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Information Technology in tertiary science teaching
UniServe Science News Volume 6 March 1997

From the Director

Whither UniServe Science?

Ian Johnston

UniServe Science is at a watershed. We are just two years old and within one year our funding runs out. We have also just gone through a time of upheaval. Both of our full-time staff members, Dianne and Mick, whom you would know if you ever had occasion to contact us, have gone on to bigger and better positions elsewhere. We wish them well in their future careers. And at the same time we welcome aboard Anne Fernandez and Mark Nearhos. You, the users of UniServe Science, will hear a lot more from them in the future.

UniServe Science was set up by CAUT in 1994 as a three-year trial, to see if an Australian network of clearinghouses was viable, based on the CTI (Computers in Teaching Initiative) network in the UK. Our business has been to serve the needs of tertiary teachers of science. We are a clearinghouse of teaching materials: a lot of our work is electronic, but a lot of it is paper-based as well. From the start we have concentrated on IT materials, though not excluding other aspects of teaching. Our role is to disseminate knowledge about these materials: we do not develop nor distribute the materials themselves. Put simply, our role is to tell teachers of science what is out there that can help them in their teaching, and whether it is any good.

We are proud of what we have achieved in the past two years. We have set up a website and a searchable database containing information about nearly 3000 pieces of teaching software.

We have produced catalogues for each of our sciences, in both paper-based and electronic formats. We have sent out regular newsletters containing information about and reviews of teaching materials, as well as reports of CAUT projects and other items of interest to teachers. We are particularly pleased with the two workshops we have run (see page 4 for a report of the most recent one). We have conducted surveys about what is happening in science teaching throughout the country, and disseminated the results. And we have cultivated a network of personal contacts in departments everywhere and, we believe, seeded a feeling of community between tertiary science teachers.

There are still things we have to achieve during the coming year. We need to arrange for more evaluations of the teaching materials in our database, so that we can add value to the information already there. Be prepared for us to get in touch with you throughout the year to ask you to help. We are considering producing discipline specific leaflets (“QuicKards”) with details of and opinions about software currently being used in undergraduate teaching in Australian universities. Following discussions at the recent workshop, we will consider setting up exam question banks to be shared by teachers who contribute material to those banks. They will be on the web and searchable. We will, of course, continue to produce our newsletters and catalogues, to add to the database, and to conduct our surveys. But perhaps most importantly, we need to become more widely known than we are. We cannot really be much help to teachers if they have never heard of us. So this year we will be marketing ourselves more aggressively.

The big question is: have we done a good job so far? We have a reasonable idea about some statistics. We know how many visits our website has had, and we know how many academics have attended our workshops, and how many correspond regularly with us. In the middle of 1996 we had to prepare a report to CAUT. We called in an overseas consultant (Dr Jonathan Darby, the then director of the CTI network Support Service in Oxford) to do an audit of our activities. That audit had suggestions to make but was, over all, exceedingly positive. We also received a most supportive report from the Committee of Australian Deans of Science. As a result we received our final funding instalment.

But where do we go from here? It is a matter of concern to us that our original funding was only for three years. If we are to survive past 1997, then we will need to find other sources of funding. It seems to us that the kind of service we provide cannot, even in principle, be self-funding. So we will try all the sources that we know about, and in this endeavour your input could be most useful. We would like to hear what you think about how we have performed and what we should do in the future. But above all we need evidence that the community of tertiary science teachers does really understand what we are doing, and is willing to say so.

If you think we should survive, please write and tell us so.

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UniServe Science News Volume 6 March 1997

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