of the Helmeted Honeyeater
- a summary of the ecology and conservation status of this restricted species and a game to illustrate conservation strategies.

The CD-ROM aims to cover a range of subjects such as evolutionary history, structure and physiology, human impact and so on and to promote study skills. This latter aim is achieved by directing users to make records in the space provided in the workbook. Each unit consists of a set of pages on a clearly defined topic, which can include questions which trigger responses immediately, interpretation of data, as well as illustrations which have links to more pages from the structures visible. For example, clicking on a particular part of a diagram of a mangrove transect displays a photo of a particular named species of mangrove.

For the most part the package is well integrated, but is subject to the shortcomings of HyperCard such as slowness of response to the position of the mouse pointer. At a resolution of 640 by 480, some of the pictures are a little grainy but not to the stage of not being useful. I tried the package on several monitor sizes and computers and had no problems provided the specified settings were adhered to. In some places the text overflowed the windows, and the terminology was not consistent but these are not serious shortcomings. I found one spelling mistake.

I suffer from being a traditionalist, and think that the basics of biology need to be grasped before approaching the issues that the package addresses. If a student was familiar with biology of arthropods in a general way, I feel that the impact of the section on the intertidal barnacles, for example, would be greater. I see this package as a mechanism for broadening the outlook of students, but am less convinced that it is the primary tool for enhancing teaching and learning. This package will not replace going out and getting one's feet wet on a rock platform, preferably in the company of a good field biologist.

Tim Marples

Tim Marples is a Senior Lecturer in the Botany & Zoology Division of the School of Life Sciences and is the Director of UniServe Australia

Ladiges, P., Gleadow, R. & Handasyde, K. 1995. Biology of Australian Flora and Fauna. CD-ROM and Workbook. McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia Pty Limited. ISBN 007 470230 0

Requirements: The package is restricted to Macs (LC and later) with 14 inch monitors and 256 colours. The software is a HyperCard stack, and a HyperCard player and QuickTime are included on the CD-ROM.

Cost: $1500 site licence.